Organizational excellence – Importance of diversity

February 28, 2011 at 10:05 am | Posted in Blogroll, Organizational Excellence, Systems Thinking | Leave a comment

We have seen cases where a team is moving at an average pace, and then a new member joins the team. Suddenly there is a jump in the performance. Is it because of some extraordinary skills or abilities brought by the new member? It could be, but not necessarily. Why then this sudden change?

I recall another case from an organization I worked with earlier. It was a leading forgings company; the technical people were experts in forging technology and all of them were from a similar background. Then on advice from a consultant, the management decided to create a PIG (Profit improvement group) with mixture of technical and non-technical managers – who were exposed to the technical details for the first time. Some of the ideas that were generated were out-of-box and made a huge difference to the bottom line.

Is it because of additional persons brought into the team? But we also have seen cases where new additions have caused problems as well. All of us have heard the saying “Two heads are better than one” as also “Too many cooks spoil the broth”. Is there a contradiction here? Is there an optimum size?

I have always been curious to know the answer to these questions. Then recently I across an interesting book “The Difference” by Scott page. He answers it very well in the book that is based on solid research, mathematical proofs and empirical evidence. Though intuitively we feel that ability is all important, his conclusion is that “Often diversity merits equal standing with ability and sometimes, although not every time, it even trumps ability”. The essence of his findings is,
There are four types of diversities and all of them individually as well as in combination are useful for solving problems and making predictions.

  • Diverse Perspectives: ways of representing situations and problems
  • Diverse Interpretations: ways of categorizing or partitioning perspectives
  • Diverse Heuristics: ways of generating solutions to problems
  • Diverse Predictive Models: ways of inferring cause and effect

This explains the cases mentioned at the start. But are all kinds of diversities good? Not so. There is a diversity called “Diverse preferences: differences in what we value” which is different from those mentioned above, because this diversity is the cause of most of the conflicts. People have emotional attachment to what they value and as a result have less openness to see each other’s’ point of view. Diverse preferences are either “fundamental” preferences related to the end goal to be achieved or “instrumental” preferences related to the means to achieve the goal. In either case, differences in the group on these can result in heated exchanges and sometimes even deadlocks. It requires careful and diplomatic handling by the leader to keep up the progress and take benefit of other diversities mentioned earlier.

I have also come across a very different kind of diversity – diversity of exposure. We have seen people who stop learning by middle age and become stale. You can almost predict what they would say or react, year after year. They would just cruise through life. We also see others who are always open to new ideas, new experiences. They are bubbling with enthusiasm even in ripe old age. It is always interesting to interact with them. The key is the diversity of exposure.

I would really appreciate any thoughts / experiences from you that either support or challenge what is said above.

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