2 Groups Need Diversity

Many companies today require diversity training. This is not about that. It should go without saying that racism, sexism, hate speech, bullying, harassment, and other such crude behaviors are negative factors in the work place. Unfortunately, as a society, we still find the need to train adults in basic courtesy, which one might hope will someday become standard curriculum in every primary school. Be that is it may, our focus here is more on the mechanics of how to be more productive in the work place. The specific challenge addressed here is how can groups or teams get IT work done in an efficient way, aiming for the most powerful results? For these productive purposes, team diversity is essential. This is true even if the team members all belong to the same race, gender, or any other demographic category. Race, gender, age, language, and other demographic qualities may be indicators that suggest underlying team diversity, but the diversity that is really needed for IT projects is more than skin deep. It’s diversity of thought. It’s diversity of skill. It’s diversity of training. It’s diversity of vision. It’s diversity of personality, passions, preferences, and perceptions. In short, for a complex IT project to succeed, you need different team members who care about different things and are good at performing different technical operations.

As soon as an IT work group gathers, the question of leadership is sure to arise. Although on principle all work group members may be on the same contract, earn the same compensation, and occupy the same niche in the organizational chart, as a practical matter, any human group needs some sort of leadership structure. For small groups, this usually takes the form of a single leader, although shared leadership can work as well. In any case, the role of the leader is different than the roles of everybody else. Other team members work through their tools; leaders work through their team. The job of team members is to take care of business; the job of leadership is to take care of the team. For leadership, people skills are a must. For IT leadership, you need to understand IT, but you also need to understand people. Following sections may help a bit with that! But for now, let’s just bracket leadership as one special quality needed by any work group. Someone in the group will need to bring leadership skills already, or be prepared to grow into them. Nature abhors vacuums – especially leadership vacuums.

Apart from leadership, other diverse skills required by an IT team derive from the complexity of development stacks, development models, and development pipelines. The days of hacking a website on your PC and serving the URL from a beefier PC under your desk are long over. Modern applications require multitier stacks or serverless architectures involving the orchestration of numerous languages, platforms, packages, protocols, interfaces, hosting arrangements, and production workflows. Specialist knowledge in skills like user interface design, database administration, devops, quality assurance, performance engineering, and IT security are needed for any significant project. The Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) model calls for seven different phases for any project. It is possible to specialize at each of these phases. For example, a manager who works only with requirements may never touch code. A development team may only touch code. A quality assurance specialist may only touch code as a tester, or might also guide customers and end users though how to install or use the code. All of the specialists involved in complex IT projects have different technical vocabularies and different ways of undertaking their work. For an effective work group, all these players need to maintain their unique perspectives, while also coming together as a unified and cohesive team.


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Making Connections: Group Work in Information Technology Copyright © by Robert Bunge is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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