Why Nothing Stifles Ideas Like a Culture of Harmony

Written by James O. Rodgers

Embracing Deliberate DiversityTM means learning to communicate in a diverse environment. This can be a challenge for employees, because communication in Deliberate DiversityTM often differs from what they’re used to. The key is to be clear about what Deliberate DiversityTM is and how it works.

Make People Rock the Boat

You’ve hired people for their unique perspectives and their unique ideas, but now they aren’t sharing those ideas. This is an issue of culture: Most organizations are set up to create harmonious workplaces. People learn not to rock the boat.

New perspectives rock the boat. To bring a unique idea to the table, you have to make “the dumb comment”; you have to disagree with the way things are done. People are reluctant to speak up because they’ve been taught that rocking the boat is not part of company culture.

To fix this, leaders and managers have to adjust the culture. They must deliberately state that they expect unique perspectives and that they hope employees feel obliged to share those perspectives. This may create what seems like some discord and disagreement in the workplace. Leaders and managers need to let employees know that this is what diversity is all about: The disagreement and discord lead to new solutions. Think of it as the “third solution,” because it’s not my way, and it’s not your way, but it’s the third way – the combination of our collective ideas.

Expect Discord and Disagreement

Employees may be surprised by the discord and disagreement, but they shouldn’t be. When you introduce Deliberate DiversityTM, you have to be crystal clear about what it means. At the very beginning of the rollout, employees should know that Deliberate DiversityTM means they’re not going to have harmony all the time and that Deliberate DiversityTM is not the clean process they’re used to.

Employees need to expect from the beginning that people will disagree with them. That’s how we foster new perspectives, and all points of view are valuable. Employees may find it annoying. They may find it challenging. But this is the environment that Deliberate DiversityTM creates, and employees need to know this upfront. Be clear with people about what the outcomes will look like: Deliberate DiversityTM creates an environment where employees can challenge one another to think in new ways.

Get Your Team to Speak Up

When Thomas Watson was CEO of IBM, he had a simple motto: “Think.” But why use that as a motto? We’re human. We think all the time, don’t we?

No, we don’t. Over time, employees learn that when they think, ideas actually come up. When they express those ideas, they get shot down. So they stop thinking and go on autopilot. Deliberate DiversityTM asks for unique perspectives, but your employees feel like they have nothing to say because they have lost the natural propensity to think. The old office culture had them going through the motions, and they’re stuck that way.

To get employees thinking and sharing their perspectives, leaders and managers need to master the skill of facilitation. Facilitation is the key to ensuring that every voice is heard when teams are working on projects.

Facilitators set up operating norms that dictate how employees act during meetings. These norms can vary, but examples include: respect the voices of others, honor all opinions, listen intently, and limit your speech so that everyone gets a turn. If operating norms like these become routine at your company, employees will learn that they can speak up, and they will be heard.