The Challenge of Managing a Diverse Team

5 minutes

Diversity among workforce is natural in an organization. Individual differences can foster creativity, happiness and fulfilment at work but they may also be the cause for clashes and disagreements. Managing workforce differences has become a key skill for managers who need to match the skills of an individual with the requirements of the organization (Mullins 2010).

People are unique in many ways. The Four Layers of Diversity Wheel by Gardenswartz and Rowe (Washington 2008:1- 4) shows the complexity of factors that influence and shape a person’s unique character. Plenty of studies attempt to measure an individual’s personality such as OCEAN Test which measures “The Big 5 Personality Traits”: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (Mullins 2010). Managers use personality tests to identify differences in skills and characters while forming a team.

Figure 1: The 4 Layers of Diversity Wheel created by Gardenswartz & Rowe (2003)


Building teams requires the ability to understand people’s strengths and unique skills and knowing how to maneuver them in an efficient manner (Llopis 2012). Tuckman’s team formation model relates the way individuals behave when they come together as a group. The model comprises of four stages: forming, storming, norming and performing and implies that once the issues of processes and feelings are addressed in the initial stages, it’s expected that the team will reach a fruitful final stage and vice versa (Hut 2010). The four stages of the team formation are summarized in the diagram below:

Figure 2: Tuckman’s Team Formation Mode

While Tuckman’s suggests a linear succession from one stage to next stage and has been successfully implemented in small teams, human processes are subject to variation and “stages” of development can be skipped or reversed (Clements and Jones 2008). Other theorists have proposed cyclical alternative models such as Bales (1965) who argues that team members seek a balance between getting the task done and building interpersonal relationships. Therefore, there is a movement between norming and performing (Kemper 2015).


Diversity is seen differently by organizations. While some companies promote diversity by valuing influences from diversified talents, others tolerate it by merely following the rules, the rest see it as a setback (Rawat and Bsergekar 2016).

Advantages of Diversity Management

Promoting diversity may bring plenty of advantages such as increased employee satisfaction, customer focus, more innovation and creativity and improved cross-team learning (Mullins 2010). Hunt et al. (2014) reported that companies having higher workforce diversity have a competitive advantage. KPMG is an example of a firm who took a long-term strategic approach to engaging diverse talent. Having a large multinational client base, KPMG took the effort to understand their business protocols and culture by integrating diversity with corporate responsibility (Llopis 2011). (2015) ranked KPMG in Top 50 most successful companies in employing women and minorities in management roles (32% higher than US average).

Figure 3: KPMG Diversity Forecast 2018 (Source: The Guardian 2014)

Challenges of Diversity Management

  1. Not Understanding Differences in Cultural Values

Majority of managers lack experience in managing culturally diverse teams. They are accustomed to working with people with whom they share same values and beliefs in life and when they face a diverse workforce they fail to understand what motivates individual team members (Majlergaard 2012). Many Korean companies including Samsung are struggling with understanding their cultural diverse workforce, and employees who “stand out” from the norm end up leaving the company (Hwangjung 2013).

  1. Discrimination and Stereotyping 

Green et. al (2015) suggest that prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination in an organization harms working relationships and brings damage to the morale and productivity in a diverse environment. Connor (2015) found that 31% of women feel discriminated at work while men are offered better opportunities.

  1. Lack of Proper Training Programs and Promotion for Women

Many corporations have failed at applying diversity training programs which can be seen in the lack of promotion opportunities among women and minorities. Fortune Magazine (2006) found that only 2% of CEOs in Fortune 1000 were women.


In in the end, “it takes great leaders to build great teams”.  Team building is both an “art and a science” as it requires exceptional understanding of the differences in personality and skills to build high performance and long-lasting teams (Llopis 2012). I strongly believe that a successful team building activity will lead to a more successful workplace environment.


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