Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Heterogeneous project team. How not to miss the opportunity



All of us have repeatedly read all sorts of orders that begin with the words: "To all employees ..." (need to be entered). This order can apply to all people of the team, department, company or even the whole country. But imagine how uninteresting life would be if all the people in the team, department, company and country were the same. Think, for example, of someone you know who annoys you with their narcissism, and just imagine that all the other people around you would become exactly the same.
The best teams tend to be made up of disparate people who come together with the goal of doing a certain thing. Different people have different strengths and different weaknesses, and in a good team, the weaknesses of some are balanced by the strengths of other people.

When we talk about team heterogeneity, we usually mean a broader concept than just a set of different skills. At a minimum, we are referring to the presence of men and women with different cultural, ethnic or racial characteristics. Of course, managing such a team is not easy. But on the other hand, neglecting the factor of heterogeneity can create even greater difficulties.

In general, the problem of heterogeneity of project teams in the context of business globalization is sensitive for many people, regardless of whether we attach importance to it or not. Ignoring the issue of heterogeneity, most often, is possible only "for the time being, for the time being". Attempts to "get away" from heterogeneity by recruiting a team on the principle of compliance with a certain profile or the sympathies of other team members are also, in most cases, not the most reasonable way out of the situation.

A fairly common approach to dealing with heterogeneity is to simply respect quotas in recruitment. Our point of view is that the problem of team heterogeneity is more complex, has deeper roots and, if correctly addressed, allows the team to significantly benefit in creativity and productivity.
A starting point for understanding this problem is to consider the benefits of heterogeneity from a business perspective, since without the existence of such benefits there would be nothing to discuss. No company would fight for heterogeneity and cultivate employee tolerance if there were no real benefits behind these slogans. Conversely, those companies that do not pay attention to this issue, as a rule, are far from the lists of leaders of their industry.

In fact, there are two strong arguments in favor of the heterogeneity of the team. The first is simple justice. The second is the long-term benefit that businesses can derive from the heterogeneity of human resources.

Let's start with the topic of fairness. The goal of an adequate manager when hiring staff is always to find the best candidate for appointment to a vacant position. At the same time, no matter how the process of considering candidates is arranged, deciding whether this is the best candidate or not the best always has a significant amount of subjectivity. 


What does it even mean to "be the best candidate"?

Based on their own principles, different executives will have different perspectives on what makes a candidate the best. In some cases, managers will prefer the person with the best set of knowledge and skills corresponding to the future position. In other cases, they will recruit people like themselves. This is a completely natural tendency, which comes from a number of also natural, sometimes even subconscious psychological patterns:

  1. The manager, when accepting an employee, tends to measure the qualities of the candidate, using his own qualities as a measure. After all, if a manager was able to make a career and take the chair he holds today, why wouldn't he consider his own set of qualities successful and look for the same set in other people? By obeying such a subconscious urge, the manager will demonstrate a tendency to hire people like himself.
  2. Another pattern is manifested under the guise of a desire to assess how much the candidate will fit the rest of the team. As a rule, those managers who are not unconditional leaders in terms of knowledge and experience are inclined to it. If the manager cannot make a choice of a candidate based on his knowledge and skills, then he begins to look for criteria - substitutes. Just one such substitute is often judging how well the candidate will fit the team. And if the team is dominated by people of a certain nature, interests, qualifications, as well as gender, race, religion, etc., then the choice will be made, most likely, in favor of the same "related" candidate.

If you leave the project team to choose its own replenishment, then over time a situation may arise when a group of homogeneous people will accept their own kind. Even if we do not take into account the defectiveness of this approach for business interests, then in this case, the choice will be unfair to those applicants who professionally can surpass their more "lucky" competitors.

Whether we like it or not, many companies, especially large ones, are trying to formalize and standardize the recruitment and admission process as much as possible so that each applicant can be evaluated on the basis of uniform criteria for all. The purpose of process standardization is not to recruit heterogeneous personnel per se. 


The real goal is to neutralize subjectivity as much as possible in the processes and to ensure the recruitment of the most qualified candidates. The hiring process usually involves a lot of people. Accordingly, each candidate receives a set of assessments by these people according to a standard set of criteria, which then allows, by summarizing the assessments, to exclude the subjective factor as much as possible and make the final recommendations as objective as possible.

Often, managers who accept new employees in their projects or departments, with some negativity or irony, relate to all the formalities and restrictions that HR departments have introduced into the hiring process. Sometimes the process is indeed unnecessarily burdensome. But still, more often than not, the processes are reasonable enough. All the rigors and formalities in hiring new employees are aimed at ensuring that each candidate receives equal chances, and that the decision to accept is made on the basis of facts, and not subconscious emotions inherent in most of us. Life repeatedly confirms that this is the only correct and good approach.

As we've noted, in addition to considerations of fairness, team heterogeneity provides additional benefits to the project itself, if properly managed. We all see that the whole world as a whole is heterogeneous, and all companies exist and conduct their business in this heterogeneous world. Many companies have long discovered that their own heterogeneity helps to successfully exist in a heterogeneous market. The benefits are manifested in at least three aspects:

  • Compliance with the specifics of the market. The basic logic is that it's very difficult, if not impossible, to reach a heterogeneous market without heterogeneous personnel. For example, if you're going to conquer the Latin American market with your product, it makes sense to involve Latin American employees in product adaptation, in a marketing campaign, and in sales. That doesn't mean everyone has to be from South America, but someone should be very welcome. It's the same with Asian markets. Since the markets are diverse, the project and the company that will always benefit from the project and the company that will have employees who are familiar with the local characteristics.
  • Making better decisions. We all know that in order to choose the best solutions and ways of acting, a manager needs a set of heterogeneous alternatives. As a rule, people in a homogeneous team tend to think alike, which cannot but affect the quality of decisions made. That is why the heterogeneity of the team is considered an important strategic advantage of the project in conditions that require a non-standard and quick response to changing circumstances.
  • Hire the best employees. The obvious advantage is the ability to hire the best business candidates, regardless of differences in temperament, gender, race, etc.
  • Of course, when managing a heterogeneous team, you will have to take into account the fact that there is heterogeneity. Strictly speaking, the very recognition of such a fact is already the starting point in further successful management. As a leader, you need to know as much as you can about the nature of the differences in order to bring different people together into a cohesive team. When managing such a team, you should take into account the heterogeneity and pay attention to the following points:
  • Be intolerant of prejudice and insults. This is a vital moment. If the manager does not comply with this requirement, he must be replaced. Such things can literally "blow up" your people. Before delving into the other subtleties of managing a heterogeneous team, you must be absolutely sure that the field for the game is flat, and your team is not threatened. Abusive attitudes and dislikes based on differences between people are completely unacceptable.
  • Be aware of the differences. The idea is that people differ not only in themselves, but also depending on the cultural environment in which they were raised. For example, your employee may be silent not because she is prone to intraversion, but because she grew up in a cultural environment in which it is not easy for a woman to express her opinion in front of a man. As a leader, you have to consider this point when communicating with your people. In this case, perhaps a female intermediary would help you for the first time.
  • Draw on the team's experience where possible. Trusting someone else's experience and knowledge is also a key aspect in managing a diverse workforce. The manager is responsible for finding a way in which the work can be done. If you, on the contrary, look for reasons why the work cannot be done, then the heterogeneity of the team will become an obstacle, not a virtue.
  • Help people grow. Find opportunities to delegate responsibility and authority to people. Do not look for reasons to limit their independence. Focus on their strengths.

While in general heterogeneity can serve the whole team well, it is also indisputable that in some cases, cultural characteristics can serve as a limiting factor in the performance of certain work. However, if you manage the team, aware of and taking advantage of its heterogeneity, you will find that such cases are isolated and rare. Most often, it is not difficult to bypass such a situation. By exercising diligence, you can even turn it in favor of team cohesion.

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