How to Get the Best Performance from Diverse Teams

As more businesses rely on teams to perform projects and achieve goals, management must learn to maximize their productivity and minimize inherent potential downsides. This challenge is spiced with increasing diversity, including age, education, language and cultural differences.

Managers’ performance ratings often depend on the achievements of their teams. This condition mandates that managers learn to work well with diverse teams, using teammate talents to the max, while building a finely tuned group that is motivated to deliver high performance.

University of California, Irvine, PhD candidate Kenji Klein noted in the published paper, “Culturally Diverse Teams that Work,” that culturally diverse teams “. . . can boost firm performance, but that potential comes with some risk.” Klein’s research displayed that results of diverse teams are divided—sometimes they work well; at times they do not.

The prime questions that managers must answer: How to take advantage of diverse teams? Team diversity works best when responsible for the following tasks.

  • Projects that demand focus from a variety of angles and perspectives.
  • Subjects that include understanding information from various sources, requiring innovative answers and out-of-the-box ideas.

Managers facing more obvious, routine tasks or projects may generate better results by using less diverse, more homogenous teams. In these situations, teams with educationally and culturally similar members can benefit from the following advantages.

  • Faster and better communication.
  • Better cohesion and quicker collaboration to solve problems.
  • Smoother implementation of changes and solutions.
  • Projects having short deadlines benefit from using less diverse teams.

Assembling diverse high-performing teams require managers to have one quality above all others—patience. Research from a variety of institutions, including MIT’s Sloan School of Management, indicates that newly formed diverse teams initially do not perform very well.

However, over time, team members become more comfortable working with their teammates and deliver higher performance when their leader (manager) has the patience to let teammates adjust to each other’s differences and perspectives.

Along with exhibiting patience, managers should allow diverse team members to integrate their different views instead of encouraging teammates to suppress their age, cultural or educational differences. If managers select the right team members, while giving them the freedom to become a cohesive group over time, diverse teams tend to perform better than more homogenous groups in the long-term.

Managers, who are patient and offer diverse teams freedom to find their own ways to collaborate, enjoy the following benefits.

  • High-level innovative ideas and solutions.
  • Team members who are comfortable offering out-of-the-box thinking and suggestions to each other and to management.
  • Teams that overcome initial conflicts rising from diversity to become high performing, cohesive groups.
  • The ability to give these teams complex projects, requiring innovation and creativity, with the confidence that their valuable combination of diversity and cohesion will deliver outstanding solutions.

Two conditions seem to apply across the board with few dissenters:

  • Globalization of business demands that managers find ways to work with highly diverse teams.
  • Most diverse teams take a while to fuse and integrate their differences to focus on collaboration to achieve their goals.

Managers who accept and understand these consistent tendencies should enjoy excellent results from their diverse teams. Leaders still must be aware of potential conflicts arising from personality, not cultural, diversity. Assembling winning diverse teams may demand some management tweaking of team members involved in bad chemistry situations.

Evaluating team cohesion is important, even when managers assemble homogenous teams for shorter-term projects. Patient managers, who give their diverse teams the freedom to work past their initial cultural differences, will be pleased they adopted this approach. Diverse teams, aware of their leader’s patience and understanding, typically form high-performing, cohesive groups that solve the most complex problems with innovative solutions.

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