Margaret A Neale, professor of organisations and dispute resolution at Stanford Graduate School of Business, says that groups where gender, age, race and educational background vary are better than homogeneous groups at handling conflict.
To optimise this potential, Neale says that managers should ensure that they rotate the composition of their teams regularly. Studies have found that when a newcomer is socially similar to the team, old team members will report high degrees of subjective satisfaction when, in fact, their objective performance is poor.
When newcomers were different, the reverse was true. The team might feel unsettled but their performance will be one of their best.
Managers should also be careful to set out the task and values of a team. "Conflict and differences in this area will generally destroy a team," Neale says. Setting out the direction, on the other hand, can go a long way in bridging the gap of visible and invisible differences.
Neale's research also found that 'token' diversity, where only one individual diverges from the rest, is counter-productive.
Source: Diverse background and personalities can strengthen groups
Stanford Knowledge Base, August 2006
Review by Emilie Filou