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July 11, 2013

Cultivating Diversity Requires Multiple Channels of Communication

July 11, 2013

I was recently re-reading an old blog post from fellow Indianapolis company Pivot Marketing, entitled "Caring for your office introvert."  As an introvert, I identified with the post at the time. Upon second inspection, it had my mind contemplating diversity in the workplace.

Kate Franzman, the author of the Pivot post, talks about a bias in our society that favors extroverts. At SmallBox we value collaboration, so much so that it is one of our core values. As such, we are likely as guilty as the rest of the creative sector in our bias towards extroverts.

For extroverts, collaboration comes easy. If you throw a handful of them in a room for a brainstorming session, their energies will feed off of one another through engagement and interaction in the discussion. For introverts, this isn't always the case. Like Kate, I have a hard time articulating my opinion on the spot. But this shouldn't necessarily be viewed as a weakness. There is certainly value in an extrovert's ability to react quickly in interactions with coworkers. But there is also value in the introvert's more analytical "think first, act second" way of processing.

Cultivating diversity within any group is the deliberate embrace of varying perspectives. Sure, businesses are required by law to offer equal opportunity in an effort to increase cultural diversity in the workforce. Most of the time, though, this takes place on a more fundamental level. A strong team leader will desire and seek input from a variety of perspectives before making any serious decision. Therefore, it's safe to assume that the healthiest and most vibrant companies will be ones that include a balance of personalities and styles in the decisions that shape their organization.

The trick becomes providing atypical communicators with avenues for collaboration and discourse. How do you take advantage of the introvert's reaction to a meeting that took place two hours ago without inviting an endless stream of belated emails that will alienate your staff and act as a sieve on productivity? At SmallBox, we have been looking a lot at how we can communicate best internally. Earlier this spring, we launched a private Tumblr with the intention of providing the staff with a one-stop-shop for sharing. Less than thrilled with the platform itself, we are now experimenting with another tool for collaboration called Anchor. We haven't perfected our system, but we're improving through trial and error.

Fortunately, we have a CEO that values healthy disruption and invites our staff to challenge his thinking. We consciously strive to improve the way we work on a daily basis. However, the desire to improve is not enough. You can't just talk about allowing for diversity of ideas and communication, you have to provide those ideas with space to exist and grow. In the future, those spaces may occur in the cloud as often as the conference room.

Providing clients and customers with varying points of contact is perhaps even more important than opening internal channels of communication. At SmallBox, we pride ourselves on the transparency we offer our clients throughout the course of their projects. We realize that no two clients communicate exactly the same way. Therefore, in addition to regular check-ins via conference calls and face-to-face meetings, we document the progress of each project through Basecamp milestones. Our marketing team allows for input on all content, prior to publishing, through a platform called Kapost. And our support team is available to tackle any unforeseen problems throughout each week. All of this is intended to provide client stakeholders with a bird's eye view of our process.

At the end of the month, SmallBox will hold its bi-annual Factory Week. This time around, we have team tests structured around Patrick Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. My hope is that these activities will give us a clearer picture of how our team operates, and how we can better utilize our staff members' various personalities - introverts and extroverts alike. This scheduled introspection should allow us to better serve our clients throughout the rest of the year.

Does your company allow for multiple channels of collaboration? In what non-traditional ways is your company embracing collaboration? How do you provide customers with alternative channels of communication?

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