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The coordination costs of thought diversity

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The coordination costs of thought diversity

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The notion of thought diversity is one that most managers are aware of, especially as innovation has sped up the agenda of most organizations.

The concept is a well trodden one.  A greater level of diversity will offer teams and organizations a greater pool of knowledge and experience to tap into.  Ideas can be combined in new ways, taken from different contexts and applied in fresh and novel ways.

This in turn helps to boost the bottom line of your organization.  There have been a number of studies into how you can go about encouraging thought diversity within an organization.

For instance, a recentreportfrom Deloitte outlines five things organizations can do to improve the thought diversity.

  1. Hire unconventional people –During recruitment, there is a tendancy to hire people that are just like us.  Research has shown that recruiting managers tend to like people that reflect them, which is not great for diversity of thought.
  2. Understand the talents people have –One suspects that most employees are akin to icebergs, with a great many of their talents and abilities unknown and unutilised in the workplace.  A crucial part of having a diverse workplace is actually knowing what you have.
  3. Solicit feedback –I’ve written a lot recently on the importance of feedback, and managers need to do all they can to encourage it.  It’s no use having diverse opinions if people are too afraid to share them.
  4. Utilise reverse mentoring –Whilst I appreciate the sentiment of this advice, I’m more inclined to think that encouraging a supportive culture in whatever way is the best approach.  Help and advice should flow up, down and across the organisation.
  5. Be open to new ideas –The employees within your organisation are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ideas and insights.  A corporate culture that is open to ideas will inevitably look to those outside the organisation as well as those inside.  Removing thenot invented hereculture and opening oneself up to ideas from all corners is a crucial part of being diverse.

Constructing diverse teams

A recent paper has explored the way managers can strive to construct teams to optimize their thought diversity.  Whilst there are clear advantages to diversity, if a team is too diverse, the costs involved in coordinating the team outweigh the gains.  It’s important to remember that generating ideas is not sufficient if those ideas aren’t then implemented widely.

The study revealed that there was a particular advantage acrued when organizations assembled teams with high levels of what they refer to as ‘across team diversity’.  This is when a team may not be that diverse when you explore it’s individual members, but they are nonetheless diverse when compared to the organization as a whole.

So, for instance, an organization may compile different teams, each of which specializes in a particular field.  Such a setup saw both the teams themselves and their organizations perform better than in groups where there was more team level diversity.

Interestingly however, the paper revealed that it’s important that members of the team aren’t too close.  When there had been prior collaborations, it rendered that team less likely to seek insights from outside the group.

It’s a nice addition to the thinking on innovation and thought diversity, as it reminds us that teams seldom operate in a vacuum, and therefore some thought needs to be given to not just the diversity of the team, but how it will be coordinated with the rest of the organization.

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