Diversity – a surefire way to raise the intelligence and performance of your team

Diversity at work

For over 20 years we have been talking about the importance of diversity and inclusion. This conversation has focused more on the ‘fairness’ aspect of inclusion for minority groups in the workplace, such as women and minority racial groups. You may remember the days of ‘Affirmative Action’ where legal and regulatory bodies were set up to make sure action was taken to address the situation.

And so the conversation continues with relatively little tangible progress.

But now – the conversation is changing.  Social science is providing us with new knowledge and a different focus for the business case of actively pursuing diverse and inclusive teams in our organisations.

The facts!

There is a positive correlation between diversity and better financial performance. When you create diversity in teams you are 15% more likely to have financial returns above the national industry media. (McKinsey ‘Diversity Matters’ Report, Feb 2015)

Organisations that actively embrace diversity (i.e. they actually employ and set-up up diverse teams), experience on average…

  • 57% increase in performance against goals
  • 24% greater retention
  • 21% more emotional commitment to colleagues
  • 11% lift in discretionary effort (i.e. engagement)

But why?  Surely just mixing up the ingredients of the team (whether it’s gender, age, race, background or other), can’t make that much difference?

Well I’m here to tell you it does, and there are three reasons why:

Reason 1:  Homogeneous teams lack perspective

Teams that are made up of one gender, race, technical or age group are hard-pressed to see things from any other perspective than their own. Like fuels like. Research clearly demonstrates that the capacity for true perspective and creativity in solving challenging problems is significantly reduced in homogeneous teams, even though they will report that they are effective and able to consider the perspectives of all relevant stakeholders in decision-making and problem-solving.

Reason 2:  Diversity in a team lifts everyone’s performance

When diverse team members are encouraged and feel safe to contribute their real perspectives, and are prepared to challenge homogeneous thinking, everybody is put just a little on edge – and that’s good for our brains, and for creative thinking and increased energy levels.

Reason 3:  Mindless ‘group think’ is reduced or eliminated

In homogeneous groups, the true capacity and intelligence of each individual is inhibited by the human desire to fit in and the brain’s huge capacity for avoiding effort. Because homogeneous groups share the same perspective, they rarely move beyond their shared approach to decision-making, their shared values and experience, and their shared understanding of what the organisation needs. They often reach agreement quite quickly and this feels good as there are no ‘agitators’ to take them out of their comfort zone and beyond their hardwired thinking about the world.

Of course, dealing with this issue is not as easy as it sounds because of our hardwired propensity for bias, but that’s a whole new blog.

SO….what can you do?  Here are three quick tips…

  1. Start to do some analysis on the make-up of your teams.  What is the data telling you? What decisions do those teams make and what problems do they solve? Is it possible that the team make-up, and hence the team performance and innovation, could be adjusted?
  2. Take steps to introduce gender, race, technical and age diversity to your teams and projects.
  3. Teach people about their brains, about human bias, and provide systems and structure that reduce the impact of human bias on decision-making and problem-solving.

Over to you

If you’d like to understand more about how to raise the intelligence of your teams, I’d love you to make contact on michelle@michelleloch.com, schedule a free 30-minute discovery session with me, or attend one of my upcoming events.

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