By Jamie Claire Kiser
Many firms tout their culture and describe their workplace as having a “family-like” dynamic. While the sentiment is well-intentioned to express a supportive culture and a place of trust, the reality is that families can be extremely dysfunctional. We’re stuck with our families in ways that we are emphatically not “stuck” with our coworkers or our companies. To that end, we encourage our clients to see their cultures like professional sports teams. Athletes also have to trust their teammates and support them as they develop, nurture injuries, and have off days. The difference is that they are brought together to win, and if the team isn’t functioning properly, trades can be made to get the right blend of locker room demeanor and talent mix to secure a formula for victory.
Bringing together with different talents and skill sets to enhance a client project is not much different than building out a team with bench depth and unique perspectives. Developing talents so others can fill in for each other fosters scalable growth, client experience, and career progression. This makes obvious sense when the topic is putting together a project team with the appropriate blend of attributes for a client or project, but it also applies to the power of a diverse team in making effective decisions. The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity is the concept of informational diversity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions, and perspectives.
Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.
Research confirms this, A Harvard Business Review study of a nationally representative survey of 1,800 professionals, 40 case studies, and numerous focus groups found that leadership with both inherent and acquired diversity (traits you gain from life and work experiences) are 45 percent more likely to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70 percent more likely to report the firm captured a new market.
Getting the right “players” into the right positions on the team is essential as well – project managers have to be technically adept, but as a PM, they also have to be exceptional communicators, both internally and externally. It’s a different “muscle,” perhaps, than they have exercised before, and it requires great trainers and mentors to help develop a PM into all they are capable of becoming. It also requires reckoning with the fact that the most technically skilled team members may not be the right fit to lead and manage a team, which can be hard for AEC firms that define project manager to include managing people and projects. Minimizing the importance of someone who is able to rally those around them around the project success and to encourage and collaborate with the project team members in favor of a system that overstates technical prowess as a qualifier for leadership is a mistake, but it’s one we see all the time in the firms that we work with.
Building a company that sees itself as the best version of a team keeps the competitive edge that helps motivate those around us to go the extra mile, to continue to feel the need to push their own professional development to continue to earn their spot on a team they are proud to be part of, and to recruit others to join them and wear their team colors proudly is, in my opinion, a much better paradigm to aspire to for any AEC firm.
Jamie Claire Kiser is managing principal and director of advisory services at Zweig Group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.