How to build a team with diversity in the workplace

Building a team with diversity

One of our expert trainers, Tom Clarke, introduces some simple steps to make diversity something we do, rather than something we only talk about when putting together and growing a team.

We have all completed diversity and equal opportunities training, as part of managing project teams in the workplace. Yet a glance at the news and social media would indicate that we have a long way to go in successfully implementing diversity in our teams, and in the workplace.

Too often, diversity training remains a box that is ticked, rather than a silver thread that is actually threaded. It needs ongoing application, and too often this does not go beyond a training session. 

What is diversity in the workplace and how to add it to some teamwork theory? 

  • Diversity in the team is fundamentally about treating people as equals. 
  • It is about not allowing differences such as race, gender, physical ability and sexual orientation to create a hierarchy. 
  • It is about the workplace team being a safe place to be yourself.
  • It is about treating others as you would have them treat you, and vice versa.

So far so good.

Now to the teamwork theory, and for that, we will turn to the work of an expert called Belbin from a few years ago.

You might have heard of the Belbin Theory of Teamwork. The Belbin Team Inventory is a personality test to assess how an individual behaves in a team environment. It scores people on how strongly they express behavioural traits from nine different team roles. A complete team has all nine roles. A person may, and often does, show strong tendencies towards multiple roles. 

The diagram below shows these nine Belbin roles, what they add to the team (and possible drawbacks). Have a read. Do you see any of your own skills set? 

So how does this link to diversity?

Well here’s the thing.

None of these roles or traits link directly to a person’s age, gender, sexuality, culture, or perceived disability. This means that anyone and everyone anyone has some of these roles or traits. This is a great leveller. So building your team using the Belbin Theory takes diversity stereotyping out of the mix completely. It also takes away the perception of diversity stereotyping.

As a team leader, it is your job to build a cohesive team. Doing it this way means you can objectively address gaps in your team’s skill portfolio without getting tangled in potentially offending people.

You do this by…

  • Starting from the firm assumption that a balanced team has all nine of the Belbin roles/traits.
  • The next step is to look at which of these roles/traits are present in your team, and which are not. 

Have you noticed that you are looking at personalities instead of people now?

If your Belbin analysis shows that you have a balanced team, then all well and good. but if not, then your next steps are based on gaps in roles/traits for the team, and nothing to do with where a person sits in the diversity spectrum. 

This means your team structuring can remain objective, and not feel personal. Any difficult choices are objective ones based on traits/roles for the team. And any subsequent additions to your team are based on their Belbin roles/traits, too. Unless constrained by time or resources, you can keep adjusting the team until you have 9/9; a balanced team with no favourites.

Which can make things less stressful for the team manager, and indeed the team, in the short, medium and long term. This makes for a better working environment and a more efficient project.

So let’s recap with a poetic summary

First look at your project team, and use the Belbin chart,

To identify the roles your team has, now you’ve made a start.

Then you see what’s missing, what are your Belbin gaps?

This is based on Belbin roles; objective with no ‘perhaps’,

Which calms down a team change process, with no drama and little hype,

And hey presto! You’ve formed a balanced team, with no hint of stereotype.

Happy team managing.

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