When you look at the research on how integrated and diverse teams consistently outperform their homogenous counterparts, the finding seems obvious: of course bringing more perspectives to problems is a better way to solve them.
This is why Agile development incorporates feedback from people in both technical and business roles. It’s why design thinking weaves in ideas and perspectives from not just across an organization but also its user base.
These practices are valuable, but the diversity of perspectives Agile and design thinking teams gather is often limited because those teams tend to be largely culturally and racially homogenous.
At TXI, as we continue to practice the principles for working differently in our design-thinking-led product development, we’re addressing this deficit by deliberately building teams whose members come from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Here’s a look at why and how we’re doing this work.
More perspectives, more ideas, more good ideas
We’ve written in the past about how, to have good ideas, you must have many ideas. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one way to ensure you have lots of ideas is to ensure the people coming up with the ideas aren’t all the same.
In that story, each of six blind men hears different stories about what an elephant does and then each touches a different part of the elephant; separately, they have very different ideas about what an elephant is––and those ideas are all wrong because they only encompass one element of the elephant. It’s only when they combine their information that they’re able to understand the totality of the animal.
In custom software development, we all bring our personal experiences and biases, which affect how we interpret––and may cause us to entirely miss––important information. Together, though, we can help each other make sense of the data in front of us, in part by interpreting it through the lenses of our varied experiences.
This isn’t just the result of bringing many ideas, though. Research has also shown that diverse teams are better at interpreting facts.
Integrated teams think more accurately
Generating good ideas––and building digital products––is an inherently creative process. But the reason integrated teams are able to be more creative and productive and innovative is, in part, that they are more accurate. That is, they are better than homogenous teams at accurately remembering facts and better at paying attention to facts.
This is important to understand because it illustrates that innovation is a teachable, learnable practice.
When any team is building software, its members will build a better product when they continually make decisions based on facts gathered during user research. And because we know that teams with members who have diverse backgrounds are better at doing this, we know that one way to improve the quality of our products––consistently––is to improve the diversity of our teams.
Effective innovation must have a feedback loop
A key part of Agile is learning from each build and applying lessons to the next sprint. Similarly, in work led by design thinking, we test and improve ideas at every opportunity.
To be an organization that consistently creates innovative, inclusive outcomes, we have to have a similar feedback loop at the organizational level. We’re constantly striving to improve that feedback loop at TXI.
For example, after working with Brink to build a voting app designed to make engagement with the election system more accessible, we started weaving accessibility best practices into everything we built and educating our clients (when necessary) about why.
As we grappled with our nation’s white supremacy in the months following the murder of George Floyd, we reexamined our existing DEIB efforts and determined that we needed to increase our investments of time and resources, elevating DEIB to a core element of our company and operations.
On an ongoing basis, as we learn from workshops, client engagements and our communities, we continue to adapt the ways we think and operate so we’re always building a better, more inclusive organization.
The benefits of integrated teams are clear. The work is ongoing.
There is overwhelming evidence of how diverse, integrated teams benefit businesses. That’s why, as an organization committed to providing outsized value to our clients in every engagement, we’re committed to building diverse, integrated teams.
But that’s only the start of the narrative.
We recognize that, while there’s a direct correlation between diversity and innovation, becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization isn’t as simple as recruiting and hiring people from different backgrounds.
To make meaningful change, we must also do the work of creating an environment where every member of our diverse team feels welcome, supported and valued. This means engaging on an ongoing basis with the realities of white supremacy that shape much of the dominant business culture we exist within. It’s challenging work, but it is work that we cannot afford to shortchange.
We’ll continue to write about our journey here. If you’d like to follow along, please sign up for our newsletter. If you’re interested in how our teams work toward impactful, inclusive outcomes, let us know.