Diversity brings a broader perspective and a broader perspective is critical to strong team building. A good friend of mine recently told me a story which shows how important diversity (skillset, age, gender, background, etc.) is to building successful teams and how diversity finds things experience alone will not.
My friend’s daughter recently started an internship as a mechanical engineer with a well-respected global company who manufactures plumbing equipment. Her first assignment was with a group of very talented and experienced engineers who were working on a defect issue with one specific line of faucets. Returns were extremely high and customer ill-will toward the company brand was growing. The faucet sold well because of style and features, however, defects on the model were abnormally high.
The engineering team, as all good experienced teams would do, had been pouring over every aspect of the manufacturing process, looking at packaging, looking at suppliers parts, doing detailed reviews of designs and design specs, assembling and dis-assembling loads of units right off the line trying to find the issue. My friend’s daughter, being new to faucets and having never installed one before, grabbed a finished product right off the line, sat down with the instructions, and proceeded to put the faucet together according to the steps provided.
No one else had thought to do this!
To her amazement, the instructions walked a customer through a group of steps which not only broke the faucet, it voided the warranty as well. The product was mechanically sound and functioned perfectly when assembled properly; however the average non-plumber customer follows instructions and doesn’t rely on a mechanical engineering degree or years of experience working with plumbing to install their own faucets.
An issue that had cost a company a considerable amount of money, capacity, and consumer ill-will, was solved by a rookie mechanical engineer intern without her utilizing her engineering skills. All of the team members working on the project had been putting faucets of ANY kind together for many years without ever pulling out instructions. They could assemble a faucet sight-unseen, on the fly and it would work perfectly, so no one even thought about considering the instructions as a source of the issue. It wasn’t ego, it was human nature. The team had been so close to the product for so long they could skip steps to get to a “quicker” result. They also had very similar backgrounds, and experience levels. It happens in every industry.
When asked by management what made her decide to look for problems with the instructions, my friend’s daughter said this:
“I wasn’t, it seemed like a logical place to start. Women and men think differently. I always read the instructions first. You have a lot of women customers so you need more women engineers.”
The perspective that diversity delivers is important. Don’t make the costly mistake of overlooking it.