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Leadership: Building a Diverse Team

Ben Legg
Former COO of Google, Europe

Learning outcomes

  • How to build a team with diverse competencies
  • The importance of humility for leaders to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses

Executive Bio

Ben Legg

Former COO of Google, Europe

Ben is an engineer by training and spent over 10 years in the Royal Engineers in the British Army career before moving to McKinsey. In 2002, he moved to Coca-Cola where he ran teams across Eastern Europe before turning around the Indian business leading 12,000 salespeople. Ben then moved to Google where was COO of UK and Ireland for 2 years before being promoted to COO Europe where he was responsible for writing the monetisation blueprint of Google’s various properties. This involved defining the role of ad units, properties, interactions with agencies and partners, and devising how auctions should work. Ben then ran a Yellow Pages turnaround before running an ad-tech business for 6 years which ran $200m of ad spend through the major technology platforms. Ben is the author of Marketing for CEO’s and is on the Board of The Oxford Foundry where he is a mentor and investor to multiple startups. Read more

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Interview Transcript

How do you think about building a diverse team?

All research suggests diverse teams do better than non-diverse teams, so it’s a good thing, and you’ve got to want it to happen. I’ve never worked in an organisation where we’ve had quotas for anything, but the key thing I’ve looked at with diverse teams is, do we have teams that bring together all the right perspectives, skills, and mindsets we need?

I mentioned earlier, I’m one of the world’s biggest optimists, so I like some pessimists in the team with me, but that’s only one dimension. You need people who empathise with your customers. That might mean you have people who have come from your customers or are good at listening to customers, or even people who are paranoid they don’t know customers well enough, so they keep learning, learning, learning. You need people who solve complex problems, who can look at problems, grab a pen and a whiteboard or pull up Excel and start crunching numbers and thinking logically to solve problems. You need people in teams who are always checking, “Is the team working well?” Some people, their core DNA is, “Is there harmony? And if not, how do I fix it?”

You need people in teams who can just get shit done. I’ve had a few people in my life who give me a warm glow when I give them a task and cross off my to-do list. As any kind of leader, you love those people. They’re often not the smartest or the best communicators. They just get shit done. They spend their life writing lists and crossing things off. If you are a company that sells mostly to women, you probably need quite a few women in your management team because you have to ensure you’re making your customers happy. If you’re selling to men, it might be more men.

If you’ve got a business that’s 50% Asian, you probably need some Asians in the senior leadership team. It’s just saying, “What does this team need to have?” in terms of geographic experience, functional skills, personality types, and just constantly improving it. The reality is, no team is perfect, but you can get to an eight or a nine out of ten with the right thinking and work.

So, it’s a team dynamic — harmony, getting stuff done, the logical person — but also solving the customer’s problem and having people like that close to the customer that can reflect that team?

Absolutely. The other thing is, the more diverse the team, the more you need to focus on team building because people come with different mindsets. There are some people who, because they’re good at getting shit done, that’s all they respect. There may be someone on the team who’s a great thinker but not good at getting stuff done. How do you help them appreciate each other? Get that team together frequently, not just the weekly team meeting. It might be an off-site or dinner at my house, but get people together, get to know each other, talk about strengths and weaknesses. “I’m good at getting shit done but not necessarily good at running the pivot.” “Well, I’m awesome at reinventing how we do things, but I often get bored with implementation,” or whatever it might be. Talking about their strengths and weaknesses, joking about them, and then, as much as you can, allocating tasks according to strengths and weaknesses.

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