Diverse Teams Analyze Problems More Effectively

When people anticipate working with people similar to themselves, they process information less effectively than when they anticipate collaborating with diverse co-workers.

Denise Lewin Loyd

Denise Lewin Loyd

Volunteers completed a survey about their political attitudes, read a murder mystery, determined the perpetrator, and rated their confidence in their conclusion in a study designed by MIT’s Denise Lewin Loyd, Cynthia S. Wang of Oklahoma State University, Columbia’s Katherine Phillips  and Robert Lount Jr. of Ohio State University.

Participants then wrote a statement about their conclusions before meeting another volunteer who had a different conclusion about the perpetrator to solve the case.

Cynthia Wang

Cynthia Wang

They learned the other person’s political affiliation and opinion about the murder and wrote their statements but were told the experiment was over, without meeting the other person.

Loyd’s team analyzed these preparation statements to determine “elaboration,” a measure of analysis complexity and depth, when people anticipated working with others who have different attitudes.

Katherine Phillips

Katherine Phillips

People who said they were members of any political party wrote less-detailed statements when they anticipated meeting with someone affiliated with the same political party.
In contrast, participants wrote more detailed statements when they anticipated meeting someone of a different political orientation.

Volunteers prepared less carefully when they anticipated working with someone who shared their views.
In contrast, when they expected to work with someone holding different views, they applied greater critical thinking to their problem analyses.

Robert B Lount Jr

Robert B Lount Jr

Some volunteers were instructed before preparing their written case analysis that developing a positive interpersonal relationship with the other person would increase solution accuracy.

Other participants learned that “concentrating on the task rather than the interpersonal relationship was most important way to have a productive meeting.”

People primed to focus on their interpersonal relations wrote less detailed preparation statements, suggesting that analytic rigor was sacrificed for interpersonal harmony.
In addition, when people were primed to focus on the task, they produced more thoroughly considered solutions.

When volunteers actually met to solve the case after writing their statements,
partners with the most accurate solutions came to the meeting with most detailed case analyses.

People in homogeneous groups may prepare less completely if they focus on cultivating interpersonal harmony and avoiding conflict.
In contrast, diverse groups may not attempt to form close social relationships, so are more able to focus on task analysis and solutions.
Diverse teams, then, provide multiple perspectives and greater focus on shared work tasks.

Ron Elsdon

Ron Elsdon

However, other researchers advocate workplace affiliation as a way to engage and retain employees.
Ron Elsdon, formerly of Cambridge University and Air Liquide America, suggested that workplace affiliation leads to organizational value creation, and Gallup’s Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman argued that “having a best friend at work” is both important for employee engagement and “one of the most controversial of the 12 traits of highly productive workgroups.”

Marcus Buckingham

Marcus Buckingham

Social relationships among similar people at work may feel good, but may not lead to the most effective or innovative problem analysis.

-*To what extent have you observed homogeneous work groups focusing on maintaining harmony at the expense of rigorous task analysis?

Curt Coffman

Curt Coffman


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