Diversity Doesn’t Work

October 11, 2013  

poker bannerImagine two groups of problems solvers.

Group #1 is homogeneous. That is, everyone has similar personalities and areas of expertise.

Group #2 is diverse and comprises a blend of different styles and experiences.

Which group will perform better?

In times of crisis and on simpler tasks, Group #1 will always perform better. They “speak the same language” and therefore get things done quickly. Their solutions may not be as creative, but they will be more likely to coalesce.

But what about in less time-sensitive situations or more complex tasks?

According to research and my own experience, Group #2 will still – left to their own devices – underperform.

Why?

Although diverse groups may attempt a wider and more creative range of solutions, the differing perspectives can lead to harmful disagreement. For example, someone throws out what they think is a great idea, but it quickly gets shot down by someone who has had different experiences. In this instance, it might be creativity going in a head-to-head battle with practicality.

Diversity doesn’t work naturally. It requires one key ingredient: appreciation.

Our studies find that when diverse teams are given the tools to appreciate one another, they generate solutions with higher value and have a better chance of implementing them.

I’ve found that for diverse teams to work well, each person on the team needs to:

  • recognize that opposites do not attract (they repel) and therefore it is natural to avoid or disagree with those who are different
  • be aware of his or her limitations (each style has positive and negative implications)
  • discover where he or she contributes and detracts in the innovation process (everyone can’t do everything well; certain part of the process are handled by some better than others)
  • appreciate how others complement his or her limitations (each person provides different forms of value and “completes” you)

So yes, diversity can work. But it is not a natural act.

Anyone who says that opposites attract has not been paying attention to the bickering on Capitol Hill.

But opposites can collaborate effectively when everyone appreciates the contributions of those with different perspectives, styles, and experiences.

P.S. If you believe that my article titles are too controversial, read this article. Clearly, I do believe that diversity can work.

P.P.S. Personality Poker is designed to enable diverse teams to work effectively together. Learn more about this card-based system, book, and keynote speech.

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3 Responses to “Diversity Doesn’t Work”

  1. B. Alex on October 23rd, 2013 8:24 am

    Appreciation is important for any group to succeed. But sustainable success is better reached by diverse groups, because different perspectives and abilities will always lead to better results. Homogeneous groups will reach an agreement faster but the result won’t be as sustainable as the one from diverse groups.
    Psychological research shows that the main problem of group work, ‘groupthink’, occurs more often in homogeneous groups. Groupthink influences decision-making and results in a bad way, because the homogeneous group will try to minimize conflicts and agree too fast without considering different perspectives. That’s bad for innovation and bad for success.

  2. sshapiro on October 23rd, 2013 10:58 am

    Alex, we are completely aligned. As I am sure you can appreciate, I created Personality Poker because I believe that heterogeneous groups are more valuable. The challenge is, that these types of groups don’t naturally gel together well. Infighting leads to stalemates and compromises. And yes, homogeneous groups tend to lack divergent thinking and are subject to groupthink. When done right (they key point), diverse groups are always more innovative.

  3. Toby Elwin on October 24th, 2013 6:18 am

    Organization shortcuts tend towards collecting qualitative diversity. The objective, however, is cognitive diversity. More often people confuse seeing the former as leading to the latter.

    The diversity facade: without a strong holding environment cognitive diversity never takes root. Appreciation is a critical element of a safe space for cognitive diversity.

    Excellent post, thank you.