“The Diversity Advantage” or “Birds of a Feather Will Fail Together”

For a more detailed discussion, read “Leveraging Connecting Style Diversity” in Connect for Success or Handbook for Early Career Success.

The fact is that since any one style represents just one of four different perspectives and problem solving approaches, surrounding yourself with and incorporating the thinking and perspectives of individuals from the other three styles gives you a distinct performance advantage (to get the most from this blog, take the Connecting Style Survey and find out what your style is.). And there is a significant body of research backing this up.

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, describes in his autobiography how the differences between his partner Bill Gates and himself made the power of their partnership far greater than the sum of  the parts.

“The main reason the tandem held together for more than a couple of years was that each of the entrepreneurs brought something valuable to the table. Mr Gates’s single-minded focus on winning everything, whether a chess game or a vital business deal, was complemented by his partner’s ability to see the bigger picture—an ability reinforced by Mr Allen’s eclectic set of outside interests, ranging from music to sport and science fiction. Mr Allen acknowledges that the two men were “extraordinary partners”.

Yet no matter how intellectually convinced anyone is of the value of diversity and inclusion, it is no match for the powerful human instinct to seek out those most like us, and fear and avoid those least like us. The fact is that most teams lack the diversity advantage because they are either made up of people who think similarly or, among those teams that have a diverse makeup, inter-style tensions lead to people competing rather than leveraging each other’s perspectives. In the case of Paul Allen and Bill Gates, the conflicts between their styles led them to split up, which resulted in Paul Allen leaving Microsoft in 1983.

The Power of Diversity

We owe our very existence to diversity. Diversity is what enables a species to survive and adapt in the face of extreme threat and adversity. The species that survives a ravaging virus does so because of the variation in immunities among its population. The species that survives a new and dangerous predator does so because some run really fast, others swim really well or fly really high, and some just taste really awful.
Scott E. Page’s recent research (University of Michigan) demonstrates a clear competitive advantage of organizational diversity:

“Scott’s research shows that when the members of a group have a diverse set of mental tools, “group decision-making is less likely to get stuck at suboptimal solutions, and more likely to arrive at superior ways of doing things. Roughly, given certain initial conditions, if we take two populations, one in which cognitively all agents are above average and another that is random and so diverse, the latter regularly will out-perform the former in solving problems.”

So why are truly diverse teams and organizations so few and far between?

Most leaders already think their team or organization is diverse. Token representation enables non-diverse decision makers to make all the key decisions without regret.

The more successful a team, the more its leaders seek to replicate what they already do, the less they feel they need to learn, and the more they resist outside influence.

In fact, “forced integration” of people from diverse style groups onto the same team causes initial defensiveness, tension and antagonism that actually leads to diminished performance in the beginning.

Some of the more common natural instincts that serve to make diverse team building a challenge are:
1. The need to be right
2. The need to feel invulnerable
3. The need for order and control
4. The aversion to confusion and ambiguity
5. The attraction to simple solutions
6. An aversion to the unknown
7. Suspicion of people, ideas and styles that are different
8. The tendency to discount, devalue and reject what we don’t understand

Making the team greater than the sum of its parts, or leveraging the collective IQ of a diverse group, is a process. It requires strong leadership, time and the opportunity for people to understand each other, become aware of their biases, learn to tap into each others’ complementary assets, and appreciate each other. Eventually, inclusiveness becomes a habit across all dimensions, and the more people develop the habit, the more it becomes part of the organizational style. Until then, a mandate for diversity serves to insure that people have ample exposure to this productive team experience.

In my next blog, I will talk about Group think, the very destructive and extremely common consequence of non-diverse work groups.

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