Research has consistently shown that diverse teams produce better results, provided they are well led. The ability to bring together people from different backgrounds, disciplines, cultures, and generations and leverage all they have to offer, therefore, is a must-have for leaders (Ibarra and Hansen 2011: 71).
Globalisation has brought about team diversity both in the academia and business environment and as a result of this; businesses have begun to employ the efforts of diverse teams in a bid to capture the international market. For instance, Cox (2008) says that a firm with diverse teams will gain advantages in designing and selling products and services to a culturally diverse marketplace. But what is diversity?
Oftentimes, diversity has been said to be synonymous with gender or ethnic diversity but the Chancellor’s Committee on Diversity defines Diversity as ‘the variety of experiences and perspective which arise from differences in race, culture, religion, mental or physical abilities, heritage, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics. This means that human diversity in workgroups creates a richer flow of ideas and thus has the potential to increase creativity and innovation; this will in turn improve organizational financial performance (Cox 2008). Also, it provides potentials for better problem solving in workforces that are culturally diverse.
All of these have portrayed diversity in groups to be a positive force leading to effective functioning of the team. But this can be disputed as it is not always certain that diverse groups produce better results. Research has shown that for diversity to benefit an organisation there must be a process by which the positive aspects of diversity are brought to bear (Simons & Hope-Pelled 1999). This means the subject has its negative sides too. The major of which will be conflict. Conflict that will arise as a result of demographic characteristics such as age, sex, race and ethnicity; Disagreements that will spring up due to differences in educational level, work experience and expertise; and revolts that will be showcased as a result of differences in values such as ethics, approaches to people and interpretation of vision or ideas. All of these are bound to bring about relationship conflicts that will come arise through disagreements and incapability to communicate as well as well as task and process conflict.
Perhaps proper management will be able to fix this. But what amounts to proper management in a team with people who are diverse in so many ways where what is fair to one person might be unfair to the others?
First of all, managing diversity focuses on maximizing the ability of all employees to contribute to organizational goals. Research has not categorically stated what best way to manage a diverse team. However, some suggestions have been made.
Berry-James (2010) suggests that encouraging employee disclosure of perceptions regarding diversity creates procedures for problem solving by a diverse group of employees. While Winn and Taylor-Grover (2010) emphasise that organisational culture should first of all be changed through policies and procedures.
Forbes (2011) in his research suggests that leaders should not pay lip service to diversity but live it as it is responding to what employees’ and customers’ needs in a holistic way.
In relation to the retail industry, diversity is seen in the hourly front line of retailing and as such, retail companies need to also have exemplary diversity communications, a demonstrated commitment to diversity from its CEO, and diversity in its supply chain as well. This will make customers feel most comfortable doing business with companies whose employees reflect the diversity of their own communities.
In conclusion, one would say that even though diversity has been shown to produce better results, these results cannot be without proper leadership and management.
Cox, T. H. (2008) an Update on the Relationship between Workforce Diversity and Organizational Performance [online] available from http://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/bst/en/media/xcms_bst_dms_23946_23996_2.pdf [18 June 2013]
Cox, T. H. (1993) Cultural Diversity in Organizations: Theory, Research and Practice. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.
Forbes (2011) Diversity Management Is the Key to Growth: Make It Authentic [online] available from http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2011/06/13/diversity-management-is-the-key-to-growth-make-it-authentic/ [18 June 2013]
Jackson, S., May, K.E. and Whitney, K. (1995). ‘Understanding the dynamics of diversity in decisions making teams’ in Guzzo, R. A. and Salas, E. (eds.), Team Effectiveness and Decision Making in Organizations, 204 – 261
Knight, D., Pearce, C. L., Smith, K. G., Judy, D. O., Sims, H. P., Smith, K. A. and Flood, P. (1999) ‘Top Management Team Diversity, Group Process and Strategic Consensus’ Strategic Management Journal (20), 445 – 465
Simons, T. and Hope-Pelled, L., (1999) ‘making use of difference: Diversity, debate and decision comprehensiveness in top management teams’ Academy of Management Journal 42 (6), 662 – 674
Popescu, S and Rusko, R. (2012) ‘Managing Diversity in Public organisations’ Global Business and Management Research: An International Journal 4 (3 & 4) 235 -247