Managing Diversity – A double edged sword

Diversity at the workplace

In today’s globalized world, it may be sensible to draw the conclusion that greater workforce diversity is beneficial in the workplace, since organizations can draw upon a variety of skills and knowledge from a diverse group of people to better cater needs to customers from different markets. However, diversity might also lead to decreased team performance and team effectiveness, if poorly managed.

Diversity - the model

On one hand, diversity may cause process losses, due to team conformity, because people tend to be attracted to those whose attitudes and values are similar to their own, and most people are motivated through such social acceptance. Organizations and teams have a natural tendency to drive out diversity since people are generally attracted to those whose attitudes and values are similar to their own, and according the social identity theory, most people are motivated through such acceptance. In addition, diversity have also been shown to hamper communication, inherently increasing the potential for conflict due to different belief structures and values.

People tend to be attracted to those similar to them and interactions with people who are similar are therefore more satisfying. Hence, in a widely diverse team, lower team satisfaction may predict lower commitment, organization citizenship and long term operational effectiveness.

On the other hand, diversity creates process gains. Having a diverse team with people from different backgrounds means a better representation of today’s environmental complexity and hence an increased ability to understand and respond to local preferences. A diverse team would also have a greater variety of ideas and perspectives to draw upon, resulting in higher creativity and innovation, which provides a company with a significant competitive advantage.  In addition, new research even suggests that diverse groups outperformed homogenous ones as diversity triggered more careful information processing and prevents groupthink.

Managing Diversity

Therefore, in order to manage diversity, it is important to overcome the barriers in communication by implementing an open and supportive communication and feedback system. To overcome differences in beliefs and values, it is also important for the team leader to come up with a superordinate team identity and implement a specific, inspirational common goal for all members of the team to work towards. With a focused, common goal, it is also more likely for the team to go into task conflicts, which is constructive conflict where debate and disagreements is formed with respect to the task at hand, rather than interpersonal conflicts.

But in order for such implementations to take place effectively, I believe that it ultimately boils down to the personality of individual team members, not just the manager. Hence, it is critical to choose team members who are open and are good at communication so that they can understand and build upon multiple perspectives and effectively convey their own ideas as well.

Graduates at DUKE NUS

Applying this back to the DUKE NUS case discussed in class, all initial members of the team (Kamei, Cook and Stramer) were very open to new ideas and similarly proposed such a method of learning for the medical curriculum at DUKE NUS. By having a team discussion, students were able to learn a topic from one another and each individual was able to manage the group process of arriving at a collective answer. In addition, having the students facilitate the discussion in a seminar style setting helps to build team management skills and supports open communication, which will help them as they progress in their career to work with multinational medical practitioners.

Therefore, I feel that managers should take note of hiring not the person of the right fit to the company, but rather with an openness to diversity and new ideas.

References

http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/research/hr_neale_groupdiversity.shtml

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2006/january-06/diversity-in-teams-a-two-edged-sword-requires-careful-handling.html

Kochan, Bezrukova, Ely, Jackson, Joshi, Jehn, Leonard, Levine and Thomas (2002) The Effects of Diversity on Business Performance: Report of the Diversity Research Network
http://www.solargeneral.com/library/diversity-at-work.pdf
Stahl, Maznevski, Voigt and Jonse (2007) Unraveling the Diversity-Performance Link in Multicultural Teams: Meta-analysis of Studiesn on the Impact of Cultural Diversity in Teams
http://www.insead.edu/facultyresearch/research/doc.cfm?did=2742

 

 

 

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