How Team Diversity Enables Continuous Improvement

Agile DiversityContinuous improvement requires that people reflect and find ways to do their work in a better way. Having diversity in agile teams makes it possible to discover and explore new ways of working, where uniform teams with identical kinds of people would aim for steadiness and don’t want things to change. Let’s explore how you diversity can enable continuous improvement using agile retrospectives.

Diversity makes change happen

Malcolm Gladwell talks about the tipping point. He explains that having different kinds of people who work together is a precondition to change. Thijs Homan describes in his book Organisatiedynamica how teams have to be diverse to enable change to happen. These two go together, there has to be a cycle of continuous change in teams to adopt to changing circumstances and to improve themselves.

You need people with a diverse set of social gifts to have changes done, says Malcom. Multidisciplinary agile teams can be such a collection. Organizations use models like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to assure that they have people with different skills in a team. In many of the agile teams that I worked with I saw the connectors, mavens and salesmen.

Thijs Homan explains that we need sufficient diversity in an organization to make change happen. When the diversity is low people do not come up with new ideas. They share a similar view of how things should be done which supports a status quo. When the diversity is too big people do not understand each other’s ideas and find it difficult to connect and work together.

Exploiting diversity in Agile Retrospectives

The agile retrospective brings diverse people together with the purpose to reflect on how things are. And lets their creativity flow to solve problems that they are having in the team. An agile retrospective empowers a diverse team to self-assess how agile they are, develop a shared view of the situation, and decide what they will do next to continue their journey to become more agile and lean.

Retrospectives can support continuous lasting improvement through diversity:

Continuous Improvement with diverse teams

When you are defining agile teams, make sure that they are multidisciplinary and diverse. This will enable teams to reflect and learn, and find better ways to do their work.

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Johan Roels

    Hi Ben,

    Indeed, team diversity enables continuous improvement. Team diversity is necessary for continuous improvement AND not sufficient. Let me give you one of my favorite one-liners: (CI)2 = Continuous Improvement through Creative Interchange. Creative Interchange refers specifically tot the process of shared exchange and creative integration whereby a group of diverse people develop a shared vision and creative solutions, that, correcftly implemented, will solve the problem at hand.

    Creative Interchange is based largely on the work of philosopher Henry Nelson Wieman, who gave this natural process its name, and Charles Leroy Palmgren, who identified its characteristics, conditions and behaviors/tools.

    Although diversity is the source of creativity, team diversity is no guarantee that polarized debate, political games and ‘Groupthink’ won’t happen. Creative interchange is based on the understanding that productive conversations require ‘both/and & different from” rather than even ‘both/and’ and certainly ‘either/or’ thinking and acting. Based on the works of Wieman and Palmgren I’ve – as you know – developed a ‘Crucial dialogue’ model who, when lived from the inside out, creates synergy. The simple model combines in a unique way thinking (left side) and acting (right side). In its middle stands either the question to be answered (the problem to be solved) or the opportunity to be seized.

    Through creative interchange, teams achieve results that are more than and different form what either of the participants could have achieved working in isolation. When the team members don’t live creative interchange from the inside out team diversity can lead to Groupthink, which does not enable continuous improvement. Creative interchange is a profound continuous improvement that has as its outcomes synergy and innovation leading to positive transformation.

    1. BenLinders

      Hi Johan,

      Thanks for your reaction. I agree that although diversity is a precondition for success, it doesn’t guarantee it. Creative interchange as described in your comment is an approach that can help teams to improve continuously.

      I’ve read your book “Cruciale dialogen” and I’m designing an exercise that teams can use in a retrospective.


      1. Johan Roels

        Hello Ben,

        I wouldn’t call Creative Interchange an ‘approach’. It is, to many others and me, THE basic process of all learning, creation and transformation. In his book Man’s Ultimate Commitment, Dr. Henry Nelson Wieman made the observation that the fullest attainment of humankind can only be achieved when people make the ultimate commitment to engage in Creative Interchange, the true source of human good and transformation. “Man is made for creative transformation as a bird is made for flight,” he writes.

        Creative Interchange occurs, according to Dr. Wieman, “when the individual finds one or more persons with whom he/[she] can engage in that kind of interchange which creates in each an awareness of the original experience of the other person.”

        We must counteract the forces that obstruct Creative Interchange, writes Wieman, such as prejudice, all forms of ignorance, and blocks to the creative process. There are no guarantees that Creative Interchange will bring this world to peace and justice, he notes, but it has that potential.

        The often complex ideas of dr. Wieman have been made more accessible by Dr. Charlie Palmgren, who I often call my ‘third father’. Indeed, Charlie translated Creative Interchange in contemporary language and added to its characteristics, the necessary conditions and behaviors, so that the process can unfold its potential. On top of that, he identified the process that blocks Creative Interchange: The Vicious Circle. A wonderful description of that phenomenon has been given by him and his co-founder of Synerchange International, Inc. Stacy Hagan in their book: ‘The Chicken Conspiracy, Breaking the Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity’.


  2. Mike Murray

    Johan: in connection with all of this I want to mention a new book by a good friend of mine. The book could have been called “Authentic Interacting”, but the actual title is “Becoming a Leader is Becoming Yourself.” The author’s name is Russ Moxley. It reviews Russ’s 40+ years of consulting, including his 17 years on the staff of the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. I highly recommend it and on another email will send you a brief review of it that I have written. Hope you are doing well.

    1. BenLinders

      Mike, can you post some more info about the book here?


      1. Johan Roels

        Hi Ben,

        I just ordered the book Mike is mentioning ( From the website, here some more info about the content of the book:

        People from all sectors of society yearn for leaders who are authentic and real, who show up in their own face and not a game face, who find and use their voice in appropriate ways, and who act with a deep sense of integrity. And those who engage in the process of leadership – and at some point and time that includes each of us – want to be our self. Our true self. Our real self. Our whole self. But being real and staying true to our self is not as easy as it might seem. We are always moving in and out of being authentic. We are fully and wholly present one moment but absent the next. We speak our truth in some experiences, then say yes when we want to say no in others. We act on our core values some of the time, but give them a wink and a nod when the heat is on. We think we project only light, never shadow, on others and the organizations we serve. There are no tips and techniques, or simple formulas, or competencies we can develop, or clear road maps that can help us on the journey to becoming whole and authentic men and women. More than anything else, becoming and being our self requires confidence and courage. But there are things that we can do along the way – embracing our gifts and limits, integrating our shadow, making a decision in the moment to speak truth to power, making sure we have trustworthy traveling companions – that aid us as we seek to become the person we started out to be.

        Publisher Mcfarland &Amp; Co Inc July 2015


        1. BenLinders

          Thanks Johan, I’ll take a look at it.

    2. Johan Roels

      Good to hear from you!
      I’ll go after the book you’re mentioning. BTW, the title makes me think of another book of Charlie Palmgren: ‘Ascent of the Eagle, Being and Becoming Your Best’. In this book Charlie explores the five conditions for Creative Interchange to work: Mutual Intrinsic Worth, Trust, Curiosity, Connectivity and Tenacity. He shows how those conditions are critical for developing the four characteristics of Creative Interchange: Authentic Interacting, Appreciative Understanding, Creative Integrating and Continual Transforming. He finally ads eight practical thinking tools and behavioral skills that allow us to re-establish the five conditions so that the Creative Interchange Process can thrive.

  3. Charlie Palmgren

    Authenticity requires becoming less self-conscious and more self- aware of one’s “intrinsic worth” and that same worth in others. It requires embracing ambiguity and spontaneity of mind and a commitment and courage to act on one’s best while remaining open to what transforms and makes that best better

    Creative Interchange is our innate capacity to undergo continual transformation as Johan suggested above. It is a process of diverging-converging-emerging-remerging in order to be and become ever more fully one’s true authentic self..

    1. BenLinders

      Thanks Charlie for explaining this. I like it how you explained the importance of embracing ambiguity and being open to change to continuously become better.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.