The cliche “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” could epitomize Ledcor’s approach to diversity. At this construction conglomerate, project teams span diverse cultures, ages, genders, and geography. But the real strength of their teams goes beyond these visible attributes; Ledcor has learned to harness the diversity of thinking styles that employees bring to the team. By putting themselves in the shoes of other team members and understanding their motivations and communication styles, employees are better able to work together and teams are more successful.
“When people with different thinking styles are thrown together on a project, the struggle to understand individual preferences can create rifts and impact productivity,” says Glenda Johnston, senior organizational effectiveness advisor. Following a period of rapid growth accompanied by high turnover, project teams at Ledcor were constantly changing. Competing priorities often led to conflicts between site workers and office staff who had to work together on the same teams. They needed a way to work more effectively together.
The organization started using the Insights Discovery System almost three years ago. “We wanted to help teams use individual diversity to their advantage. Insights helps us recognize diverse individuals and communicate with them in ways that each individual values.” The Insights system is just one form of psychological profiling that explores different decision-making styles and considers how to tap into the strengths of each style. Our individual decision-making style influences how we tackle tasks and relate with people.
“Integrating diverse thinking styles into decision-making helps organizations sustain change because they have a holistic perspective,” says Joyce Gwilliam, president of Insights Vancouver. She recently consulted with an organization undergoing a large systems change. The results-oriented project team was focused on how the introduction of new technology would improve productivity but failed to consider how to make employees excited about using the technology. At Ledcor, the sales and business development teams have used the concept of diverse thinking styles to adapt sales presentations to how their clients might best relate to their product.
Gwilliam says that today’s complex work environment demands that we become skilled at using a diversity of thinking styles. On the one hand, this means looking beyond the stereotypes that are attached to attributes such as age and culture, and instead, embracing individual abilities. (Consider that a room full of single white men may not all care about the hockey score or that a group of 70-year-olds are probably not all technophobes.)
It also means recognizing our own preferences and biases. “For too long, people have been allowed to use their own stereotypes of themselves as an excuse for their behaviour,” says Gwilliam. “Progressive organizations are encouraging employees to move beyond that, to develop past our own biases about ourselves and others.”
How can managers determine whether they are effectively drawing on the diverse thinking styles in their team? Gwilliam suggests that teams ask themselves how well they are functioning in terms of four areas:
- Process (working method and measurement);
- Focus (results orientation and shared purpose);
- Flow (collaboration and agility); and
- Climate (cohesion and trust).
Teams that are aware of the need to think and operate outside of their existing culture and preferences and are willing to step back from the day-to-day work to do the analysis are more likely to be successful.
At Ledcor, the results speak for themselves. Since focusing on diverse thinking styles, engagement scores have increased. This is likely a result of increased understanding and trust among team members, says Johnston. “We needed to understand our differences in order to be able to talk to one another.”
By Sharon Boglari