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.

Why Productive Teams Have 3 Kinds Of Diversity

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]


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.