Working with people who hold diverse views can be challenging. While there are some definite advantages-- there are some important caveats to consider as well.
Let’s start with why diverse teams are potentially smarter and higher performing:
- They’re more likely to be objective, revisiting facts from various perspectives.
- Because they’re exposed to others’ views, they become more aware of their own biases while keeping one another ‘in check’.
- They may be better at decision-making because they are forced to consider views that may, at first glance, seem counterintuitive.
- There’s far less risk of falling into the “conformity trap” which can stifle innovative thinking.
And the list goes on BUT, is it that easy? Not really. Why? Because the potential for conflict and disruption is higher when working with people who are dissimilar from one another (Riordan, 2000; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998) Communication breakdowns, low sense of cohesion and high turnover often typify diverse teams to a much higher degree than homogenous teams. Leveraging and managing diversity is no easy feat. Successful execution really depends upon a whole host of factors relating to how it’s managed.
The probability of success will depend on things like company culture, values, strategy-- as well as top leadership. In fact, a key success element is full commitment by senior management to any diversity initiatives, programs and messaging because if there ARE barriers to diversity, they often are deeply rooted within the organization. Understandably people look up at, and mirror the behavior of those in more senior roles so the actions of management play a crucial role.
In summary, diversity can be a “double-edged sword” (Milliken & Martins), -- one that can‘specifically improve group processes on some tasks and lead to higher-quality solutions while on the other hand, also decreasing cohesion and all too often disrupting group processes.’
What challenges and/or gains are you seeing in your diverse teams?