Dr Zara Whysall, Research & Impact Director at Kiddy & Partners September 26 2023

Diverse communities versus Unified alignment

Our research into what it takes for organisations to get and stay ahead of the curve revealed that the key to this is balancing 5 competing organisational tensions. Our CEO Jill Jenkinson shared her insights from working with organisations to balance the first four tensions in our recent blogs:

1 – fix the vision vs flex the journey

2 – productive paranoia vs courageous conviction

3 – fearless experimentation vs sharp decisions

4 - enlightened empathy vs leap of faith

…and here I delve into the fifth: balancing diverse communities whilst also achieving unified alignment, a tension that becomes increasingly critical to manage as DE&I begins to receive the growing attention it deserves on the board agenda.

The value of diversity as an enabler of change is often overlooked but the organisations that have remained competitive over the last decade or more have leveraged diverse networks – both internally and externally – to stay ahead. And not only diversity at the surface level, but diversity on every level, particularly cognitive diversity.

Why? Because the greater the level of diversity within any ecosystem, the stronger the diversity of thought, perspectives and approaches to reduce potential blind spots in what is (or isn't) anticipated and planned for as a business, also providing a broad repertoire of skills, tools and approaches to draw upon. 

In nature, rapid evolution is enabled by increasing the diversity within the population. Like a Swiss Army knife, having many different variations - or branches of evolution - that can be drawn upon depending on what best meets the needs of the ever-changing external demands, increases the chances of survival.

But how do you balance the tension between the benefits of diverse perspectives, ideas and approaches with the undeniable need to ensure that everyone is unified and aligned where it counts, all moving in the same direction?

This comes down to managing two fundamental and competing human needs - the need to feel unique and differentiated, and the need to feel included and part of something bigger.

The former requires managers who, and an organisational culture which looks to understand, respects, and values my unique differences, which is easier said than done. Masking our unique differences is commonplace: 61% of people mask at work, more so if they’re black (79%) or gay (83%). So rather than leveraging difference, in most organisations people hide differences and conform with the majority and the potential value is lost. What are people masking in your organisation? 

The latter is accentuated by organisations and leaders who leverage shared values and put effort into creating a language and culture which binds people together. For employees, a strong sense of community and shared vision allows differences to be respected and valued, whilst creating cohesion at the deeper level to ensure differences are harnessed to contribute towards achieving the same vision.  So long as individuals feel that a community contributes positively to their sense of identity, they will remain a member of that community and want to help it thrive.

If you want to mover forwards, at pace, you need alignment around the direction and priorities. Without this, there's friction which creates wasted energy and detracts from the forwards momentum. Misalignment issues must be addressed early before too much energy is wasted and time lost heading towards different destinations. 

Questions to reflect on:

  • How cognitively diverse are you teams? (e.g. in terms of their worldviews and ways of approaching situations). 

  • Is this difference leveraged to minimise blind spots in our strategy or approach?

  • If you asked people across your organisation about the 3 main priorities for the organisation, how aligned would their response be?

Get in touch to find out how we can help.  

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