Team diversity is a big buzz word in business right now, but what does it really mean and how does it help teams solve problems better? As we look at the huge array of people and groups that come to our escape rooms we see a lot of diversity in group size, ethnic origin, age, education and about every other factor that can be applied. We set about trying to understand how diversity works based on observation of all these different groups. What we’ve learned so far is not so much about the differences in the teams but more about the differences within a team. It is something I call perspective diversity.
My background is in art. I’ve had years of art training and decades of art creation for film, video games and other commercial purposes. I’ve also taught art classes on a college level. Often, when teaching art, I will set up a few objects on a table and ask the students to find a place and draw what they see. It is interesting to observe how taking a class of students and having them all draw the same thing will produce a huge variance in final drawings. I’ve come to understand that while all these different drawings are different none of them are truly right or wrong. The differences can mostly be attributed to differences in perspective.
In art perspective is a term for a system or way of composing a picture so the objects depicted in the picture appear to be 3 dimensional or have depth. There are different kinds of perspective, like one-point, two-point, three-point and areal perspective, but they all serve the same purpose of helping the artist interpret what they are seeing into a cohesive 3-dimensional representation. Below is an example of how an artist might use perspective to create a drawing.
The interesting thing about perspective is that even moving just a few inches can change the way it works. It is totally dependent on the position of the object and the location of the viewer. Because these different views bring different parts of the object into view they create different concepts as to what is important or interesting to draw. One view might show stark contrast between two different objects, while another view might obscure one of the objects completely. Other factors like differences in lighting might cause one student to draw a very dark picture because their view is mostly in shadow, while a student on the opposite side of the objects may draw a very light picture because their view is washed with heavy lights.
How this relates to team diversity is that every team member just by being who they are brings a different perspective to how they see a problem. One might be totally focused on how the problem affects company profits, while another might be more focused on how it might affect the employees. It isn’t that one is right, and one is wrong, they are just seeing different aspects of the problem. This difference in perspective becomes even greater when faced with more complex problems.
Usually problems are not singular in nature. In most cases problems faced by businesses and organizations are complex combinations of smaller problems. Therefore, the solutions to the problems may not be singular. When problems become complex the need for multiple views becomes even more important. Just like in drawing no single view will be able to anticipate all the aspects of a complex problem. Diversity in views brings a more complete picture of the problem.
The sad truth is, that in many instances, we spend so much time trying to get others to see our point of view that we neglect to understand that their perspective is different, and they are seeing the problem as something different than we are seeing it. To understand the whole problem, it may mean accepting that other views of the problem are going to be different than our own. Looking at a problem from multiple perspective may help us find the best solution. Often is isn’t a matter of right or wrong, it is more a matter of looking at all views and working toward what is best.