With each passing day, the likelihood that you will work with someone who looks, thinks, and has vastly different experiences from you will increase.

The makeup of your customers will continue to change to reflect the growing trends of a diverse population as well. Here are some statistics from Pew Research that give a snapshot of what is on the horizon in the U.S.:

  • By 2055 there will not be a single ethnic or racial majority.
  • Millennials are the largest generation and are the most racially diverse of any generation in American history.
  • Women were the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children.
  • The share of American adults who have never been married is at a historical high.
  • About one in six American kids lives in a blended family.
  • The number of adults living in middle-income populations is shrinking and hovers at around 50 percent.

So to be able to compete, you've got to be able to create products and services that speak to your customers' unique needs. That means you have to have a degree of intimacy with your customers that enables you to solve their problems like none other.

Building a team that is diverse positions you to effectively serve an increasingly non-homogeneous customer base, rather than treating everyone the same. But to extract the benefits of having a team diverse in thought and experiences, you've got to create an environment where everyone on the team feels like they belong.

To build a high-performing diverse team, it must be inclusive. Here are five critical components that enable you to do that.

1. Create a clear vision that celebrates individual differences.

Graciela Kort, of Argentinian employee training company BK Capacitacion, facilitated a workshop I attended a few weeks ago and walked us through an activity designed to get us to think through the value of building teams that were more like salads, rather than a puree.

Teams with the "puree" approach are like a melting pot. Everyone on the team comes together and loses much of their identity as they assimilate into the team's culture.

But with the "salad" approach, each person maintains their own identity and contributes their unique talents to make the salad more interesting and flavorful.

If your goal is to build a truly inclusive team, make it clear that each person's differences are an advantage to the team, rather than something that should be checked at the door.

2. Choose to practice empathy.

To better understand and appreciate customers and team members who have backgrounds and experiences that are different from you, you've got to make a point to walk a mile in their shoes.

By considering situations from their point of view, you will better position yourself to seek out their opinion rather than dismissing it, or assuming you've got the full picture.

3. Be relentlessly persistent.

Building an inclusive team isn't something that will happen overnight, or after an intensive team-building workshop, or even after a week of diligent effort. It takes time.

It is something you have to commit to working on daily over the long-term, even when it isn't the most convenient or comfortable way to operate.

4. Encourage consistent and open communication.

A big part of building an inclusive team is creating a safe space where every voice is heard. Even the voices of dissent. That means you've got to allow and encourage opportunity for dialogue on important issues, challenges, and initiatives that impact your customers.

Working through how to proactively seek out various opinions, for the purpose of making an idea, or way of operating better will improve the quality of what you're able to produce over the long-term.

5. Establish team operating norms.

Your vision for your team is irrelevant if you don't establish the norms and practices that support your team in carrying it out. The people you work with need to know practically what it means to embody the vision you've mapped out. They have to know what activities they need to engage in that will allow them to perform at a higher level.

Set your team up for success by giving them the tools and expectations needed to deliver.

As the leader of your team, the responsibility falls on you to cultivate the culture and environment that is inclusive and supports your team performing at their best. Follow the steps above to create an environment that helps you build a high-performing, inclusive team that is able to solve your customers' problems like none other.

Published on: Sep 27, 2017