Diversity and Inclusion Build High-Performance Teams

CIOs must harness diversity and an inclusive mindset to build cohesive and successful teams.

If CIOs want to be among the 33% of global CIOs who have evolved their digital endeavors to scale, they must exploit the output of high-performance teams. There are certain attributes that build such high-performance teams and make them stand out. Two in particular, diversity and inclusion, can improve success. But many CIOs struggle to build them. 

Look for “cognitive” diversity, which is mixing people together with different thinking styles, habits and perspectives

“High-performance teams are needed for project and product design, and engineering activities,” says Bruce Robertson, Gartner Distinguished VP, Advisory. “And those that advocate diversity and inclusive behaviors help to scale digital initiatives.”

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Diversity and inclusion drive financial targets

Through 2022, 75% of organizations with frontline decision-making teams reflecting a diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets. And gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperformed gender-homogeneous, less inclusive teams by 50%, on average. 

It’s clear that the impact of diversity and inclusion is highly positive — a plus now that more organizations are extending their geographic reach when hiring IT talent

“IT companies in the Western part of the world are increasingly hiring from the East to fill the talent gap, which makes an inclusive work-environment a necessity,” says Daniel Sanchez Reina, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. 

Differences of age, ethnicity, gender and other dimensions foster high performance

Bringing diversity into the workforce is effective at a business level. The difference in employee performance between nondiverse and diverse organizations is 12%, with similar improvements in intent to stay factors.

Having teams with diversity of age, gender, race and ethnicity, or geographic and national culture reflects the very broad user base that companies have. This in turn allows the organization to better serve its consumers. “We know there is a correlation between innovation and diversity,” says Reina. 

Diversity is the first and easier step, but inclusion is the key to leveraging diversity

In addition to a mixture of age, gender, and cultural backgrounds, CIOs need to also look for “cognitive” diversity, which is mixing people together with different thinking styles, habits and perspectives. If everyone on a team has the same style, performance is hindered. Different people think in different ways. Having diversity of thought can be what saves a team from groupthink and allows it to achieve better outcomes.

Furthermore, as organizations increasingly focus their teams on business product delivery, they are becoming much more multidisciplinary. These multidisciplinary teams — which include business roles, not just IT — leverage their diversity of expertise and experience to enable faster decision making.

This is because everyone who needs to make a decision is already on the same team. There is no handing off a project to IT for delivery. Instead, the same team carries the work from design to delivery, and the high level of performance achieved is measured in faster delivery with greater quality.

Create a sense of inclusion to foster involvement and engagement

To build and sustain increasingly diverse teams, organizations should adopt more inclusive behaviors. “Diversity is the first and easier step, but inclusion is the key to leveraging diversity,” says Reina. 

A team manifesto creates more engagement with the mission. “A meaningful, inspiring purpose matters for any team, because it fosters engagement and a sense of shared investment. Inspired by a common purpose, everyone feels that it is ‘their’ mission, not someone else’s,” Robertson says.

CIOs can take action now by adopting five practices that help to effectively build and foster diversity and inclusion among teams and across the organization:

  1. Promote the benefits of inclusion. Link inclusion directly to your core company values and use traditional communication methods such as posters, brochures, direct emails and videos to drive the inclusion message home. 
  2. Celebrate inclusive behavior. Celebrate all successes and progress made in adopting inclusive behaviors, no matter how small. Give the person or team their 10 minutes of glory — for example, during a meeting or a breakfast, and allow them to share their story of success and/or struggle.
  3. Create an open atmosphere for sharing and debating ideas and views. Foster an open culture whereby diverse groups (individuals and decision makers) can freely express and voice their ideas.This type of open atmosphere brings together different perspectives, which can tear down biases and create rich discussions.
  4. Develop training modules on diversity and inclusion. Encourage annual training on diversity and inclusive behavior. Don’t be afraid to let employees explore both their positive and negative attitudes. 
  5. Develop trust through vulnerability. Be willing to show your weaknesses and limitations as a leader. Encourage team members to share their distinctive habits and then, as a team, explore and debunk stereotypes and encourage open discussion within the comforts of the team.

“In this environment, you are human, you discuss things together, and employees feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking questions or offering a new idea,” says Robertson.

This article has been updated from the original, published on November 8, 2018 to reflect new events, conditions or research.

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools and advice available to Gartner clients.


Gartner clients who are IT leaders can read more in Leverage Your Ethnic Diversity to Improve Business Performance by Daniel Sanchez Reina, et al.; Building High-Performance Teams: Inclusion Matters More by Bruce Robertson; and Building High-Performance Teams: Diversity Matters by Bruce Robertson.

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