When building a diverse team, how can you set them up for success?
To say that diverse teams of humans are complex is quite the understatement. Setting the right conditions for them to succeed—that's the key.
The way that teams are structured in many work environments is changing, and fast. There’s good news though: researchers’ knowledge of how diverse teams work has also evolved. Helping team members feel safe enough to take risks is critical to ensuring they can navigate ambiguous, creative tasks. Leaders need to remain flexible and modify leadership or management structures, to match the team and the task. Also, teams may change over time as the individual team members influence each other.
Commentary from the d.school
A scholar’s perspective
Psychological safety fundamentally changed the way that we look at teams and diversity. It is an important central construct with a lot of research behind it. The strongest effects of psychological safety have been associated with innovation and creativity.
The wisdom is that cognitive diversity is essential in reaching breakthrough ideas. Without that kind of diversity, it's very difficult to come up with something really new. The trick is being able to manage that diversity—by drawing out perspectives and integrating them. Increasingly, there's a recognition that you must look at multiple types of diversity (functional, demographic, etc.) and how they interact and evolve.
We're now exploring much greater nuance. It is no longer about a set of static characteristics that you show up with, but increasingly about how things evolve in the team. As an example, you can measure the extent that a team values diversity at the outset of an activity, and see how those attitudes play out over time.
One of the challenges right now is that teams aren’t going to continue to operate the way that they have historically. Over the last decade, people have had a tendency to move between teams, so there is a fluidity of membership and people are on multiple teams. With this in mind, forming a shared team identity and sense of purpose can no longer be assumed.
Managing the Risk of learning: Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams
Amy Edmonson in Administrative Science Quarterly, 1999
Safety first! Interpersonal feelings affect team learning
This seminal study introduced the concept of psychological safety. Psychological safety is a shared belief that interpersonal risk taking is available and possible within a team. This gives rise to productive experimentation and feedback behaviors, which connect to improved team learning behaviors and team efficacy. Edmonson conducted the study at a manufacturing company with 51 work teams. This approach has since spurred two decades of research on the topic and makes the case for building shared trust with intention.
Past, present, and potential future of team diversity research: From compositional diversity to emergent diversity
Daan & Mell van Knippenberg, N. Julija in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2016
Emergent Diversity: a take on diversifying diversity in a team
This review suggests a new way to consider diversity: emergent diversity. Going beyond trait-based diversity and the composition of a group—which is more static—emergent diversity means taking stock of how individuals interact and how these interactions evolve. In this sense, we might consider diversity as a living quality, shifting and evolving with interactions over time instead of a static set of categories.
In Search of the Dream Team: Temporally Constrained Multi-Armed Bandits for Identifying Effective Team Structures or Flash Organizations
Sharon Zhou, Melissa Valentine, Michael S. Bernstein, in Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2018
Assembling a team? In the future, you might ask your computer.
This experiment explores how teams might “try on” varying styles to find their best working approach and explores variations of who is in charge, how decisions are made and ideas are shared, as well as formalities and feedback approaches. For example, decision-making might be centralized or decentralized. The experiment used an algorithm to choose different approaches. Instead of selecting one ideal style for all teams, we might aim to intelligently choose, vary, and intervene with different collaboration styles over time.
Demographic Diversity and Faultlines: The Compositional Dynamics of Organizational Groups
Lau & Murnighan in The Academy of Management Review, 1998
Diversity is more than just combining our categories
This paper takes a more granular view on diversity in groups. It’s not just about broad categories individuals belong to or mixing individual backgrounds on a team, but about what the authors call “faultlines”: how people map across more specific attributes of their identity. For example, if people have similar past experiences or status, fall into the same age groups, or share other characteristics like gender or race, we can consider how strong or fragmented these faultlines are across the group, adding some dimension to diversity considerations.
Perspective—Rethinking Teams: From Bounded Membership to Dynamic Participation
Mark Mortensen, Martine R. Haas in Organization Science, 2018
Teams just aren’t what they used to be: redefining “teams” from fixed to fluid
In research and in workplaces, teams are shifting from fixed membership to fluid participation. The paper suggests we are reconsidering and redefining what we even mean by “team.” The authors propose a definition of teams on a spectrum of operation from “loosely bounded” to “tightly structured." Given this, we can cultivate identity—and how we understand each other—in new ways.
Breakthroughs and the Long Tail of Innovation
Lee Fleming in MIT Sloan Management Review, 2007
Homogeneous teams are reliable, multidisciplinary teams can increase breakthrough ideas
The author analyzed 17,000 patents and their founding teams, tracking which ideas failed and which ideas took off. Multidisciplinary teams showed greater variance in outcomes: although they produced more ideas that were failures, they produced more breakthroughs, too. The divergence and variation from a multidisciplinary team can make breakthroughs more likely. The author shares behavioral economics as an example of a mashup that took off.
Submit a Resource
Periodically, we’ll add more questions and articles to this site. Please share questions that have been vexing you, articles you think we’ve missed, or just feedback you’d like us to hear.Submit a Resource