What diversity does to work groups…

Apparently it doesn’t make them happier but more effective. That’s the result of a study I heard about on the radio (NPR) two days ago. Unfortunately I cannot find it on the web and I didn’t pay attention to the name of the researcher while I was listening – but the point they made deserves some consideration:

In their self assessment diverse work groups (in terms of gender, race, cultural background, professional background, political affiliation etc.) tend to claim that they are less effective and efficient than more homogeneous groups. But when their goal achievement was assessed using external measurement, it turns out that they achieved higher goals or found better solutions within the same amount of time. One possible reason being that a more diverse group doesn’t fall into the trap of group-think that easily, and – as social network analysts know – diversity of networks is linked to innovation, as strangers bring in new ideas. Two words of warning though:

1. Often the mixed groups didn’t enjoy their work together as much as the homogenous groups, as there was more conflict.

2. The positive effect of heterogeneity can only be realized if those with “strange” ideas and opinions get the room to speak and don’t shut down because of pressure to follow established norms.

12 Responses

  1. too bad you can’t find it! I’d love to quote that study!

  2. Hopefully they can continue to study this and discern the results from groups that are diverse because they were reverse engineered to have politically correct ratios or if they were naturally diverse because managers always hired the best talent.

    I’ve aimed that latter for a long time and have ended up with diversity that would be a dream for any HR direcctor. But we never approached it in a quota sort of way. It was all about getting a diverse mix of talents and backgrounds but always getting the best candidate, but if you do that in a color blind way you get the other kind of diversity.

  3. Dear Neil and Noora,
    I have just written to NPR to see if they can help me find this study. And also a second one that was mentioned in the discussion, about the way that mixed (race) juries tend to deliver more thought through verdicts.

    The groups they researched in the first study were students, I don’t know whether their diversity within the group was because of ratios or other reasons…

    What do you find in your diverse work environments: Does it increase effectiveness and/or frustration of team members to have to work with people who are very different from each other? Does the fact that they are all experts in a similar field reduce diversity to a level that makes it easier to work with each other?

  4. Hi Eva,

    Good questions. I’ve found that it isn’t a barrier. The only race issue I’ve had in 20 years of managing people was a black woman who assumed an Asian man was discriminating against her because “that is so common for them.” It was pretty obvioius where the prejudice was really coming from in that case.

    I’ve found that if the people are pretty mature then it doesn’t pose much of a barrier. They are predisposed to work to get along with others. There may be some cultural differences but if they have clear roles and responsibilities and goals and if they are recognized and rewarded for teamwork then everything goes quite well.

  5. interesting topic- I found that diverse groups can also really fail- it takes more to make such a group work!

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