Listen First to Capitalize on Employee Diversity

I have been reading a lot lately about the critical role diversity plays in establishing high-producing work teams. When teams are built to be diverse, the argument goes, they make better decisions and ultimately are better able to solve complex problems. Describing what he calls the diversity bonus, Scott Page says,

When a team applies diverse ways of thinking to a task—whether it is solving a problem, making a prediction, or coming up with creative ideas—they don’t get the average of the individual answers. They do much better. In fact, on complex tasks, diverse teams outperform their best member. That’s the diversity bonus. Diversity doesn’t supplant individual talent. We need talent, but it must be diverse.[1]

Creating a diverse work team is only the first step, however. Companies must encourage employees to share opinions and foster unconventional ways of thinking in order to see the benefits of a diverse workforce. That is the conclusion of a 2013 report published by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) which concludes that “when leadership lacks innate or acquired diversity, or fails to foster a speak-up culture, fewer ideas with market potential make it to market.”[2]

The idea of a speak-up culture is similar to what Listen First Project promotes, that by listening first to understand other perspectives we can grow not only a more inclusive and diverse culture but also one that thrives. Indeed, the first behavior highlighted by CTI that helps “unlock diverse work groups” is “ask questions, and listen carefully.” Even the five remaining behaviors have much to do with our abilities to listen appropriately:

1.     facilitate constructive argument;

2.     give actionable feedback;

3.     take advice from the team and act on it

4.     share credit for team success; and

5.     maintain regular contact with team members. 

Ultimately, what this and other research supports is the importance of listening to the bottom line of businesses. Listening makes business possible. If you want to find out how to build a Listen First culture in your organization, we would love to be part of that conversation!

Graham Bodie,