How Does Workplace Diversity Impact Team Performance?
In a series of recent studies conducted at prestigiousresearch institutions ranging from Rutgers University to MIT's SloanSchool of Management, the tangible outcomes of diverse workplaces have beensubjected to rigorous analysis. On almost every measure, workplace teams thatare comprised of staff members from a variety of different racial, ethnic, andcultural backgrounds function more effectively than work groups that are homogenous, or comprised mostly of staff members with similar backgrounds.
According to Scott E. Page, author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies , some of the most striking divergences can beseen in the areas of problem-solving, conflict resolution, and creativity. Inthese three crucial skill sets, diverse groups have been shown consistently to outperform their homogenous counterparts.
Although researchers are still working to better understand the why and how of these results, most agree with the preliminary theory thatdiverse groups perform better because they bring a wide variety ofperspectives, experiences, and attitudes to the table. When combined, thediverse staff generates a unique team dynamic that is more wide-ranging in itsscope, breadth, and depth, and thus better equipped to tackle complex problems and challenges.
How Can Your Organization Realize the Full Potential of a Diverse Team?
Even as researchers continue to study the effects ofdiversity in work groups, real-world managers and other practitioners have beendevising new ways to help organizations tap into the performance-boostingstrengths of their diverse work groups. Here are some basic strategies to help you get started.
Understand the Nature of Creative Problem-Solving.
The process of innovation in a diverseworkplace is not always pretty. In fact, it's likely to be non-linear,irregular, and at times, downright messy. Whenever possible, just step back andgive your diverse team the time and space necessary to work things out in their own unique way.
Push Your Team Past the Herd Instinct.
We tend to gravitate toward people whoshare our views, opinions, and backgrounds. It's human nature to seekvalidation in others who are similar to us. But in order to truly reap thebenefits of workplace diversity, it's important to shake things up a bit.Create cross-disciplinary teams that cut across cliques, departments, andsocial groups. This is the kind of environment where truly meaningful innovation can take root.
Cultivate an Organizational Culture that is Genuinely Open to New Ideas.
Even the most diverse team won't be able to inject innovation and creativity into your organization if they sense that new ideas aren't welcome. If your company has a traditional, hierarchical structure and culture, it may take some time to getto the point where subordinates feel comfortable exercising their creative problem-solving skills. You can facilitate this process by lavishly praising and, more importantly, respecting your staff's input, feedback, and suggestions.
Expect Conflict -- and Plan How to Overcome It.
The workplace diversity research tellsus that great new ideas are often borne out of the clash of differentperspectives. On a surface level, this collision of different worldviews andattitudes can often result in conflicts between employees. It's best to take aproactive approach to address the unique challenge of conflict in a diverseworkplace. For example, it may be beneficial to train your staff in the basicsof effective cross-cultural communication. Also, agree on an organization-widegame plan for resolving workplace conflicts in a civil, compassionate manner.