Diverse teams are great – but not equally for all

The latest academic study about team diversity provides additional depth to simplistic insight. Yes, diverse teams create superior results – sometimes on the back of those who aided the benefit.

A new Study by Michigan State University and University of Michigan researchers shows that individuals (!) on teams of diverse people working together can have better outcomes than those on teams with similar individuals. They also found that the very individuals who add diversity to their science teams surprisingly do not experience positive outcomes themselves.

A thorough research framework

Researchers examined diversity in two categories that reflect above and below the waterline dimensions of the diversity iceberg: personal demographics (race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and nationality) and job-related or scientific criteria (career stage, academic discipline and tenure on the team). A sample of 266 participants from 105 National Science Foundation-funded environmental science teams completed questionnaires about

  • individual and team diversity,
  • their satisfaction with their teams and authorship practices, and
  • perceptions of the frequency of data sharing.

They also disclosed perceptions of their team climate, including

  • team collaboration,
  • inclusion, and
  • procedural justice, which focused on influencing team policies related to research.

Climate of diverse teams more positive – but less for underrepresented groups

Across the study, individuals on diverse teams perceived their climate more positively than individuals on more homogeneous teams. However, participants with more underrepresented demographic characteristics were more likely to view expectations and the attitude of their team negatively. This applied, e.g., for black women or gay men and was associated with lower team satisfaction and more negative perceptions of authorship and data sharing on their teams.

Evidence-based recommendations on collaboration and inclusion

The study adds more concrete elements to the broadly acknowledged need to effectively combine team members from a variety of backgrounds. As diverse teams can struggle with allocation of credit, differences in perspectives, or unequal power dynamics, the authors recommend more items, based on their findings: improved outcomes in procedural justice, collaboration, and inclusion (as separate elements). They say, team policies must be clear and openly discussed, and transparent policies and procedures must be followed to alleviate power imbalances. In cultural terms, teams must be mindful of the experiences of all members, especially those who contribute to demographic diversity.

An element of Inclusive Leadership

It would have been a surprise if the study did not highlight the particular role of the team leaders. The research recommends that team leaders create norms that support the contributions of all members. This may involve creating policies and practices collaboratively and allowing for respectful conflict. These conclusions echo a number of earlier findings related to team culture or open corporate cultures.

The research also reminds us of the need to get beyond the one token minority person who could easily experience stress or social isolation if they bring a unique characteristic to the group.


Related articles

  • The critical need for open mind-sets


  • How demographic diversity can correct over-confidence based on group-think


  • On the critical diversity mass to gain double-digit advantage




Source: original paper in online coverage