We tend to attract people just like ourselves to our teams, projects, and initiatives. Cut it out! Do you want to get better results from your team’s efforts? Find someone to add to the group who is different enough to jostle the rest of you out of your comfort zones. It’s simply human nature to affiliate with people who are generally like ourselves. But there’s danger in that, according to research conducted at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
In 2009 a group of researchers at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University studied diversity and team problem solving. The experiment design challenged two groups recruited from members of different fraternities and sororities to solve a set of problems. One group was comprised of diverse team members while the other group included only homogenous team members. The study found three benefits of diverse thinking on teams:
- Diverse teams result in better decision making. Fewer of the decisions made by the homogenous team led to correct solutions. The researchers discovered that when team members bring a wide variety of skills and personalities, they are not only combine their strengths, but also compensate for each others’ weaknesses. Different personality types balance and complement each other, which leads to more effective group processes and outcomes. Using behavioral assessments can help find the people who will bring diverse viewpoints to your teams. Some I’ve used include Hogan, Birkman, DISC, and HBDI. You may already have your own preferred assessment techniques.
- Diverse teams avoid “groupthink.” When a team consists of a cohesive in-group, its members habitually try to minimize conflict and reach consensus quickly. But by doing so, they miss out on critical evaluation of alternatives. In homogenous teams, fewer people are willing to play the devil’s advocate, raise dissenting opinions, or challenge the group’s consensus. Diverse groups are more likely to bring fresh ideas to the table and to explore all available information.
- Diverse teams produce better results—but it hurts. The Kellogg study found that diverse teams were more productive and effective. The experiment also revealed a common mistaken assumption about effectiveness in groups. When the newcomer to one of the study’s teams came from the same sorority or fraternity as the team’s other members, the group reported that it worked well together, but the evidence showed they were less efficient at problem solving. On the other hand, the more diverse teams in the study believed that they hadn’t worked well together, but repeatedly came up with better solutions to the problems posed. A degree of discomfort can improve results, the researchers concluded.
Suppose I’ve convinced you to avoid groupthink on your teams by bringing in more diverse participants. Does that mean you need to begin recruiting in Andalusia or Zimbabwe? Hardly. We tend to think of diversity in terms of demographic differences like ethnic origin or gender, but those are only the most easily-observed differences among individuals. Even a difference as small as one individual growing up in a different state can stimulate fresh thinking. You can achieve the kind of diversity that will break up groupthink and lead to more effective, efficient work without recruiting a single new hire.
Simply reach out across your company. Add an employee from accounting to a team from sales. If your organization has been through a merger or acquisition, build new teams with individuals from both companies. Cross-training, by moving individuals across the organization, broadens their experience and exposes them to how the organization really works. Tomorrow’s leaders will emerge from these more effective teamwork experiences.
Just make sure today’s managers and leaders understand the potential for some discomfort as their teams do their work. Managers can help employees cope by explaining that conflict often leads to better results.
As you achieve an organizational shift toward reliance on more diverse teams, you’ll see a rise in engagement. Teamwork simply becomes more interesting. And interesting work is one of the most significant motivators you can provide your employees—without spending a dime.
- Use behavioral assessments to identify people who will bring diverse personalities and viewpoints to your teams.
- Make your goal diverse perceptual lenses on every team—not some quota of Affirmative Action demographic profiles.
- Intentionally bring together people from across the organization, then shuffle the deck frequently. When you give people a broad base of exposure to your organization, both the organization and the individuals benefit.
As always, I welcome your comments. David