How Diversity and Inclusion Impact Organization Design

Almost all organizations now are aware of the importance of diversity. Most have identified at least one person at the executive level whose role and responsibility is to help the organization address systemic issues around lack of diversity or the lack of inclusion of certain types of people, including people of color, women, LGBT, people with special needs, etc. Within most organizations the focus tends to be on fair treatment of these individuals. This is, of course, necessary and just. However, there is another aspect of diversity that is less often addressed but equally important: diversity of thought and inclusion of perspectives.

Whenever we do organization design work we put together a design team. In the past, the selection process has been driven primarily by these two considerations:

  1. Do we have the right subject matter expertise in the room?
  2. Do we have people with the appropriate stake in the problem sitting around the table?

However, perhaps it’s time to introduce a third consideration into the selection process:

  1. Have we included the right diversity of thought and perspectives on our team?

A few years back I did a consultation with a manufacturing client. When I looked around the room, I noticed that every single person there was a white male. Did they do good work? Yes. Were they open to new ideas? I believe they were. But there were no people of color and no women in the room. So the question is: what did they lose in their thinking and solutions because of the unidimensional reality of their team?

While I don’t know the answer for that particular team at that time, I did have the opportunity recently to witness an unintentional side-by-side demonstration of the power of inclusion in an organization.

The Voice in the Room

I have been doing some organization design work that involves working with two separate functions of a single organization. Recently each of the functions engaged a group of people to work on their respective organization designs. Both made sure there was representation from all parts of the business on their teams. They were thoughtful and attentive to include representatives from Europe, Asia, and everywhere they had a presence, including China. One of the functions succeeded in getting a person from China to come to both working sessions, where this individual was an active participant. However, the person from China who had been invited by the other function was not able to attend either design session for various reasons.

In observing both teams, I noticed that the depth of understanding regarding China was notably different between the two functions’ conversations in session. In the first, the voice from China was in the room and was being taken into account—and it went deeper than just an understanding of the mechanics of doing business in China. This group was able to address significant cultural issues related to China, including specific implications of managing in China, growing in China, and doing business transactions in China.

While the other group did include people who’d visited China, and others who were familiar with what the company was doing in China, the voice of China was not in the room. As a result, the level of awareness of China and issues surrounding doing business there was not nearly as present as it had been in the other group’s sessions.

I found it interesting that when the first function decided to go forward and pilot their organization design changes, they selected China as the pilot location. Because the voice of China was in the room it was considered, and it was not only considered but deemed a good place to try the changes they were looking to implement. In contrast, I don’t think China will be on the radar screen in the other group—even if it would be an ideal place to try the changes for this other function, too—because its voice had not fully been in the discussion.

Tapping Diversity’s Potential

When I look at the teams we pull together to do organization design and journey management work, I have noticed a trend towards a greater balance between men and women in most organizations.  We are seeing greater inclusion of groups of people (e.g., people of color, et al.). As an outside partner there is often little I can do to directly affect the level of diversity or inclusion in design sessions. However, I do feel that in addition to finding people with the right business knowledge and stake in the problem, it is very important to ask the question, “Have we considered including any distinct points of view from an inclusion/diversity perspective on our team?” Having those diverse voices in the room opens up vast potential for creating solutions that bring the best outcomes forward.

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published on April 25, 2018. The blog has since been updated.

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