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The importance of goals for getting the most out of diversity


Ensuring diversity of opinion is crucial to the success of any project, and is indeed a major draw of social business software.  The ability to solicit input, be it from anywhere within your organisation, or even from anywhere outside it, ensures you get the very best insights available.

Such diversity does have some potential pitfalls however.  The formation of in and out groups can lead to group think forming for instance.

A new study looks at how managers can spot when diversity is beginning to go wrong in their organisations, and in particular the impact the goals a team is set has on their thinking and behaviour as a group.

The researchers, from Erasmus University, studied over 100 teams of business school students.  Each four person team spent three weeks on some fictional assignments within a fictional company.  Before each team got started, they completed a survey to determine their cultural diversity.  They were also asked to determine their goal orientation, ie whether they cared most about learning or performance.  At the end of the tasks, each team was graded by tutors on their group performance.

The findings showed that diversity mattered in different ways, depending on the goal the team had.  When the teams were focused on learning, high levels of diversity helped that team to learn more.  When they were not focused on learning however, more homogenous teams performed better.

A reverse pattern revealed itself in groups focused on high performance.  When performance was the goal, diversity hampered the efforts of the team.

All of which makes sense if you think about it.  When we learn we are seeking diversity of opinions to gain an in depth understanding of the subject.  This often involves seeking out views that are different to our own.  When the focus is on performance however, we often want solidarity behind a single approach, with diverse opinions merely slowing progress.

The research really does underline the cultural factors that underpin any successful social business.  For it to truly work, learning must be at the heart of what it is that you do.

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