Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.
The importance of diversity to team performance is something that I’ve written about numerous times before. The research consensus is that whilst diverse teams can present coordination challenges, they nonetheless thrive due to the different perspectives they can bring to bare on particular problems.
This is reinforced by a recent study1 from the University of Michigan, which finds that teams with diverse individuals do tend to do better than more homogeneous teams, but interestingly, this may be at the cost of individual performance.
The researchers examined diversity in terms of both demographic factors and knowledge-based factors to explore the performance of various scientific teams operating in National Science Foundation-funded environmental science projects. The teams completed a questionnaire asking them about the diversity in their team, together with the way their teams behaved and their authorship practices.
The data revealed that those individuals with relatively underrepresented demographic characteristics viewed their team environment in a more negative way, which correlated with lower team satisfaction and more negative views on things such as data sharing in their team. Despite these negative perceptions however, they still viewed the performance of the team more positively than those on homogeneous teams.
Despite these apparently clear outcomes, the team remind us that building a strong team is not just about throwing together people from diverse backgrounds. Such teams can struggle in areas such as the allocation of credit, divergence in perspectives and unequal power dynamics.
To improve outcomes for both individuals and team alike therefore, work must be undertaken to improve areas such as collaboration, inclusion and procedural justice. It’s important that team policies are transparent and inclusive to alleviate any power imbalances that may exist.
It’s vital that teams are aware of the experiences of all members of the team, and especially those who represent minorities in terms of demographic and knowledge backgrounds.
“It is critical to provide these individuals with adequate support and recognition,” the authors say.
This must start with team leaders, who should strive to create a culture and norms that encourage contributions from all team members. This could involve supporting collaboration and creating a psychologically safe environment.
“And, of course, increasing the number of underrepresented team members can also reduce ‘token effects,’” they continue, as people from underrepresented groups can feel considerable stress due to their unique role in the team.
Whilst diversity can be incredibly beneficial therefore, it comes with various challenges that leaders must be aware of so that they can be overcome and both individuals and collective can thrive.
Article source: How Diversity Boosts Team Performance.
- Settles, I. H., Brassel, S. T., Soranno, P. A., Cheruvelil, K. S., Montgomery, G. M., & Elliott, K. C. (2019). Team climate mediates the effect of diversity on environmental science team satisfaction and data sharing. PloS one, 14(7), e0219196. ↩