Common perception that team diversity is good
There is a pretty ubiquitous modern common perception that team diversity in terms of nationality, race, age and/or gender, is a wholly positive team attribute and that team performance is enhanced in a diverse team scenario.
Yet, in the research literature things aren’t quite so clear or simple. The last 50 years of research into team diversity have shown pretty mixed results, with studies variously showing positive, negative and null effects on team performance. The question is what impact does gender and nationality diversity really have on team performance?
There are 15 conditions needed to make diversity increase team performance...
Two types of explanation for diverse team performance
Looking across the research of the last 50 years there are two broad categorisations of explanations about the impact of team diversity on performance :
- Social categorisation explanations – these tend to show that inter group differences and dissimilarity are the foundation of misunderstandings, conflict, negative emotional responses and bias.
- Information-elaboration or information-jigsaw explanations, which focus on the diverse information, knowledge, thinking and skills held within teams and the fact that diversity broadens the problem-solving latitude of a team through knowledge sharing, discussion and exposure to different ways of thinking.
This understanding about the two primary issues that impact diverse team performance gave birth to the Categorisation-Elaboration Model .
The Categorisation-Elaboration Model
The Categorisation-Elaboration Model shows that, in most situations, the knowledge and skills latitude afforded by a diverse team will increase and enhance team performance and problem-solving capability, unless the differences between the team members, bias or low-level communication skills intervene and cause conflict. In which case, the diversity within a team is likely to reduce team performance.
A number of more recent studies in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 have backed up this theory and found that a number of team attributes are important mediators in whether or not diversity enhances or reduces team performance.
Deep and surface diversity
A recent (2019) study found that diversity within teams works at different levels:
- Surface level or social category diversity, which refers to easily observable diversity characteristics, such as skin colour, accents, gender etc.
- Deep level diversity, which refers to largely directly unobservable characteristics or factors, such as values, beliefs, attitudes, thinking patterns, culturally defined reactions and emotional responses etc.
This study found that surface level diversity has no impact on things like team creativity, innovation behaviours or performance on its own. Rather, it is the perceptions of team members about what surface level diversity indicators mean that has either a negative or positive impact.
Further, this study found that deep level diversity has a positive impact on team performance, team creativity and innovation behaviours, as long as the team members don’t have a negative perceptual reaction to surface level diversity indicators.
Additionally, it was found that these effects increased (a positive impact of deep team diversity in the absence of a negative reaction to surface level diversity) the more complex, interdependent and intellectual (difficult) the task becomes.
We have looked at the very latest research which show the 15 evidence-based factors and conditions which make diversity increase team performance.
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Team diversity and performance
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