When it comes to global innovation, diversity of thought is the key to success. However, if a diverse workforce is not properly integrated amongst itself, internal differences may tear the company apart and lead to its ultimate demise—as illustrated by many failed mergers and acquisitions throughout time. In fact, according to Bain & Company, culture clashes are the number one cause of deal failure in merging companies. Similarly, adding a diverse individual to an organization is like carrying out a mini merger: properly integrating them within the company is necessary for operations to flow smoothly and for the company to achieve the full benefit of a diverse workforce. Sunnie Giles, systems psychology PhD and author of “The New Science of Radical Innovation,” suggests that global leaders can foster integration by providing direction on organizational mission, establishing a network structure, and hiring generalists.
“Integration is [achieved] through [the] power of cohesion,” says Giles. Naturally, individuals in a diverse workforce will be drawn to different ways of thinking and may differ in their opinions of which the direction a company should take. This diversity of thought is a double-edged sword—it generates the innovative and problem-solving environment necessary to succeed internationally, but it can also lead to conflict if unchecked. That is where a good leader comes in. The different perspectives throughout a company must be brought together to work cohesively towards the organization’s goals. To achieve these benefits while protecting against the potential toxicity, Giles suggests that leaders must clearly articulate the team mission, vision, and goal to show the diverse team what its cohesive direction should be. This gives team members general parameters to operate in, while still allowing their individual creativity to flow. A good leader, providing clear direction, establishes cohesion in diverse groups.
While cohesion may drive integration, Giles expands on a second aspect of integration: interdependence. Just as providing direction fosters the cohesion necessary for integration, establishing a network structure and hiring generalists help bring about interdependence.
Establish a Network Structure
Giles instructs global leaders to organize their companies in a network structure, rather than in a typical pyramid structure, to maximize interdependency. By structuring workflow, decision making, and other organizational functions as a network, individuals’ ideas are given close to or even the same weight as their superiors’ ideas. This encourages them to contribute their unique ideas and fosters integration as individuals learn to rely on one another for ideas and problem-solving purposes.
Hierarchy is counterproductive to innovation. Giles illustrates this by comparing countries in the Asian Pacific to European countries and America. Individuals in the Asian Pacific have greater enthusiasm for learning and experimentation than their counterparts in Europe; however, they also have a more hierarchical culture which stifles innovation by placing more weight on the ideas of prestigious individuals. Then there is America. America falls between Asia and Europe in enthusiasm for innovation, but American culture is optimized for innovation with much less hierarchy than the Asian Pacific and Europe, allowing ideas from even those at the bottom of organizations and society to bubble up to the top.
Establishing a network structure also helps increase the resilience of an organization as individuals become increasingly aware of their coworkers’ roles. Giles suggests that high awareness of roles within a company enables an organization to self-heal in the case that one part goes down, because the others can naturally fill in.
According to Giles, another way to promote interdependence is to hire individuals with a T-shaped competency pattern—a broad top of capabilities with one deep expertise. Giles suggests that, “if you have deep expertise without [a] broad top, your expertise will actually blind you because there [are] too many [new] things coming at you." She further warns, “without broad perception and [a] proclivity to learn and look at other things, you will be biased by your own expertise.” If organizations fail to hire generalists, employees will think too narrowly and not integrate well. They will make diversity of thought a point of tension for the company, rather than the source of innovation it is intended to be.
With so many diverse viewpoints around the world, it makes sense that integrating diverse individuals will produce the greatest results for innovation. Global leaders must learn how to integrate diverse groups within their organization in order to achieve the benefits of diversity without facing the consequences of cultural clashes. This is done by targeting the two components of integration: cohesion and interdependence. Leaders can foster cohesion by providing direction through a mission, vision, and overall goal. They can bring about interdependence through network structuring to balance the weight of all ideas and hiring generalists capable of learning and adapting to new ideas. The path to global innovation requires globally diverse ideas, and proper integration of diverse individuals within a company is the only way to foster such thoughts.
To learn more from Sunnie Giles on the importance of company integration in global leadership, view her Global Perspectives Summit 2020 presentation here.