Not only do people from different backgrounds bring different ways of looking at a problems but when there is greater diversity in the group, its members have to work harder to collaborate. They have to listen more; think more about how they present their own thinking and concentrate more when taking in other people’s ideas. Doing more thinking and working harder to get agreement, encourages people to come up with better ideas and more rounded solutions.
In many organisations, the difficulty is in ensuring that there is sufficient diversity around the table. Recruiting and retaining people who come from non traditional backgrounds or less conventional career paths can be hard to achieve, particularly if mangers’ instincts are to replace like for like when someone leaves.
Some recent research carried out by two Harvard researchers, Lori Mackenzie and Shelley Correll, suggests two ways to help managers ensure that their organisations reflect the rich diversity of the wider community. The first is to challenge the definition of success – ensuring that the criteria for success are evidence based and linked to real job outcomes rather than perceptions about previous job holders. The second is to clarify the ‘additive contribution’ of new team members. Asking what skills or behaviours does someone bring to the team as opposed to looking at what they may missing, helps us to re-orientate our thinking to a more open outlook, challenging homogenous thinking.