Working in diverse teams
Working in diverse teams

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Working in diverse teams

5 Categories of diversity

While studies show that diverse groups outperform homogeneous groups (as you saw in the last section), you may still feel that there are some advantages in having a homogeneous group.

It is true that a group that is more homogenous can avoid some of the problems that are seen in more diverse teams due to poor communication patterns and excessive conflict. What is certain though is that no theory says that a team is going to be more productive simply because of outward personal characteristics, such as race or gender.

Three different categories of diversity have been described by Jehn et al. (1999):

  • Social or category diversity – due to visible demographic differences, for example race, gender and age.
  • Informational diversity – due to differences in educational background, functional background and industry experience.
  • Value or goal diversity – following a different value system, differing in opinion about what is important and what the goal is.

While social diversity may be the immediate term of reference you think of when you consider diversity, the other two types of diversity also play a significant role in achieving greater productivity in teams, so they must not be neglected. What is needed in a team in order to achieve greater productivity is differences in the values of the people involved and the kind of informational diversity, which stems from including people from different educational backgrounds and cultures.

It is thought that by increasing social diversity, the group is likely to be more productive because social diversity will enhance the two other types of diversity. By simply having greater social diversity within your team, you will increase the informational and value differences that are necessary for increased performance and productivity.

A subtle pitfall is that differences in, for example, age or gender will not necessarily lead to difference in values or experience. You will look at this more in Week 6 when you will explore stereotypes and assumptions that can be made when confronted by socially diverse groups. Here, you will question how many of these are true and find out which ones you tend to share.

Now read the following case study before completing Activity 4.

Case study 1: Joan

Joan is 54 and works for the county council in the social care team at a residential home for the elderly. She has been in this job for nearly 20 years and loves it. Her team have been working together now for so long that it feels like a family to her. While the work can be hard, she values the friendly team of like-minded women.

Joan has been asked to be part of a working group to look at referral processes within social care. Today is their first meeting at County Hall and Joan is feeling really nervous about how she will fit in and what she might be asked to do. She knows that she is going to be part of a team of five and that they will be working together once a week over the next couple of months.

The other members of the team are:

  • Mike, a recent graduate with a degree in computing

  • Martha, a professional woman of a similar age to Joan but wearing a suit and carrying a leather briefcase with a laptop

  • Chandni, a middle-aged woman wearing a hijab

  • Jo, a young woman dressed all in black with heavy make-up and lots of facial piercings.

Activity 4 Value diversity - the challenges

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Certain differences between people are immediately obvious, for example, age, colour of skin and gender. By now you may have started to realise that it is not always these differences which cause the most conflict. The greatest conflict is likely to occur where there is a greater range of value diversity in the team.

Value diversity rather than social or informational diversity can lead to decreased satisfaction, impact negatively on team members’ loyalty to the group and commitment to realising the goal. When there are different opinions within the team as to what the task actually is, then this can lead to serious personal friction.

For Joan working in the team described above is stepping out of her comfort zone. What kind of concerns might she be having about how they are going to be able to work together?

What types of social, information and value diversity might there be within this group?

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Discussion

Some of the examples of diversity you might have come up with that could be evident in this group are:

Informational diversity

  • Level of IT skills
  • Professional or graduate knowledge versus knowledge gained from practical experience

Social diversity:

  • Age – young professionals versus middle aged
  • Sex – male/female

Value

  • Muslim versus non-Muslim
  • Alternative lifestyle versus conventional

Next you will look at the initiatives organisations are using to increase diversity in their workplaces.

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