The downside of diversity
Diversity is broadly regarded as a positive thing, and there are many calls around the world for diversity to be something that’s forced upon organisations via laws or quotas. I’ve written several times before about the importance of getting diversity right, and in particular ensuring that any diversity within your team is on issues that are actually important and relevant to the success of the team.
Some new research highlights the potential pitfalls that await organisations that get diversity wrong. The research looks in particular at the situations that prompt subgroups to form within a team. These subgroups typically coalesce around shared interests or backgrounds, but nevertheless divide the subgroup off from the rest of the team.
The research looked at over 300 teams, all of which participated in an internal tournament within their organisation, with the aim of highlighting excellence. The researchers devised an algorithm that could examine potential fault lines in each team, and in turn identify the formation of subgroups in each team. This information was then cross referenced against the performance of each team in the competition.
The researchers found that the impact of the division was very much dependent upon the characteristics that defined them. For instance, identity based divisions, such as on age or gender, are such that in groups and out groups can quickly form and stop the team working effectively.
The worst performing teams were those where each sub group was of equal size, with each spending much of their time butting heads against the other.
Equally interesting however is that the researchers also found that divisions can occur upon information lines. For instance, if employees have access to different information, or they have different reporting lines. Interestingly though, these divisions were not disruptive to team performance, with the researchers suggesting this was because the divisions were not so over.
The research underlines the danger inherent in believing that all diversity is good diversity, but also sheds more light on the conditions under which diversity is generally beneficial to team performance.Original post