Office Diaries

An insider's guide to success in the workplace

7 Questions to Help Workplace Cohesion and Diversity

What piranhas and butterflyfish can teach us about getting along.

I couldn't help but conjure up a work analogy in my head during a recent visit to an aquarium. Specifically, it made me think of how challenging it can be to manage different personalities in a way that makes everyone want to come together and work as a team.

It all started with a "team" of piranhas. Despite their ferocious reputation and shake-in-your-boots name, they remained still - not budging, not flinching, barely breathing - or so it seemed. They were simply suspended in the water doing nothing.

Next to them was a pool of butterflyfish, who if given the opportunity would have swum circles around the piranhas. That is, if the piranhas didn't eat them first. But that's just the point. Their differences didn't matter because they weren't forced to swim in the same tank with each other in the first place - a work reality that we face every day.

Let's imagine though for a minute what would happen if we did put the butterflyfish and piranhas in the same tank and that they behaved in the manner that I describe above. Combining them would have meant that one group feverishly went in circles while the other kind of just sat there and took up space. Sound familiar? It's nature. It's fish. It's people. It's business. And it's not easy to figure out how to make it all work.

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The good news for the aquarium is the bad news for businesses. We can't separate everyone into like groups and put them into tanks, even though it would be fun to try. So we need to create environments that support the population within - like a tank customized to nurture and accommodate the fish inside.

diversity, inclusion, workplace, managing differences, competition, sales
It can be hard to know where to start because there are so many questions looming. That's why we developed a seven point system to help you navigate the process. It will not only get vital creative juices flowing, but it will also give you a solid foundation from which to build and work the environment you want and need.

At first blush it may seem as though some of these questions are redundant and likely to produce the same answer. But they don't. We've done this many times with many groups. As you dissect it you will see how much valuable information comes from the responses, each through its own unique lens. Include as many people as you can in the process. The more people who have a voice and participate in defining who you are as a company, what you will achieve and where you're going, the more powerful and lasting the outcome.

1. Vision - this is what you see as your company's future.

- What will you "look" like in five years, or ten or twenty?
- "Our vision is to become _______."

2. Mission - these are the things you will accomplish in the near term.

- What will you achieve in the next year or two or three or five?
- "Our mission is to accomplish_______."

3. Objectives - these are your short-term goals.

- What do you need to do to satisfy your mission and vision?
- "Our goals broken down are_______."

4. Strategy - this is how you will get there.

- What do you need to do tactically?
- Our execution strategy is_______."

5. Identity - this is who you are.

- What makes you, you?
- "Our "personality" can be defined as_______."

6. Values - these are the things you care about.

- What do you want to be known for?
- "Our values as a company are_______."

7. Purpose - this is your reason for being.

- Why do you exist?
- "We come to work everyday because_______."

Once you have all your answers, you will have created the conditions of your own distinct organizational "tank." Invite everyone in for a swim and encourage them to be open and aware of differences.

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Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.

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