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Exceptional Teams and the Argument for Diversity

Organizations are increasingly dependent on diverse teams for developing innovative products, making important decisions, and improving efficiency. As companies enjoy a more equitable, global and virtual footprint, diversity factors are playing a larger part in almost every organization. To those forward-thinking leaders, this is a welcome change, and the success of a collaborative team in creating and managing today’s increasingly complex products and services depends not only on the combined skill sets of the team members but also on their personalities and ways of approaching and solving problems. When creating a group or team in the workplace, smart managers realize that with increased diversity come new ideas, which directly translate to new and better products and services.

“Under the right circumstances groups re remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them. Groups do not need to be dominated by exceptionally intelligent people in order to be smart. Even id most of the people are not especially well-informed or rational, it can still reach a collectively wise decision – The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

What Is Diversity?

Diversity comes in many “shapes and sizes.” It is the differences in culture, sex, gender identity, physical abilities, age, race, sexual orientation and even into political beliefs, religious practices and socio-economic status, education and temperaments. These traits make us all individuals; in fact, they make us the very essence of who we are. Acceptance and the embrace of this diversity is the recognition that people are all unique with their own experiences molded by both internal and external factors. In addition to our genetics, each person’s particular life experience is also formed by many external factors, including where a person lives, how (s)he is raised, what educational opportunities are available to them, and more.

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While each person is unique, they often share many internal and external traits. For example, people raised in the North East United States have a shared culture and beliefs that may differ widely from people raised in Asia or South America. For businesses, the impact of these shared traits within groups and teams can be both a benefit and a detriment. Those people from similar backgrounds and geographical location, as well as those with similar physical traits are often most comfortable interacting with people like themselves. In new situations it is not uncommon for people to seek out others who have a similar appearance or background and inadvertently form cliques. However, those with shared traits also often have similar for thought processes and problem solving skills. When a group or team is composed of people with backgrounds that are too similar, when a new challenge of presented, this lack of diversity of thinking can create barriers to working through the issue and solving the problem.

Why Work to Create More Diverse Groups and Teams?

A group or team with people who differ in age, sex, race, cultural background and other factors, the result is often – at least initially- an uneasy feeling.  This discomfort breeds a need for these groups work hard to get to know each other and the result is often a collaboration, and openness to diverse thinking. Working with people who differ their own preconceived notions, or world views forces people to step outside their comfort zones and consider new ideas and thought processes. By opening people up to new ways of thinking, a business can often foster dynamic new ideas, new processes, new services and new products—which is ideal for groups whose focus is change, technology, efficiency, or though leadership.

Making Diversity Work

When creating new groups or teams, smart managers should consider diversity dynamics by balancing the individuals they select based internal factors, such as age, race and gender, and external factors, including differing background, educational experiences and political or religious ideologies. When working with diverse groups and teams, these managers should always seek open, and safe discussion, encourage feedback among group and team members.

“One of the most pernicious effects of groupthink is the sense of entitlement it breeds. Teams that are complacent are less likely to challenge their own assumptions, less likely to listen to feedback and, therefore, less likely to learn.” Why diversity matters (the meritocracy business) by Eric Ries

Research shows that teams do better when they are composed of people with the widest possible range of backgrounds and personalities, even though it takes longer for such diverse teams to achieve good cooperation. Openness to new ideas, new people, new ways of thinking must be fostered or the value of this diversity will be lost. Every member of the team must buy-in to the idea that they have to be open to change themselves – to opposing opinions – to their teammates, and recognize the value of exploring a problem from various angles.

Other Sources: TEAM DIVERSITY AND INFORMATION USE http://web.stanford.edu/group/WTO/cgi-bin/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/pub_old/Dahlin_et_al_AMJ05.pdf by KRISTINA B. DAHLIN, LAURIE R. WEINGART, PAMELA J. HINDS

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