Managing Diversity

Team leadership issue: Managing diversity

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Definition of the team leadership practice: Diversity management

One of the most contentious issues in management is the question of whether diversity helps or hinders team performance. The overall review of the potential of diversity to maximize productivity is mixed: on one hand, diversity can foster creativity and healthy dialogue and debate on a team. When dealing with clients abroad, diverse team employees may have greater personal insight about their experiences as foreign nationals or so-called ‘hyphenated’ Americans. Women and people from different regions of the country or different disciplinary perspectives can likewise bring a unique approach to the problem. However, there is the problem of team unity, which is often far more difficult to generate on a diverse team. “Diverse teams are prone to dysfunction because the very differences that feed creativity and high performance can also create communication barriers” (Polzer 2008).

Why the selected leadership practice is important to effectiveness in teams

Knowing how to manage diversity, particularly in today’s business climate dominated by multinationals, is essential. In some instances, and providing a safe space for feedback may be the preferred strategy. “Discussing feedback as a team increased members’ trust in one another, allowing them to raise potentially awkward issues relating to perceptions and performance” (Polzer 2008). Sometimes more intensive, formalized strategies are required, such as creating guidelines for team communication. Regardless, if miscommunication based in cultural misunderstandings begins to fester and cause conflicts on the team, the greater goals of the organization cannot be realized, nor can the maximum effectiveness of teams. “Assuming you don’t have team members who are overtly prejudiced against other cultures or nationalities, you could still face the challenge of strongly ingrained belief systems and expectations” (Adamson 2012).

In teams where diversity is poorly managed, the personal politics of the team can grow polarized and become the focus of team concerns, rather than the actual work that needs to be done. Teams become divided. “For those in the ‘in crowd,’ there may be a sense of community and intimacy. For those in the ‘out crowd’ however, there may be a sense of isolation, loneliness and even bitterness” (Friedman 2005). This bitterness may cause highly talented people to leave the organization. In a worst-case scenario, legal issues may arise if the organization is found to allow a hostile work environment for historically discriminated-against groups to fester.

Organizations have tried to deal with the need to manage diversity in many ways: sensitivity training during orientation is one example; mentoring members of historically-discriminated-against groups to establish a friendly support network is another, as is raising general awareness through public affirmations of diversity by managers. Self-awareness is very important for leaders, particularly when the leader is an expatriate and comes from a different background or culture than the majority of the team members he or she is advising, as may be the case at a multinational organization.

As part of an organization that is interconnected with the new global economy and seeks to expand in an effective manner to take advantage of opportunities, understanding how to manage diversity is required. Understanding and tolerance must underlie both face-to-face and virtual methods of interaction, depending on the specific requirements of every team.


Adamson, Georgia. (2012). The challenges of . Executive Search Blog.



Friedman, Lynn. (2005). Managing diverse teams. The Washington Post. Retrieved:

Polzer, Jeffrey T. (2008). Making diverse teams click. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved: