Project Team Diversity

Tonight was my HR Project Management class. We discussed managing project team diversity as one of the main topics. To start, we watched “A Class Divided”, a PBS documentary. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it. It was particularly interesting when it was discussed within the context of project team discussions. The video showed some of the productivity and quality issues that can be associated to a segregated environment. This probably applies equally to the project world.
There is no denying the importance of diversity in terms race, ethnicity and gender. These aspects are well-known thanks to the frequent training that takes place now, even though many people still don’t feel it in their bones. There is still much to be done.
We delved deeper into diversity in project teams when we spoke. I found the most important lesson was that even if you eliminate the above categories, subtle nuances and conflicts can still be a problem in project teams. Sometimes, you might not even realize it because the issue manifests as a silent team that does ‘good enough work’ without speaking up, at least in formal meetings. The water cooler is where the rants belong.
My project teams include people from different departments and backgrounds. For example, I might be working with people who are from 20 different specialties within operations when I am working on a project that involves IS and operations. These groups have unspoken prejudices. It’s a good idea for project managers and team members to be aware of these prejudices.
Let’s say, for example, that group A has a process whereby they escalate major issues to the group B. Group B might develop a prejudice that group A cannot handle everything, even though they handle 99.5% of the issues. Group B only sees the negative.5%. This is what I have seen myself in the world of relationships between companies and their business partners (outsourcing). Similar situations apply to sales versus support, IT operations versus IT, location A versus B, etc.
Now you need to bring people from all these backgrounds together and form a project team. It could be crucial to understand the prejudices and biases in the group so that the team runs smoothly. It would be ideal to have a good understanding of how the various groups in your projects interact with each other. You can take steps to reduce or resolve any conflict that may have an impact on the project if you can identify the groups involved.
It can be a great idea to ask questions of team members in an informal way.
“Who have you worked with on this project before?” When? How?”
It is generally more likely that someone with a gripe will be able to share it through open-ended questions.
What are your thoughts about managing project team diversity? Comment!