Why Diverse Teams Are More Successful

By Dr. Britt Andreatta

Leaders who value diversity reap all kinds of benefits for their organization. Several different studies have explored the impact diversity has on groups. Here are some key findings:

  • Diverse groups are more innovative (they outperform homogeneous groups on creative problem solving)
  • Diverse groups make fewer errors (they focus on facts better and identify potential problems more than homogeneous groups)
  • Diverse groups are better able to handle and resolve conflict

 

When leaders value and support diversity across their organization, all of the above benefits multiply, making diverse organizations more successful on several levels. Their financial returns are as much as 35 percent above their industry average. They experience both higher return on equity and income growth compared to their less diverse counterparts. Diversity also increases employee engagement and reduces turnover, both of which can generate huge financial benefits. It’s important to remember that diversity is not just about race and gender. Diversity includes age, ethnicity, spirituality, sexual orien­tation, political views, work styles and more.

Finding True Belonging

While workplaces are certainly more diverse than they were even a couple of decades ago, we still have a long way to go.

A study found that nearly two-thirds of employees “feel pressure to ‘cover’ some facet of their identity at work.” In their assessment, hiding or covering was particularly true of these groups:

  • 83 percent of lesbian/gay/bisexual workers
  • 79 percent of blacks
  • 66 percent of women
  • 63 percent of Hispanics
  • 61 percent of Asians
  • 45 percent of heterosexual, white men (who often felt they had to cover their age and physical disabilities, including mental health)

 

The majority of employees feel pressure to hide aspects of themselves

Covering up takes people’s time and energy, as they work to not reveal their authentic selves by altering what they wear, say and act. This is an indicator that people already feel excluded or fear further marginalization, which can lead to wasting people’s talents and ultimately impacts the success of the organizations for whom they work.

Neurologically, when people feel they are valued and needed by a group, the brain produces serotonin and can shift from reptilian/survival brain to the neocortex, which is the seat of innovation and higher-order thinking. Clearly, psychologically safe organizations are at a continual and increasing competitive advantage.

Cultivating Collaboration

People need to feel truly and authentically part of team and therefore able to do the more difficult work of collaboration. Collaboration is a vital necessity for the success of today’s organizations and yet is probably the least understood skill. I hear the word “collaboration” frequently in my work with organizations around the world. But people often use the term when they actually mean cooperation or coordination. Collaboration is a special act of co-creation, and the outcomes are often both unpredictable and impossible to achieve without the individual contributions of every member.

 

It is vital that organizations choose team leaders based on their skills for creating the environment for others to collaborate. True collaboration requires skills for conflict resolution and the group needs to feel a certain level of confidence that conflicts can be worked through effectively. This allows people to tussle with the creative tensions that occur in collaboration, knowing that respect and trust can be maintained, or even enhanced as they do so. In addition, people need to know that conflicts won’t have lasting effects or consequences on their relationships and place within the group.

Collaboration is where the real, important and strategic work lives. It is also where teams struggle the most. I believe that is because we are working against (rather than with) human biology and I have found some compelling and astounding answers in studying the neuroscience of teams in Wired to Connect. Neurobiology drives how we work together at our best and when we perform at our worst.

What does this all mean for teams in today’s workplaces? Diversity, inclusion and collaboration are vitally necessary if we want to bring out the best in people. Any form of exclusion is painful and incredibly damaging to individuals, the teams they are on, and the organizations they work for. While a diverse group of people can drive all kinds of positive effects for teams and organizations. At the same time, we need to make sure the organization has inclusive practices so that everyone feels they can be heard. All of this can make your organization more successful to achieve your goals.

Dr. Britt Andreatta is an internationally recognized thought leader in leadership

and learning. She is the author of Wired to Connect: The Brain Science of Teams and a New Model for Creating Collaboration and Inclusion. Follow her on Twitter: @BrittAndreatta