Why diversity in teams is a good thing and how to manage it
In today’s workplace, organisations employ many people from culturally and demographically diverse backgrounds, many of whom are approaching retirement age.
Women now constitute half of the labor force, and many employees are ethnically diverse.
Such a growing diversification means that many teams in organisations have lots of employees of differing ages, race, gender, nationality, and culture.
So Is team diversity a good thing, or is it a bad thing?
Well, research shows it can bring both opportunities and challenges.
First, we tend to like people who are similar to us and we treat people who are different from us with skepticism and uncertainty.
We naturally tend to categorize others into either “In group” or “Out group” members based on visible social categories such as age, gender, and race.
Social psychologists call this tendency “social categorization”. According to social categorization, teams that are too culturally or demographically diverse may find it difficult to work well together.
For example, researchers studied management teams in joint ventures that were co-owned by Chinese and western companies. They found that in teams where local managers and expatriates formed distinct subgroups there was lots of emotional and task conflict. (To find out What to do when there is a conflict in the team, you can check our article here)
Because of this, managers did not communicate well, made poor decisions which resulted in poor team performance.
However, organisations do value diverse teams because they believe that teammates from diverse cultural and demographic backgrounds bring unique perspectives and
are able to take an unconventional approach to problem solving. Are managers correct in assuming these benefits of team diversity?
The answer is yes.
There is another theory called “Information Processing Theory”. It suggests that diverse teams outperform more homogeneous teams. This is because diverse teams have access to the inimitable resources of their diverse team members.
It has been shown that when teams have optimal levels of educational and ethnic diversity they make decisions that are more in-depth and of better quality.
So how can organisations maximize the benefits of team diversity and minimize its downsides?
Research has unpacked several strategies. First, organisations should foster collaboration.
Teams that are rewarded for collaboration tend to pay less attention to the demographic differences of their team members and more to the diversity of their team members’ perspectives and ideas.
Second, having good leadership is a key.
Visionary leaders are able to improve communication, which is a critical factor in achieving good team performance.
Third, organisations should create climate for inclusion, where all employees feel respected and supported irrespective of their demographics.
If the group believes in supporting diversity, team members will willingly work together and share information with each other.
By implementing these strategies, organisations will ensure they reap the benefits of their diverse teams.
They will also improve the work experience of their diverse employees and will make a positive impact on the bottom line.
SO, NOW WHAT?
Well… just pick one…