Diversity in Teams

Podcast Ep. 151: Diversity in Teams with Andrea Floyd and Buyi Kalala

Diversity in Teams
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Episode Description:

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by two AgileThought colleagues, Andrea Floyd and Buyi Kalala, to explore the topic of diversity in teams.

In this episode, Dan, Andrea, and Buyi talk about some of the challenges they have encountered in regards to diversity, sharing their observations, and experiences in regards to how diversity can enhance the work of a team but also highlighting the real challenges that come with it.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • Diversity: Benefits, challenges, and how to promote it
    • People often make assumptions about looks, accents, and other traits, these are many times not only incorrect but can also hurt and create distance between individuals
    • Inclusivity is showing people who belong to minorities appreciation and awareness of their unique experiences
    • Be patience, practice active listening, and find a meaningful way to engage
  • Active listening is the key to promote diversity
    • Do you really understand what someone just said? Did you give them the space and time to express themselves? Are you working together towards the expected outcome?
    • One trick: While listening, write down the topics you want to reply to, this way you will avoid interrupting the speaker and can also concentrate on what is being said
    • There is a growth opportunity in highlighting the achievements (instead of focusing on what is still pending or can be improved)
  • Some strategies to alleviate the concern of a team member in regards to feeling worthy (especially when belonging to a minority group)
    • Go slowly, you are unique, and your strength relies on it
    • Every moment can be an opportunity to forge your way
    • Be aware of where you are in your individual journey as well as in the organization and the team
  • Diversity is a catalyst for innovation
    • Most innovation can be originated only in a safe environment
    • People have to feel comfortable to be part of the conversation
    • Create a pattern in the way you are communicating where people start noticing you, how you speak and engage is important
  • Techniques to create safety in the workplace
    • Make sure each person knows you care about them as human beings, not as functional resources who help to get the process going
    • Use creativity to create a space where every “who” is valued, respected, and invited to the conversation
    • Empower teams by encouraging them consistently

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach, and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:17] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. I’m your host Dan Neumann, and joined today by two AgileThought colleagues, Andrea Floyd, and Buyi Kalala. Thank you both for joining today

Andrea Floyd: [00:30] Glad to be part of the conversations. Thank you, Dan.

Buyi Kalala: [00:32] Thank you as well, Dan.

Dan Neumann: [00:33] Of course. And I’m excited because you two kind of brought to the idea for the topic and the one we’re going to be exploring today has to do with diversity in teams and maybe not explicitly like a how to, but what are some of the challenges you’ve both encountered with diversity? Observations you’ve had we hear a lot in different management and leadership articles about how diversity can help teams be more successful, deliver better solutions, et cetera, but there’s some real challenges to also operating in diverse teams. So we’re going to spend our roughly half hour here in, in explore diversity and for those who aren’t on video, right? I’m a white guy from the Midwest and, and neither Buyi nor Andrea are white guys from the Midwest. So so maybe you could introduce yourselves to the listeners and a little bit of your background and let’s we’ll start with Andrea and then we’ll, we’ll go to Buyi. We’ll do it alphabetical.

Andrea Floyd: [01:33]
Sounds perfect. Thanks Dan. So as you mentioned, I’m Andrea Floyd and I’m a colleague with Dan and Buyi at AgileThought. So I have, I’m a white woman. Who’s been in technology for a very long time. Got my computer science degree. Actually it was management information systems through a college of business here locally in Tampa, Florida through USF many, many moons ago. And my entire life has been in technology. And, you know, the conversations are very interesting to have because how you come to the table is colored by who you are and your personal experiences and in the space of agile through my career, I think being sometimes one of few women around the table has created some opportunities for different ways of interacting with teams and clients. So I’m excited to explore this topic and find out how that maybe touched my journey and how it has educated me and working with other agile teams.

Dan Neumann: [02:38] Awesome. Thanks for sharing Andrea. Yeah Buyi.

Buyi Kalala: [02:41] So my name is Buyi Kalala. I have been in agile space for roughly about 15 years. Just by the mention of my name. You can tell that it’s probably unique to a lot of you. I have worked with numerous teams onshore, offshore, numerous organizations. And I always have found that that was somewhat of a challenge as far as ingratiating myself with different teams, but also being able to, in some cases level down some of the expectations, as far as it can be somewhat abrupt because there’s a different level of urgency that I, I come to the table with and having to understand that everyone doesn’t operate in that same type of urgency or that same sort of momentum or push through to get to a certain level of accomplishment, whether it’s from a sprint or an increment but also identifying different cultural challenges that are presented just from background makeup. I remember him recall that while working with the offshore team that they couldn’t understand what I was saying the majority of the time, because I had a Southern slang, especially that was a lot deeper back then. I am from Florida. My father is from Zaire. However because of that, it doesn’t quite resonate to a lot of people because I am not African, but I come from African descent and people would make assumptions just based upon my name and interacting with me initially that don’t quite understand that, or probably don’t connect with that. And based upon that, it also causes some sort of I guess, prejudgments prior to the conversation that my name has more vowels than a Wheel of Fortune episode, but with that it causes some discrepancies on exactly. Okay. Where are you from again? Are you from Hawaii? Are you from some other places? Are you Samoan? I I’ve heard all kinds of different variations though. Interpretations of who I am just based upon my name but then also in communications with people and interactions you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s a cognitive and awareness piece that you have to bring down some of those walls and connect the dots for a lot of people.

Dan Neumann: [05:42] Well lets maybe pull on that assumptions a little bit. And I kind of had something come to mind and I’ll check it with both you and Andrea. I had an engagement where and for, for maybe who aren’t on video, so I did not age well, I have no hair. And when I grow here on my chin, it’s gray for the most part, and I had a person, my client who was really thought I was several years older than I was. He was like we were doing release trains. It was a scaled agile environment. He’s like, you know, that song, peace train. And he started at I’m like, I literally have no idea what you’re talking about. He’s from the sixties. And I’m like, how old do you think I am? Because I was not around in the sixties. So some, you know, we, we all enter with different assumptions that we make based on looks or appearance or accents or whatever. And I’m kind of curious how you have experienced that and then help to move into something that’s more focused on the content or the objective that organizations are trying to achieve versus kind of hung up on some of the, what does somebody look like, sound like, what prejudgments did I maybe make? And so Andrea does any of that resonate with you?

Andrea Floyd: [07:06] Yes. As you were speaking, I was going through my mental catalog of personal experiences and looking for one to pull out that, you know, aligned with that. And I, you know, I think for me personally having started in technology, you know, many years ago there have it’s, it’s interesting, I’ve always sought out other women in the profession right at to, to build that community of support, you know, because you can commiserate when you encounter different challenges with people and find out how did they navigate through it. But I think at the heart of it, through all of this, but I think I’ve learned most is an appreciation to be aware like how I feel, I look, well, how are others feeling? You know, because maybe I’m in a as we all know, many, many of our engagements are, are where we work is become so international, right? So we’re working with a whole collection of different people from different cultures. And I think my journey has made me more aware of being sensitive to people who are coming to the table in the minority from a different culture, a different race, a different gender, and just to appreciate what they might be feeling, how do I make them face? How do I invite them into the conversation? And so I think where I’ve learned to navigate is to be patient to listen and find a meaningful way to engage. So if people are minimizing my role and I’m not saying they are, or aren’t as a woman in a technology field, sometimes there’s this thought that I don’t have an understanding of the technology that we’re talking about. They don’t understand that I started out as a software engineer. So how do I respect that? Okay. I think that’s the read I’m getting. So how best to show them without being defensive, without being, you know, toot my own horn, but I look for those ways to inform without making it with that sledgehammer. And hopefully by being smart and articulate and patient, I help move the needle on what they expect from me and others who look and act like me.

Buyi Kalala: [09:26] I like what you just kind of referenced there. Andrea, as far as the intent coming to the table where you’re clearly articulating your intent of inclusiveness, but also seeking to understand a lot, a lot of cases that’s really the basis or the objective of, a lot of the conversations that I’m having. I’m trying to get a a shared understanding, a mutual purpose and what we’re trying to achieve. And a lot of times that means getting clarity, but also recognizing that when we’re communicating and we’re going back and forth, that it is to deep dive in some of the thinking, some of the logic that is surrounded around certain or particular decisions that are being made and views that are being communicated. I think that a lot of the challenges that we encounter as agile practitioners is the inability to do active listening. And a lot of cases when working with individuals, they are so dogmatic in getting their point across versus taking a step back and trying to take a look at it from the other individuals viewpoint.

Dan Neumann: [10:55] Yeah. You described active listening and maybe so for folks who aren’t familiar with what I’m what I’m used to thinking of with active listening is making sure that you know, that you are understood and, and partly checking to make sure that I actually heard what you intended to communicate. I ran into that well, I run into it quite frequently where team members have a grievance that nobody listens to them, or you’re not heard well, because they don’t know. And if you don’t reflect back what they are communicating to you, they have no way of knowing you are heard and it’s different than listening to respond to listening to win your point or when your argument and Andrea, it looked like you had something to add on this too.

Andrea Floyd: [11:40]
It’s so interesting. Cause I do think that this is at the heart of people, understanding people, right, is the ability to listen and listen well, and coincidentally, I took a course in college called active listening as an undergraduate. And it’s something that has done me, heaps of rewards throughout my career and throughout life. It’s the importance of, and I used the word patience before it’s giving that space for others to express themselves. And then as you were sharing Dan, ensuring that you understood what was shared. Sometimes they’re not looking for immediate action or rescue or something like that. And sometimes they are, but in a lot of cases, they just want to know that they were heard and that you understood what they meant. And then you can work together and, you know, in our space of agile, right, we want to focus on the outcome. What outcome are they hoping for? What outcome do I hope for, and then how do we marry that together to, to work together, to come up with something that satisfies our needs together. So listening is so important. And I think I used to be really bad at it early in my career and college course did me well later on, but in the early days I was interrupted, I had such a bad reputation of stepping on people that a trick for me was I started keeping a note pad and I would write down enough of the question that I wanted to respond to so I could remember it, but then I could find an appropriate time to go back to it. So it was a trick that worked for me and I used it extensively through my career.

Buyi Kalala: [13:20]
So unfortunately for me, I was extremely bad at active listening. At the beginning of my career professionally, I was so intent on to Dan’s point, as far as proving my, my, my knowledge or proving my, my stance on something that I would just completely leap frog conversations. And until I, I got checked by a team member back in the day and then what it was is that he called out that bully you’re, you’re always telling us what’s going wrong. You’re not telling us what’s happening, that you actually like or things that are that we’re actually accomplishing. And recognizing that, taking that feedback also doing some research as far as there’s a book out there on emotional intelligence, EQ 2.0 identifying what that is, as far as relationship management, self-awareness social management, et cetera, and figuring out how to navigate that internally first, before I can expect for team members to operate in that same fashion. So just like when you take a flight on an airplane, they tell you when the contraption comes down, that you have to put the mask on your, on your face first, before you attend to somebody else, the same, the same concept.

Dan Neumann: [15:08]
I love that. And in that, that tip to just parking lot, that idea that Andrea was mentioning it. So, oh, I have something I’m getting excited. I want to respond just three words, jot it down, set it to the side. And then when there’s, when there’s the right time to respond, that’s a super handy trick. Cause otherwise your brain just sits there. Okay. As soon as she breathes, I’m hopping in. As soon as she breathes, I’m going to say something. And you mentioned a Buyi, something. I also have. You guys touched on so many things where I’m like, ah, I need to spend time on the couch unpacking this. One of them is not highlighting the things that are successful versus finding the things to improve. I, I chalk that up to being the son of a minister. Like we’re really good at finding the next thing that needs fixing as opposed to highlighting the things that are like really really working well. So that’s also a growth opportunity. You mentioned a need or desire or wants to kind of prove one’s self to prove that you’re either where now I’m filling in blanks worthy to be in the conversation that you have competency, you should be listed to prove something. And I’m curious if there are any strategies that you’ve seen be helpful in either alleviating that concern or doing it in a way that is not disruptive to the team and where it’s going.

Buyi Kalala: [16:32] So I’ll, I’ll start. For me, I always try to go very slow, very, very slow to make sure that I am articulating my thought and making sure as I’m going through and unpacking that it actually makes sense. What was happening earlier in my career is that, you know, to your point, trying to prove myself, because let’s just call it for what it is, Buyi Kalala, it’s probably a high chance you will never see somebody with that name come across your screen ever. So understanding that that’s very an impressionable opportunity for myself, but also recognizing that, you know, I want to come into the conversation like a boy scout rule where I’m leaving the area or leaving the team better than what I found it as. And with that mentality, I recognized that there was a lot of unnecessary pressure that I put on myself to make sure that what I was saying and what I was conveying and the knowledge that I was presenting to the table was actually something that was of value or beneficial to the, to the people that I was interacting with. And even though I know that the topic of this particular conversation with diversity, that background presents a certain level of pressure when you are interacting with people when you are making, I hate to say brand, but putting out your brand to people as you’re going from one conversation to the next conversation and recognizing, and I’m putting words in your mouth now, Andrea, as being a woman in this particular industry and making sure that you are being seen as such, but also that you’re providing that necessary value myself being an African American man with a unique name, making sure that that is also presented in a certain kind of way, that resonates to people. So being cognitive of all of this, as you have this background, you have this path, but also recognizing that we’re living in a here and now where every moment that you’re interacting with people, that that’s a moment that can be a fork in the road opportunity.

Andrea Floyd: [18:56] I love that I was trying to think of how I’m going to respond to Dan’s question, I was thinking about no one of the things as Agilists, I think most of us value so greatly is the opportunity that diversity helps with innovation, right? It helps you think differently in new ways and understand things that you might not have thought of. So I love diversity and it as a catalyst to innovation, but in my experience, when do you get the most innovation is when you’ve created that environment of safety, where people feel safe to step forward and sharing and exchange and be part of the conversation. As we all know that conversation is where ideas come from. And so how do you get people to be comfortable being part of that conversation? So for me what I’ve done is I learned that again, if I wait for the right opportunity to add to the conversation. I can highlight something from my experience that might help spur on more creative discussion or might resonate in, in a deep way. So it’s being thoughtful in how I’m exchanging ideas with people to help them think, take a moment. Maybe they take a moment and go, oh my goodness, that’s a great idea. I hadn’t thought of that. And what I’m looking for is creating a pattern, a pattern where they’re now starting to look to me rather than looking around me, but they begin to look to me because if I’m giving information, if I’m participating in the conversation, it’s very thoughtful. It’s with intention. You mentioned that earlier Buyi. So how you speak and how you engage is important. You know, a different settings. You can be more casual about it, but if you’re looking to form it in your show relationship and be invited into ongoing conversations, I tend to be thoughtful through that process because I do believe I’m, I’m looking for my ticket in, I want to be part of that conversation, but in order for me to look for that ticket to government, I also need that sense of safety. And that helps me with my agile teams. Cause I really truly understand I safe environment is essential to success.

Buyi Kalala: [21:20] I would just expand on that. With me working with teams, especially with leaders, it’s always seen most beneficial when it seems like it’s their idea. So I’m always asking them questions on how they would want to move forward, how they see next steps to look like and just present them. Well, if you do it that way, you recognize from a agile perspective or a Scrum perspective or a Kanban perspective, whatever that might be. These are the guard rails and utilizing the conversation as an opportunity to educate in some cases because you know, a lot of people have achieved a lot of success doing what they’ve been doing for a long period of time. And it is pretty scary to try to revert that and, or say dismiss that as you’re trying to implement a new way of working and with us from an agile perspective, there is some fluidity with it. There’s there is a lot of knowledge that is necessary to make informed decisions if you want to be successful in an agile transformation. And I sometimes call it an agile evolution because a lot of times Hey, we did training and then you talk to them. Oh yeah, but we did training five years ago or yeah. We’ve been doing excellent work but we don’t deliver, but once every quarter or something like that, so deep diving into the details, but also addressing that part of awareness of exactly where you are, whether within your individual journey, but where you are, you know, individually as well individually, as well as within the organization and the team.

Dan Neumann: [23:20] I was kind of curious about techniques. Maybe either of you have used to create some more safety, right? Because it was a research paper that I came across once upon a time where it was talking about everybody says, oh, we value creativity. But in areas where there’s a lot of uncertainty doing some implicit measures, so it’s explicit. We value creativity. Yep. Everybody smiles and nods, we love, but then they tested it implicitly and found that they associated creativity in high uncertainty, high uncertainty situations to vomit, poison and agony. It was the same implicit reaction. So people will say they want creativity, but when it’s highly uncertain or there’s a lot of risk, they actually don’t, they clam up. So it’s really important to foster openness to foster creativity. So Andrea, as you were talking about sharing, some of that came to mind is making sure that that person knows that you care about them as a human being, not as a fungible resource, who’s going to help get this project delivered. But that to me is one of those things that maybe you would foster some more creativity, foster, similar openness and safety.

Andrea Floyd: [24:32]
Absolutely. I think it’s easy to say to create a safe environment, right? That’s an easy statement to make. The how behind that is the challenge. Right? And because it’s so unique to the people who are involved in that space, the people can be from different cultures. So they can be from, you know, different backgrounds. So having an awareness of about the, who is, you know, important in helping to try to get creative on how do you create that space? And I’ll share that, you know, I’m thinking of a specific engagement for me. I was working on a large scale, SAFe agile release training. I had participants from around the globe, Europe and India and other locations. And we were doing our PI planning events and they were going to be in the evenings. And we were doing them at some point remotely, and this was even pre pandemic. But as a woman, I understood that there’s some safety concerns for women sometimes after hours in India. You know, it’s just something you’re aware of from news and office conversation. And so as the release train engineer, it was my accumbent upon me to be aware of what I was asking people to do, because we were asking our Indian colleagues to stay late and our American colleagues to start very early so that we could find that sweet spot of the day to, to collaborate together. And we just had to make special accommodations for the women to make sure that they had personal transport to their homes after the event to make sure that they felt safe, right? So we wanted them to participate. They were a key member of a, of a team. They were a key part of the conversation. So that awareness was important to help with that feeling of physical safety, but sometimes go be, obviously it goes beyond just physical safety. It goes to just a person who has this fear of speaking up and in front of people how do you invite them in? And again, I think each of us had different techniques. You know, I can only imagine the different ways you can conduct retrospectives so that you create that space to have people have a chance to share, even though they may not want to put words behind their breath, they just are more comfortable with anonymous. How do you okay. Create that opportunity? And I think it’s where you get to make it a priority to know your team. And as a coach, as a Scrum Master, as you know, an agilist, looking for a, every of your people to find out how can I help take some steps to invite people into the conversation. And sometimes it means having sidebar conversation with people who are blockers to that, you know, strong personalities and helping them to see how that behavior is impacting the others.

Buyi Kalala: [27:33] Excellent points. I, I was circling back and going through the mental Rolodex of all of those different examples in my head. And I recall speaking to a team member who was just adamant to say, just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it right. I just had a conversation with a new team member that I will be working with where I was relaying some of the expectations of, you know, within the agile principles. There was a principle that says the most efficient or effective way of communicating is face to face. And when was the last time have you turned on the camera? And she was like, well, maybe two times this year, that was I, how I was floored by that answer, but also telling her that there should be an expectation that in order to bolster some of the communication and the collaborative spirit that is necessary to be successful in this particular endeavor of an agile transformation, that that might be something that we consider as a team. And her first response was no, no, no. I’m comfortable with, I don’t, I don’t need that. Well, I went through a couple of the metrics that I was able to gather, but also presented some of the observations from me monitoring the team to that point, which I took about a week of monitoring the team and asked her, like, do you see some of the disconnects that are happening based upon that lack of cohesion within the team, that lack of connections, chemistry, whatever you want to call it and asking her, does the team feel empowered? And what does empowered look like from your perspective? And to answer to that question that Andrea kind of put out there, as far as the, how I think it, it really goes into encouraging those team members and being consistent. Like it’s not a one and done thing just because you put something out there, day one. Oh, I talked about it and yeah, we’re doing it now. It doesn’t quite work that way. It’s, it’s a consistent massaging of those particular points to ensure that it connects with people.

Dan Neumann: [30:13] Oh, sorry. Yeah. I think what you’re describing there is a technique where you, you didn’t try and win the video argument in one conversation where it was a death match and, and, you know, you were going to, when you introduced the idea, you collected some data, you kept coming back and kind of creating other opportunities to discuss that. So I do want to I want to appreciate both of you for joining and talking about diversity, which is an important topic, and it can also be kind of a tricky one to explore. So thank you for doing that. You talked about the importance of creating safety. There was concepts of entering a group and, and building that rapport so that we can focus on the outcomes. And I’m curious then what kind of closing thoughts maybe you have, and I believe I started with Andrea and then Buyi. So we’ll go the other way. And Buyi any, any closing thoughts on the topic of diversity?

Buyi Kalala: [31:07]
Well, I just find it very interesting that we were talking about diversity, which is the preface of the conversation, but it kind of spans until all kinds of different dynamics when interacting with people where you bring that to the table, but it kind of dives into awareness or your, your interactions the way that you connect with people, your empathy with people. And even though that is the topic of this discussion, it’s not the, it’s one of those things where it is the elephant in the room, you address it. And it kinda, it kinda trickles into other conversations unknowingly or knowingly that you have with with individuals. So, so being aware of it, I think is the big thing. And hopefully utilizing it as a stepping stone to building that trust with individuals.

Dan Neumann: [32:13]
Very cool. I think what you described that we started with a little bit of explicit about diversity, and then we kind of got in to, I don’t want to say the real topic, but other topics informed by diversity, but still about the work and which kind of models, what you were talking about with engaging with teams. Awesome. Thanks. Andrea. What about you?

Andrea Floyd: [32:30] Great wrap-up question, Dan. So good job on that. I think it’s about framing it from it’s about people, you know, diversity is about people, but at the heart of it, people are people and you want to find a way to connect and to have a conversation and to collaborate and achieve an outcome that is meaningful to all parties, right? So at the heart of it, yes, diversity is an aspect of it. But if we break it down, even more simply it’s about connecting with other people. And how do you do that? It’s the same if you’re white, black, yellow, red, I mean, it’s just about people, but I think that it’s an over-simplification to say that you shouldn’t have an awareness of some of those other complexities. So you create a space where people feel comfortable in that collaboration and honored through that process. So it’s sort of a, keep it simple, you know, thought, you know, it’s about the people. I, and I think everything that you do around, how do I create a space for people to feel comfortable? Connecting is an added bonus. It’ll get you the outcomes you’re seeking.

Dan Neumann: [33:47] Well, hopefully the people listening to this podcast are feeling a little, a little wiser on some strategies for connecting with people and then their diverse teams. So thank you again, Andrea and Buyi really appreciate you taking time to explore this topic.

Andrea Floyd: [34:01] Thanks so much. It was a great conversation.

Buyi Kalala: [34:03]
Thank you for your time.

Outro: [34:07] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.

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