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The Right Kind of Diversity Builds Team Success

Diversity has long been linked to a team’s success. Most of us think about diversity in terms of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or religion. But, there are many more types of diversity that help organizations achieve success. The more diverse the team, the more opportunity for diverse viewpoints that ultimately lead to better solutions. Better solutions lead to greater team success.

 

Researchers at Northwestern University set out to find out if diversity really does improve team success. Their findings suggest that although diversity is essential, issues such as race, age, gender, socio-economic status and religion are not the only critical factors in building team success.

 

After comparing successful teams with unsuccessful teams, the Northwestern researchers reported two very significant findings. First, successful teams have a mixture of both experienced people and those who are newcomers to their field.  For many years, we have been telling clients that new blood is a good thing. The second finding is not as obvious.  Researchers found that successful teams had a few seasoned veterans from their field who had never worked with each other.  This finding is significant because people who have a reputation for being seasoned veterans and experts in their field many times have huge egos, and huge egos usually don’t work well together. What makes great teams great is the ability to have seasoned veterans with a strong desire to collaborate and learn from other seasoned veterans. Luis Amaral, a physicist and co-author of the study stated, “People have a tendency to want to work with their friends – people they’ve work with before.  That is exactly the wrong to do.”

 

To examine team success, the authors reviewed Broadway Musicals.  Between 1920 and 1930, 87 percent of Broadway musicals flopped, despite having many great names such as Cole Porter, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.  The authors cite that one of the reasons for this high level of failure was that these great composers had the habit of repeatedly collaborating with each other. In contrast, West Side Story was considered to be one of the greatest musicals of all time. In this production, there were newcomers to Broadway like lyricist Steven Soundheim, and Leonard Bernstein, a great composer who had never worked with Peter Gennaro, a choreographer who had a great reputation.

 

We work with a team of medical professionals who are experts in a highly specialized area of medicine. When it comes to teamwork, on a scale of one to ten, with one low and ten high, they are about a four.  Some of the team members actually despise each other and speak nastily about their fellow team members if the opportunity is ripe. When it comes to learning new ways to practice medicine and truly be leaders in their medical niche, on a scale of one to ten, they are a 5. We recommended to the team that new blood could be a really positive enhancement in taking the team to an even higher level. Although a few team members embraced the idea of new blood, the majority of the team rejected the idea because they believed new team members might have a negative impact on their personal work schedule and new, experienced team members might challenge the way they practice medicine.  From our perspective, the second objection was a strong case for the need to bring in new blood and help the team rise from stagnation.

 

As new team members slowly joined the team, they came aboard with a positive attitude and a keen eye for the mission and vision of the team. The result has been a team that has spent productive time improving processes and procedures for enhanced patient care, publishing articles about their positive results and improved team morale.

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