In our quest to build SameWorks, we have met with many companies to uncover the secret sauce of building thriving, diverse teams, and many others who are seeking to attain it.

Studies show that diverse teams outperform, many of which are highlighted in this article. For instance, McKinsey ran a study showing that gender diverse teams are 15% more productive, and ethnically diverse teams are 35% more productive.

These studies show that it’s not the race or gender of the diverse teams that’s the magic ingredient for performance; it’s the diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences of those individuals that are the catalyst.

How can companies harness the power of diverse teams? Where should they start?

The key is adopting a growth mindset across your organization.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Let’s start by talking about what a growth mindset is:

Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.

HBR wrote a fantastic introductory article on the topic recently, and another about the positive effects of adopting a growth mindset on the entire organization.

People with a growth mindset believe that the natural talents, proclivities, or interests of an individual can be harnessed to augment a team’s skills with their unique and diverse points of view.

There are many ways in which an individual can harness this mindset:

  • Military service members who take the leadership skills they learned in active duty and apply them to leadership in a tech company.
  • A product manager who studied liberal arts in college, but spent their spare time building websites to pay their tuition.
  • College dropouts who start companies and learn about entrepreneurship and business as they go.
  • An individual who is great at research, for example a scientist or a lawyer, moving into a field that needs researching skills to be successful, such as SEO or forensics.

Examples of a fixed mindset

Here are symptoms of teams that have a fixed mindset:

  • Never recruiting or hiring from within, because they hold the belief that there is no way an individual on another team could learn or be trained into the role.
  • Only accepting candidates with a specific GPA, from a small set of other companies, or a specific set of schools.
  • Passing on candidates because of very broad reasons, such as, “I don’t think their school has a good CS program,” or “They’re not technical enough.”

This mentality leads to homogenous teams that may ultimately lack the ability to pressure-test one another based on diverse perspectives.

The danger is with this mentality, you also risk passing on highly qualified and motivated candidates who are not at all representative of your biases against their education or experience.

Building growth and diversity from within

Successful companies deploy learning and development programs within their organizations to harness the growth potential of existing employees.

Companies that grow their employees’ talents retain high-potential individuals over a much longer period of time than the industry average. When people can grow their careers within an organization, they retain their valuable and unique industry, customer and proprietary knowledge inside of the company.

A common impediment to the success of these programs occurs when management with a fixed mindset believes that only a specific type of person can qualify or fit into their department.

Leaders with a fixed mindset will be biased against the capabilities of say, a customer support engineer moving into a software development role, or an account manager becoming a sales engineer. Often times these biases are caused by fear of hiring someone who won’t perform as well as the rest of the team, or because people tend to use pattern-matching for what they’ve deemed successful in the past.

Successful teams with a growth mindset keep a warm bench of entry-level opportunities for individuals within the organization to earn their way into higher-level roles. This includes roles that are more strategic, more technical, or involve people or team leadership.

As employees grow and thrive in their careers, they will naturally seek these opportunities. It is much better to provide them within the organization than to inspire them to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Making hiring decisions with a growth mindset

When making hiring decisions, consider:

  • Whether the individual has unique and complimentary qualities that are currently missing from your team, to help augment the diversity of perspectives.
  • Whether their skills translate to the job in unique ways that could be an asset to their role.
  • If they have demonstrated a growth mindset in their previous career history. You should probe for stories and data points.
  • Discussing with your superiors about the risks and rewards of hiring outside of your typical candidate profile, and the importance of a growth mindset. Get the support of senior leadership to empower growth-focused hiring decisions.

We’re  excited to work with companies that are all-in about growing their people. Life is all about the journey of continuous learning and discovery. We should embrace and nurture the growth potential that exists within all of us.