Teams and Diversity

Teams are an interesting concept. On the face of it, the concept of teams makes good sense, or at least sounds nice! The idea of a group of people working together to solve a problem seems like a pleasant and effective way to work. The underlying axiom for teams is that ‘more minds are better than one’ and ‘diversity will bring about the right answer’.

On reviewing teams, both theoretically and as a practitioner I’m not so sure this is the case. Great ideas do not tend to happen in committees but are often the result of a great mind. These ideas are then evolved by other great minds, but it is not so much a team effort as a serial progression. Teams also come with inherent limitations that decrease the likelihood of  ‘the best result’ occurring. These include such things as ego-protection, politicking, and the eventual compromise. In this regard, the whole process by which teams work may not be conducive to the best idea or end product resulting.

As always, there are two sides to an argument. I can clearly see where teams would be valuable. An instance is where diverse opinion must be incorporated into a final decision or where various skill sets are required. However, the idea that teams are a fundamental requirement of work (which is often the case in management speak) is not, in my opinion, true.

I have included two readings which I think are required for those who are interested in the wider concept of teams, and the benefits and limitations of teams.

Mannix, E., and Neale, M. A., (2005).  What Differences Make a Difference? The Promise and Reality of Diverse Teams in Organizations. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Vol. 6, No. 2.

Abstract:                                                                                                                                          As the workplace has become increasingly diverse, there has been a tension between the promise and the reality of diversity in team process and performance. The optimistic view holds that diversity will lead to an increase in the variety of perspectives and approaches brought to a problem and to opportunities for knowledge sharing, and hence lead to greater creativity and quality of team performance. However, the preponderance of the evidence favors a more pessimistic view: that diversity creates social divisions, which in turn create negative performance outcomes for the group. Why is the reality of diversity less than the promise?
Mathieu, J. M., Maynard, T., Rapp, T., and Gilson, L. (2008).  Team Effectiveness 1997-2007: A Review of Recent Advancements and a Glimpse Into the Future. Journal of Management, 34, 410-476.
The authors review team research that has been conducted over the past 10 years. They discuss the nature of work teams in context and note the substantive differences underlying different types of teams. They then review representative studies that have appeared in the past decade in the context of an enhanced input-process-outcome framework that has evolved into an inputsmediators- outcome time-sensitive approach. They note what has been learned along the way and identify fruitful directions for future research. They close with a reconsideration of the typical team research investigation and call for scholars to embrace the complexity that surrounds modern team-based organizational designs as we move forward.

One thought on “Teams and Diversity

  1. Richard Rudman

    The idea of teamwork may be attractive, but the reality is rather different — mainly because very little work is done by a “team” per se. Most work is undertaken by individuals whose work group may be called a team, but the tasks are still undertaken by individuals.

    Many years ago, Professor David Limerick argued that “collaborative individualism” was preferable to “team work”. It might be a clumsy term, but it is a better description of the behaviours required of work group members — and suggests that much of the effort put into team-building could be better directed.


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