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Harnessing diversity to drive team performance

Written by Patrick Bermingham - 3 minute read

In the life sciences sector, innovation isn’t a buzzword, it’s our lifeblood. With the constant search for breakthrough treatments and cutting-edge technologies, the pressure to deliver for both patients and shareholders has never been greater. In our industry, creativity is a strategic imperative for driving results.  

We know that one of the key drivers of creativity is diversity, but research* indicates that the composition of teams has little effect on performance – it’s how teams are led and the resulting dynamic within the team that makes the difference. The team leader is critical to harnessing the potential of a diverse team to enable results beyond the sum of its individual parts.    

Many leaders struggle to get the best from diverse teams, expecting high performance but overlooking their own role as a key enabler of team outcomes. Here are some leadership pitfalls: 

Comfort zone syndrome: Leaders who are comfortable with what they know, sticking with the familiar rather than embracing the unknown. But we all know that innovation rarely comes from staying in your comfort zone. 

Unconscious bias: Whether we admit it or not, we all have biases which can cloud our judgement, and affect how we perceive and interact with others. Unchecked, they can lead to unfair treatment and missed opportunities. 

Communication breakdown: Diverse teams bring diverse communication styles. What seems clear to one person might be completely misunderstood by someone else. This can lead to frustration, misalignment and decreased productivity. 

Conflict avoidance: Few people like conflict, it can be disruptive to relationships and results, but avoiding conflict in a creative team can be detrimental. Lack of conflict stifles creativity prevents constructive feedback, and ultimately leads to a stagnant work environment. 

Lack of inclusion: When team members feel excluded, they disengage, leading to decreased morale and productivity. Inclusion isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s a competitive advantage. 

So how can leaders turn these challenges into opportunities to anchor diversity as a strategic advantage? 

  1. Focus on results: Measure the impact of the team on key performance indicators; measure success and benchmark against other teams.
  2. Uncover and address bias: Acknowledge biases then actively work to address them. Implement blind recruitment processes, raise unconscious bias awareness, and create a culture of accountability where bias is called out and addressed.
  3. Tailor communication strategies: Invest time and resource in improving two-way communication. Understand the different communication styles of team members and adapt your own communication accordingly. Encourage open dialogue and active listening, and always seek clarity.
  4. Resolve conflict: Encourage a culture where healthy debate is welcomed and conflicts are resolved constructively. Provide training on conflict resolution and empower teams to navigate disagreements.
  5. Embrace inclusive leadership: Actively champion difference within your organisation and across the industry. Recognise and celebrate wide-ranging contributions and hold yourself and others accountable for creating an inclusive environment where all talent can contribute.

In pharma and biotech, where the pace of innovation is relentless, leaders that can unlock the full performance potential of diverse teams will be the ones that rise to the top. Want to learn how to unleash the full creative force of your team? Get in touch today.


*Young and Gifford (2023) “High Performing Teams; An evidence review. Practice Summary and Guidance” London, CIPD  

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