Research shows that diverse teams are more innovative than groups that are more similar
Numerous studies studies, including those from Rutgers University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, have shown that diverse teams in the workplace (comprised of members from a variety of different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds) function more effectively than those with members from similar backgrounds. As team members from the same background and with similar experiences tend to have shared perspectives on life and problems, it can be difficult for them as a group to produce fresh ideas and solutions. The research clearly shows that the broader the range of people, the greater their innovation ability.
Diversity has two key factors: inherent and acquired. Inherent factors are those we are born with (e.g. gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation); and acquired factors are those we gain from our experiences (e.g. working in another country or type of organisation). Both factors impact decision making and innovation.
According to Scott Page, the author of “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies”, some of the most striking differences diverse teams demonstrate are in the areas of problem-solving, conflict resolution, and innovation. Diverse groups have been shown consistently to outperform their less diverse counterparts in all of these crucial skill sets. The preliminary theory is that diverse groups perform better as they bring a wide variety of perspectives, experiences, and attitudes to the table.
Releasing the power of a diverse team by:
- Understanding creative problem-solving in a diverse environment. The innovation process in a diverse work environment is not always easy. The process is often chaotic, non-linear and sometimes messy. It is however essential to give your diverse team the time and space necessary to work things out in their own unique way. This does not happen overnight, but when we take the time to do it right the forming, storming and norming process delivers results which positively impact the bottom line.
- Moving past our group instinct. We tend to be more comfortable with people who share our views, opinions, and backgrounds. It is basic human nature to seek belonging and validation from those who are similar to us. However, to truly gain the benefits of workplace diversity, we need to shake things up a bit. Creating cross-disciplinary teams that cut across departments, functions and social groups helps increase diverse thinking.
- Cultivating an active learning culture. Unless the organisation is open to new ideas and earning from past mistakes, even the most diverse team won’t be effective in injecting innovation and creativity into your organisation. In a traditional, hierarchical structure and culture, it may take some time to get to the point where people feel comfortable exercising their creative problem-solving skills and sharing their ideas. We can facilitate this process by praising and respecting team member’s input, feedback, and suggestions.
- Expecting conflict and planning how to deal with it. Research in psychology and workplace diversity shows that great ideas are often a result of the clash between different perspectives and perspectives. These clashes often result in conflicts between employees and it is best to take a proactive approach to address these unique challenges and conflicts in the workplace. As an example, it is often beneficial to train your teams in the basics of effective communication across race, gender and cultures to help smooth the process. Additionally it is essential to agree on an organisation-wide plan to resolve workplace conflicts in a thoughtful and compassionate manner.
Leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are 3.5 x more likely to score higher in the areas of problem-solving, conflict resolution, and innovation. Diverse teams are more effective teams in a dynamic and fast changing global market.
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