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The masterpiece: how the art of diverse teams can bring success

  • Posted on April 17, 2014

Designing a business strategy for long-term success in a region composed of many different cultures and approaches like EALA (Europe, Africa and Latin America) is no easy task. Each country has a unique combination of talents, strengths and teams that deliver great customer results for that local market. But no country exists in isolation, and as a global company there is great strength in networks that extend across borders and geographies. We are increasingly getting asked by customers for work that is not contained by country-specific boundaries. This is one of the reasons I brought together a diverse team of leaders from across Avanade EALA to participate in a two-day strategy session designed to build a blueprint to drive growth as a united area.

Diverse teams have many benefits and some challenges.  For example, while communication styles can be very different (and sometimes difficult), cross cultural teams are much better at solving complex problems in creative and dynamic ways. Like any social system, we tend to connect more quickly and more easily to individuals who are similar to us, so building social ties across countries takes more time and more effort. Still, the benefits far outweigh these challenges. Different perspectives are required for operating in innovative ways and diverse teams have this heterogeneity as an inherent part of their structure.

Part of the challenge we sought to address in our strategy session this year was how to become more united as an area and more effective at pulling from the relative sources of strength and expertise we have across the different countries. It is difficult sometimes to step away from the teams we are familiar and comfortable with to engage with lesser known individuals but the benefits of taking this risk can be immeasurable.  An integrated, diverse team is stronger, more dynamic, more resilient, and more importantly, better at delivering value to customers.

In our strategy session, as an icebreaker we took a very literal approach to looking at the challenges and opportunities that better integration can deliver. We broke up into small groups of 5-7 individuals each of which was tasked with painting a picture from a printout in 45 minutes. Unbeknownst to the groups, each painting was part of a bigger picture, which together built a masterpiece. And while every group completed the task, few groups asked why and even fewer actively managed the connection points between one painting and the next. Each section was beautiful in isolation, but the bigger masterpiece was more beautiful, more complete and much more powerful.

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day pace of life. We are all under immense time pressure to deliver beautiful pieces of work to our customers in short timeframes. But we must also remember that every piece is part of something bigger. If we raise our heads from our respective tasks for a moment to ask ‘why’ or ‘how can we connect more’ or ‘can I help you with my expertise’ we will begin not only to see the bigger picture but we’ll also take part in creating it.

Eddie Pate

Pam, nicely done! Brilliant way to show the value of diverse perspective/skills with the painting exercise. I love that. I use the puzzle analogy in the same way. Love your leadership on this topic. You model behavior that every person at Avanade should (if not already) emulate.

April 18, 2014

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