The 3 Key Factors to Successfully Manage a Diverse Project Team

Australia Day is upon us and with it will come the many emotional discussions about the choice of date, the history surrounding that date, and many other topics that come up around this milestone.

To me, these issues are centred around diversity.

And your opinion one way or the other, will come down to your view is about and how you choose to embody diversity.

Controversial? Possibly. But that’s not my intention.

What I’m seeking to do is take this sensitive time to address a sensitive issue within our working environment relating to culture and diversity.

And hopefully at the end of it, I can share some techniques to manage, embrace and grow from the diversity which surrounds us all.

Why diversity presents challenges in projects

The word diversity seems to trigger an abundance of emotion within us. It’s a word that is now weaved into our growing and merging communities; and yet still causes a level of obstacle and restriction.

Why is that?

To start with let’s look at what diversity can embody.

Diversity can raise topics of culture, geography, economics, society, education, work, ethics, religion, generation, sexual orientation, and so much more.

In isolation, each of these topics have (and still do) cause disaccord and even wars.

So, it’s no wonder that the word diversity is a sensitive one.

Looking at diversity in the workplace, some argue that these topics shouldn’t matter to how people do their work.

But the reality is that they do!

The challenge for us as project leaders then, is to understand the issues around diversity that might cause friction, and put tools in place to make diversity a strength within our team.

Let’s take a look at the problems you can encounter when you don’t address diversity in your team, what to look out for when managing a diverse team and simple measures you can take to embrace the many benefits from working within a diverse environment.

The problem with ignoring diversity

Whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, will determine whether diversity will be a strength or challenge within your project team.

When you choose to ignore diversity, you’ll find that:

  • You make incorrect assumptions about others
  • Your team will gravitate towards conflicting expectations and priorities
  • No one knows who to turn to when there’s a problem
  • Problems are overlooked until they are a showstopper – and by then, the damage has been done, and trust in the project team may be irreparable.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

The 3 Key Factors in Successfully Managing Diversity

When it comes to successfully managing diversity in your team, there are three key factors to consider.

These are definitions, expectations and terms of engagement.

Let’s explore what each of these means and how you can implement them for your project team. 

It’s important to acknowledge the fact that your project team (whether you’ve worked together before or not), have a range of opinions and views.

Some will align to yours and others won’t. The biggest mistake you can make is to assume you know where you will agree with people and where you won’t.

So, avoid assuming and just be clear.

For example:

  • What does authority in your project team mean and who holds it?
  • What is the definition of success? How and when do we know if we are succeeding?
  • Be clear on the ‘Why’ of the project and what your stakeholders are expecting you to deliver.

The second factor in successfully managing a diverse project team is all about ensuring that everyone is on the same page when it comes to expectations.

What do you expect to do and not do within your role and as a project team?

Does this align to the team’s expectation or does there need to be an adjustment and defining of roles?

What do your stakeholders expect of you and vice versa? Are you able to meet each other’s expectations? It’s best to know and communicate up front if expectations cannot be met.

For example:

  • What is considered to be a ‘problem’ and who takes action to resolve it?
  • When does the team speak up and what should they be speaking up about?
  • What is the role of the project team vs the project leader or manager?
  • What are the expectations of how the team should work?

3. Terms of Engagement

I find that most teams do a good job when it comes to addressing definitions and expectations.

But when it comes to how, when and why we engage others, whether that’s within our teams or with our stakeholders, we often forget to address the terms of engagement.

For example:

  • What authority does the project team have?
  • How much say does the team have vs the project leader?
  • What relationship should the project team be aiming for with their stakeholders? And do they know how to achieve this?

Things you can do to embrace diversity in your project team

Now that you know the three key factors to successfully managing a diverse team, what other measures can you take to make sure you’re embracing diversity?

Here’s my checklist:

  • Don’t Make Assumptions

I talk a lot about assumptions in my approach to project delivery. They never make for a good outcome. Clear communication and asking questions is key.

  • Actively work together

Adopt a true team mentality as you work to define, create, resolve, measure and review your project.

If you’re doing this, you’re much less likely to make assumptions too.

  • Learn how to have difficult conversations

Sometimes, conversations that involve diversity of thought, opinion and experience are difficult. 

So, you need to get good at having difficult conversations.

Two resources to help you do this are my articles: Why Simple Reframing Can Make Difficult Conversations Easier and Difficult Conversations on Projects: How to Get them Right.

  • Learn to listen

Ask people to explain their position and then actually listen instead of waiting for your turn to speak.

  • Speak up

Respectfully share your own thoughts and opinions.

  • Be curious

Empower each other by being curious and taking the time to discover what each member of the team can and wants to contribute to the work.

Diversity is a key element of powerful projects

It’s no secret that there’s great things to be gained when we choose to understand and embrace diversity on our projects.

Diversity makes all of us better. Better project managers, better team members, better people. And that can’t help but make for purposeful, meaningful, impactful, powerful projects.

Get inspiration to improve your project delivery.

Subscribe for insights, tips and strategies to help you deliver powerful projects.