How Diversity Makes Federal Teams More Effective

Diversity is an essential characteristic for building innovative organizations and teams within those organizations. In federal government teams, innovation has always rested, in great part, on the diversity of the team fostering it.

The phrase “e pluribus unum” (from many, one), which appears on the Great Seal of the United States, speaks to diversity as a foundational principle. The team that suggested the motto probably thought of themselves as diverse. Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams represented diverse regions (Philadelphia, Virginia, and Boston), professions (printing, planting, and the law), and educations (apprenticed, William & Mary, and Harvard). By today’s standards, their diversity was quite limited. It took a while for mainstream America to transition from the belief that diversity would slow progress to understanding that diverse teams are better at executing decisions, making innovative ideas happen.

Today, embracing the concept that there is value in diversity does not go far enough. Author Frans Johansson insists that teams have much greater potential for innovation when they embrace both diversity and inclusion. He reports that innovation involves a trio of interacting processes, and diversity and inclusion form a hub for developing innovations:

  1. Generating Ideas
  2. Selecting Ideas
  3. Executing Ideas

When generating ideas, a diverse team has a much wider experiential basis for idea discovery. A wide net captures more fish and wider diversity of team members gathers more ideas. In many situations, taking an idea from an unrelated discipline can solve a problem, for example, the ultrasound technology used for medical diagnoses was originally designed to reveal structural flaws in ships.

Millennial Focus on Employers’ Diversity and Inclusion

Millennials comprise America’s largest generation — over 75 million strong. With 44% minorities, it is likely that diversity will flourish among Millennials as they take the lead in American society and in public service. They will prefer organizations and teams that reflect their generation’s assumptions of diversity and inclusion.

Diversity in Government

The federal government requires, measures, and audits diversity among its ranks. This makes it imperative that government leaders (or those aspiring to leadership)  understand the value of diversity.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed publications and consulted experts in the field of diversity management to develop the following leading practices which are used to evaluate federal agencies’ commitment to diversity:

  • Top leadership commitment – a vision of diversity demonstrated and communicated throughout an organization by top-level management.
  • Diversity as part of an organization’s strategic plan – a diversity strategy and plan that are developed and aligned with the organization’s strategic plan.
  • Diversity linked to performance – the understanding that a more diverse and inclusive work environment can yield greater productivity and help improve individual and organizational performance.
  • Measurement – a set of quantitative and qualitative measures of the impact of various aspects of an overall diversity program.
  • Accountability – the means to ensure that leaders are responsible for diversity by linking their performance assessment and compensation to the progress of diversity initiatives.
  • Succession planning – an ongoing, strategic process for identifying and developing a diverse pool of talent for an organization’s potential future leaders.
  • Recruitment – the process of attracting a supply of qualified, diverse applicants for employment.
  • Employee involvement – the contribution of employees in driving diversity throughout an organization.
  • Diversity training – organizational efforts to inform and educate management and staff about diversity.

Measuring these leading practices is important on the departmental level as well as the project level, to ensure that teams reflect agency goals.

Written by:
Bill Dannenmaier
Leadership & Management
Media Type:

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