Raising the Bar

Hey Friend(s)!

I know it has been a while (life happens, I don’t even have an excuse) but I really didn’t want a full year to pass between posts so I thought I might share a thought or two that’s been bouncing around in my head for some time now.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve spent a lot of time recently dealing with the challenges involved with building and growing effective, motivated and high-performance teams. As luck will have it, I don’t actually have to lead a team or anything so, at least we’ve collectively dodged a bullet there.

A major, yet controversial piece of this puzzle is the issue of diversity. This is an important issue for a variety of reasons but in the context of building great teams, is simply important because, as the research shows, diverse teams perform better.

This should be intuitive if you’ve ever watched literally any movie or TV show about putting new teams together to tackle some interesting challenge – catching criminals (Blacklist), committing crimes (Leverage), protecting the timeline (Legends of Tomorrow), saving the universe (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), whatever the hell they do in Scandal, etc.. The one thing all of these kinds of teams tend to share, is how little their members have in common (or in some cases, how much better they become by adding a new team mate that is completely different from the existing team). So, considering that if I’ve seen it on TV, it must be true, there’s really not much more to say about this topic but since it’s me, onward we go!

The most interesting thing about this conversation is that when I say “Your team needs to be more diverse”, the most common response I get, by far, is some variation of “Well, you can’t expect me to lower the bar just to get a diverse hire”. This is so confusing to me because, from my perspective, what I’m asking is the exact opposite.

Hiring diverse candidates is not lowering the bar, it’s raising it.

Think about it for a second, diverse teams perform better. Your team is not diverse. So, by definition, there is some instantiation of your team, that could be performing better than your current team is (no matter how well you think your team currently performs). So, if I am proposing that your team take on an additional property that it has previously not had in order to perform better than it currently does, in what scenario is that not considered to be raising the bar?

Put another way, if you think about what the requirements for a new hire used to be, it was simply:

  • Can reverse a linked list or perform similar coding task
  • is not a complete douchebag (maybe)
  • etc. etc.

When one asks that new hires should also bring a diversity of perspective and that the team is not homogenous; when we insist that there is some friction that ensuresĀ the right questions are asked and the best ideas and solutions are found, it would seem to me that adding these to the requirements above moves the hiring bar up, not down.

When people say, “But it’s harder to find great, diverse candidates”, again, I say “Yes. As it turns out, a higher bar does require more work to jump over.”. Crazy concept, I know.

I can go on and on about this but I’m kind of tired now (had too much to eat. Itis life.) so as you go off into the world, remember this:

Hiring diverse candidates is, in general, an effort that raises the quality bar of your whole team. So next time you’re tempted to suggest that hiring diverse talent requires lowering the bar, just, y’know, don’t.


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