Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Think Diversely—Improve Performance

In the face of conflict and discord—political debates, social protests and religious demonstrations—you might find yourself thankful that the people in your workplace mostly come from similar backgrounds and think and act alike. However, most research agrees that diversity in the workplace improves performance—even when people don’t think it helps them work together better!

Psychologists have studied the effects of diversity on performance. The authors of a recent study titled their paper “Is the Pain Worth the Gain? The Advantages and Liabilities of Agreeing With Socially Distinct Newcomers.”

They found that diverse groups outperformed the groups with more similarity between members. This even applied when the diversity was based on subtle differences such as people from different departments or who came from a different state.

There are probably three reasons for this:

1. Diversity results in better decision making. Diverse groups bring different perspectives to problems, which lead to more creative solutions.

2. Diversity breaks up groupthink. Groupthink , a term coined by psychologist Irving Janis, is the tendency for teams to converge on decisions simply to maintain harmony for harmony’s sake. Diverse groups tend to accept there will be differences and focus on the information and resources available to bring in new ideas.

3. Diversity improves group effectiveness. Groups that are similar often report they enjoy working together more and think they are performing better. The diverse groups tend to report more discomfort but actually outperform the most similar group.

So if your workplace is filled with people with few differences, you might have more harmony, but it will probably come at the expense of better performance.

Would you like to continue the conversation? Contact Koliso. 

Phillips, K, K Liljenquist, and M Neale. "Is the Pain Worth the Gain? The Advantages and Liabilities of Agreeing With Socially Distinct Newcomers." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 35, no. 3 (2009): 336-350.

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