In a group setting, there’s a basic psychological need to make sense of each other in relation to one self. Team diversity therefore poses challenges to group interaction and synergy.
Van Knippenberg and Schippers propose to look at group diversity as two perspectives (2007). First, the information perspective looks at diversity at broadening the pool of information, knowledge and perspectives. This increases creativity and innovation. Second, the social categorization perspective, looks at diversity as a negative factor leading to inter-group bias and an “us and them” mentality. From this perspective, diversity disrupts performance with less trust in, liking for and cooperation with dissimilar team members (West 2012, p. 57).
Another way of separating these two views can be found in Jacksons’ division of task-oriented and relations-oriented diversity (1996). Both can occur within the same process and might not appear as black and white for the individuals experiencing them, though.
It is easy to spot the contradicting nature: On the one hand, diversity is sought after to gather broad input. On the other, diversity “can hinder group process by limiting common understandings and shared experiences, or by creating such a divergence of ideas that detrimental conflict can result” (Kurzberg and Amabile 2001, p. 290). Yet again, it is important to note that these conflicts can also be of a positive nature. For example, task-based conflicts can cause discussion and new insights.
Some scholars argue that shared mental models distributed throughout a team ultimately is what enables a group to thrive (Salas et al., 2009). However, this might entail such a similar pool of input that creativity is threatened by a lack of diversity described above. It should be mentioned that lesser diversity in work groups does facilitate interaction early in the process and establishes good relationships more quickly. Later in the process, however, mostly “us” and little of “them” causes a heterogeneous group where novelty is harder to generate (Perry-Smith 2009, P.191).
Team diversity is essential. I believe that allowing time for testing the balance of familiar and unfamiliar factors could be healthy, as it gives team members the opportunity to understand own and team dynamics at a more natural pace. In fact, not striking the perfect balance at first, could give the work group the additional spark it needs – to function well long term.
Jackson, S.E. (1996). The consequences of diversity in multidisciplinary work teams. In M.A. West (Ed.) Handbook of Work Group Psychology. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, p. 53-75.
Kurtzberg, T.R., and Amabile, T.M. (2001), From Guilford to creative synergy: opening the black box of team-level creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 13 (3-4), p. 285-294.
Perry-Smith, J. (2009). When Being Social Facilitates Creativity. Social Networks and Creativity within Organizations. In J. Zhou and C. E. Shalley (Eds.) Handbook of Organizational Creativity. New Jersey: Psychology Press.
Salas, E., Rosen, M.A., Burke, C.S., and Goodwin, G.F. (2009). The wisdom of collectives in organizations: an update of competencies. In E. Salas, G.F. Goodwin and C.S. Burke (Eds.) Team Effectiveness in Complex Organizations: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives and Approaches, p. 39-79. London: Routledge.
Van Knippenberg, D., and Schippers, M.C. (2007). Work group diversity. Annual Review of Psychology, 58 (1), p. 515-541.
West, M.A (1995) Creative Values and Creative Visions in Teams at Work. In C.M. Ford and D.A. Gioia Creative action in organizations: Ivory tower visions and real world voices. P. 71-77. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.