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Why Productive Teams Have 3 Kinds Of Diversity

There are many different kinds of diversity. Here are a few you likely haven't considered—and how they considerably help your work.

Here's the bad news: People hire people who are identical to them. Here's the good news: Working with people who aren't identical to you is good for you work.

How so? A growing body of research shows that diversity—in gender, thinking styles, and intro- and extroversion—is needed for teams to be their most productive.

Writing at 99u, Christian Jarrett, the psychologist-turned-writer behind the British Psychological Society's superlative Research Digest blog, helps us to see why.

The best teams have men and women

Jarrett references a Credit Suisse analysis of almost 2,400 international companies that found that companies with at least one woman on their board tend to be the strongest performers—the authors say that the non-homogenous groups had a better balance of leadership skills.

If you'll forgive some brief editorializing, it's woeful that one woman might count as diverse—like Warren Buffett said before, the less gender balance a group has, the less its capacity.

This has been shown in research: A 2011 study showed that teams with a 50-50 balance of dudes and ladies did best in a business venture. Why? Because they were doing more "mutual monitoring"—that checking to make sure everyone's doing their job.

You need introverts and extroverts

The loudest person in the room isn't necessarily the one with the best ideas, Quiet author Susan Cain has told us.

A UCLA study showed something similar. Groups of students—both introverts and extroverts—worked on projects over 10 weeks. Perhaps predictably, the extroverts were esteemed at the onset for their brash influence, but by the end people cared more for the introverts. With longevity, status equalizes.

You need one analytic thinker, maybe more

Blue skies, brain storms, spitballing: we're all about open-minded thoughtfluffery. But we need to ground team-wide dreaminess with at least one analytic thinker, says science.

Jarrett explains:

Ishani Aggarwal and Anita Woolley at the Tepper School of Business found that teams with an analytic thinker tended to perform better on "execution tasks" because they paid more attention to "process focus"—identifying sub-tasks and the resources needed to complete them.

When you're working on a project and you don't have "process focus," you can feel it—it's that ughhhh feeling of what-do-I-do-next? Thankfully, breaking large tasks into smaller ones is a learnable skill.

Aggarwal and Woolley, the study authors, caution that having big-picture and analytical types on the same team can cause (creative?) tension. The solution to that is to make "process focus" a focus for the whole team—make sure everyone's looking for the next actionable step.

Then you'll sprint that much faster.

Hat tip: 99u

[Image: Flickr user Tony Fischer]

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  • Yasir Hamdani

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  • Ben Michalski

    After reading the above article and reading the comments I would like to add that as a self employed business professional who deals with a variety of clients across the behavioral and emotional spectrum including a growing base of ethnic and cultural clients. I believe it's human behavior to form opinions that may inadvertently reflect any acquired stereotypical preconceived notions inculcated through ones life experience regardless of any politically correct directives. As anathema as these observations and conclusions may be to ones background and experience, I believe one thing seems to be left out of all the discourse, comments and discussions on diversity no matter what the diversity may be...ethnic, gender, social or economic and that is.... We, as a species would be better served by focusing on our similarities instead of our differences.

  • James Briggs

    Interesting, but I believe there was an oversight. How about cultural diversity? One would guess that living a world becoming every more diverse by the moment, would require bringing in some of those folks you want to sell your products to.

  • David Oliver

    Rauf, I couldn't agree more with your point about cultural/ethnic diversity.

    The argument for diversity(whatever type) has to begin with recognizing and valuing the differences among people and the value those differences offer. Unfortunately, discussions of ethnic diversity often devolve into talk of duty or fairness(in the form of quotas) instead of the real value that it can offer.

    The way that people live, how they view the world and how others view them contributes quite a bit to the way they approach, interpret and solve problems. 

    It's particularly disheartening that so many organizations that practice user-centered design, ethnographic research and emphasize empathy in their work, shrug at the lack of diversity among their ranks or live by a definition that fits with the group they have on staff.

    If our conversations about diversity lack such an obvious point of differentiation, we've got a long way to go.

  • Phoenix Chan

    You tell it like it is! Thank God I left the Australian Public Service. The implementation of fairness, diversity, industrial democracy is but a farce.

  • sanchezjb

    Change "working with people who aren't identical to you is good for you work" to "Working with people who aren't identical to you is good for your work."  Otherwise, a very good article.

  • Lorna Gagnon

    I've always agreed with the philosophy of putting together dynamic teams of different people to help everyone succeed.

  • Rekhesh Jain

     Hello Drake Baer,
    Functional Diversity is the need of the aged, diversity always offer better survival, but initiate diverdity or accept diversity is the great challenge to the mankind, we human being are tend to be comfortable  about routine, pattern, mechanics. but as soon as system is preset, challenges, innovation, creativity, and artistic approach gradually diminished, as you say we incorporate "in gender, thinking styles, and intro- and extroversion is needed for teams to be their most productive" Diversity always create better possibility at work, service, research, station and it rejuvenate overall attempt to produce.better. Being a Executive Coach and Contributor I believe in the process of diversity, because of that I personally and my clients both of us are always experiencing life in work.Since last two and half decades.I would like share my first hand experience, if you are thinking about diversity, it is better for your future, but do it slowly and gradually, in that process be comfortable and extra attentive about process. Because right kind of process are the possibility to offer you some thing better than earlier. .

  • Rauf Mirza

    Hi Erik
    Sure I agree it can be difficult to profile introverts. I guess we are generalising and as generalisation goes I would also say extroverts can be "in your face" and can become overbearing, whereas an Ambiovert is probably the right balance. In any case- they all must be able to Communicate, Listen, Empathise and Present themselves effectively.

  • Rauf Mirza

    Good article and to the
    point! Whilst I agree with the main arguments here.. Diversity means different
    things to different people. Whenever I read articles on Diversity, they
    invariably cover gender, disability and personality types (introverts,
    extroverts, analytical/drivers, etc.)..but hardly every cultural diversity. By
    this I mean people of different heritage/ethnic backgrounds, even colour if you
    want to use that as a factor. I believe an organisation is enriched by cultural
    diversity as much as it is by gender/personality, etc. since cultural
    viewpoints/ experiences and values inject certain behaviors in the workplace
    which bring bring more considerate and rounded reasoning and decision making.
    People will come at problem solving from many more angles this way. In modern
    and global markets, this injection of cultural knowledge and experiences in the
    workforce means more intelligent sales and marketing and product
    design/development outcomes, which will increase the success factors in global

    So from factory floor to
    Board level, I suggest companies need to hire a much more diverse workforce by
     embracing the wider determinants of diversity. This will energise any
    company much more!

    Rauf Mirza, Acumen TMC Ltd.

  • Erik Archer

    Hard to argue with what seems like common sense to me, but I would say that you need to consider the role you're hiring for as well.  For example "the loudest person in the room isn't always the one with the best ideas:" true, but what if the role is not about ideas?  I'd hate to have an introvert in a sales position

  • Rauf Mirza

    Regarding "I'd hate to have an introvert in a sales position".. I was an introvert when I left university and got my first job as a Medical Representative (sales!) but went on to be Top Salesman as a Med.Rep, with record sales, and regularly Top-5 as a manager in 3 different global companies.  So stereotyping doesn't always work!  People can adapt when required.

  • Erik Archer

    Hey Rauf, I've worked as a sales manager for several years, have worked with hundreds of sales people, and have indeed seen a few introverts that excelled - especially with inside sales - FAR past their extroverted counterparts, so, in theory, I agree. However, these individuals were hard to profile and find consistently where as the extroverted sales people consistently do well. My rule of thumb is generally: extroverts for sales, and introverts for sales-engineers, that being said, I'm always open to a happy surprise!

  • Suleman Ali

    People don't like recruiting clever people who threaten them or who may be promoted faster.  So they recruit inferior non-ambitious people instead. Also people don't like those who will disagree with them.  However diversity of perspectives is incredibly valuable, but you have to have the confidence to handle it.

  • Sheraz Ali

    Agreed, I have seen such clever people in organizations. Most of the superiors seems to be playing politics with inferiors.

  • Unmana

    Nice post, though this section -- YOU NEED INTROVERTS AND EXTROVERTS -- seems to be only making the argument that introverts are necessary :p

  • Nkechi Waboso

    I totally agree with you. Although introverts get very quiet and seem confused at times.But they often come out big in ideas, thinking ,and they a very considerate too. learning how to break larger task to a smaller task like you said is something to do. Very important I think. Thank so much for all the information.

  • Rajeshsethi2000

    yes , adequate representation of fair  gender on board adds to productivity and glamour.