How to build a diverse team: Three key steps

30 August 2017 -

Diverse Management TeamAnd once you’ve built it, how to maintain it

Guest blogger Stephen Frost

A more diverse team will help you, personally, in your professional life. Properly led, the more diversity around you, the more blind spots will be covered, the more biases will be challenged, and the more decisions will be interrogated and improved.

Generally speaking, that’s a good thing - diverse teams, properly led, can lead to better outcomes.

But how do you build such a team?  And what does ‘properly led’ mean in practice? First, you need to recruit the right team.

Think ‘team’ rather than ‘individual’. If you only focus on recruiting individual rock stars they may be individually brilliant but lousy team players. Similarly, you may inadvertently recruit lots of ‘brilliant’ but similar people.  We know that brilliant homogenous teams can be outperformed by mixed ability diverse teams.

Have a clear brief and process. So assemble a mixed, diverse panel to interview multiple candidates at once and think about the team performing as an organ – do you have listeners and do-ers? Introverts and extroverts? Have you assembled the largest gene pool and most diverse toolbox you can, given the brief?

You need to do all you can to maximise the supply of diverse talent – have you briefed and benchmarked your recruitment agencies on their diversity?  Have you shifted your interview room to more diverse areas rather than expecting them to come to you?  Have you partnered with organisations that have established trusted relationships with sources of diverse talent?

Similarly, you need to maximize the internal demand for such diverse talent presenting itself. So get your recruiters trained on diversity and have them take implicit association tests and become aware of their biases. Have consistent interview scripts that are applied to all candidates and ensure interviewers are proactively seeking diversity.

Second, you need to promote a range of different people into the team.

At a professional services firm, they thought they were a meritocracy, promoting the best people into the Partnership. However, analysis showed they were promoting extroverts and self-promoters over introverts and modest experts.

They were promoting the ‘best people’ they knew.

Map out your succession plan, or talent pipeline, and be clear about the success criteria. Discard irrelevant criteria. Have people without vested interests involved in the decision-making. Have people you don’t ‘know’ involved. For example, Google remove hiring managers from the final decision-making committee stage.

Remember not to confuse likeability with ability. Make pre-emptive efforts to give a platform to those who are less likely to self-promote.  So encourage minorities and quieter people to go for promotion or actively seek them out and encourage them, as well as managing those who will lobby for a place regardless.

Third, you need to retain that diverse talent.

Most companies go wrong by recruiting diversity but then the body rejects the organ and diverse talent leaves just as quickly as it arrived. This is where that “properly led” comes in.

Remember that not everyone vocalises in the same way. So better to conduct pre-emptive ‘stay’ interviews rather than wait until it is too late and you are asking ‘why?’ at exit interviews.

Culture has to be pre-emptively created through inclusive leadership and pre-emptive check-ins might seem a time sink, but they are actually very time efficient compared to the alternative.

Of course, diverse teams are not necessarily a bed of roses. When not managed well, they can lead to more conflict, lower morale and lower productivity.  Hence the importance of inclusive leadership. In my sixteen years working with teams to help them become more high performing, inclusive leadership has never been more important.

Stephen Frost is the founder of Frost Included, a consultancy dedicated to helping people and organisations understand diversity and inclusion. His latest book, Inclusive Talent Management – How business can thrive in an age of diversity, is out now, published by Kogan Page. For more information go to

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