Module 4: Agile Team Dynamics & Leadership
Working In A Diverse Team
In modern team-based organizations composed of specialists, teams inevitably become more diverse. But what does diversity imply?
Different types of diversity and their characteristics
We make a difference between two kinds of diversity:
Demographic diversity—based on visible characteristics such as gender, age, or ethnicity. This increases the likelihood of sub-group thinking because we tend to stereotype based on demographic characteristics. In turn, such stereotyping tends to lower members’ identification with the team, hamper collaboration, and increase conflict.
Informational diversity—based on team members’ understandings, skills, and knowledge. Informational diversity invites better problem solving because members can potentially leverage their differences.
The effects of diversity in innovation
One might conclude that demographic diversity is bad, or at best irrelevant, for performance but that informational diversity can enable teams to leverage their differences and be more creative. But it is not that easy. Research shows that teams that are diverse on both dimensions outperform homogenous teams—but solely if team members share information, listen to each other, and cooperate.
How to make your diverse team outperform homogenous teams: Do diverse teams outperform homogenous teams?
Yes – if team members share information, listen to each other and cooperate.
No – if diversity means that people find it challenging to understand each other, become divided into sub-groups, and stop communicating.
So how can you create a sound understanding with one another and foster communication and cooperation? Spend some time at the beginning of your project to do the following with your team:
Break the ice: Get to know each other’s prejudices and judgments.
Move to actions: What behaviors do you expect from each other?
Look at interactions: How do you communicate and collaborate with everyone?
To put this into practice, you can use our discussion template "Turn Diversity Into A Strength"
An example from research
In a famous study, researchers were interested in the effect of team diversity on collective intelligence, so they designed an experiment.
First, the researchers tested individual intelligence through a standard IQ test. Then, they randomly assigned individuals to groups and asked them to solve a complex problem. Teams were given scores based on their ability to solve that complex problem.
The researchers were expecting that a team’s ability to solve a complex problem would simply reflect the average of all the individual IQs in a group. The smarter the members, the smarter the group.
They found, however, that individual IQ played a relatively small part. Instead, gender was a better predictor of collective intelligence. The standard argument is that one should have gender diversity - a mix of men and women - in the team. However, the researchers found that the more women were on the team, the better the team performed. It seemed that neither individual IQ nor diversity could explain collective intelligence in this experiment.
Women tend to be better than men at sharing information, discussing, and listening. And these aspects make a high performing team.