Diverse Group Processes

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A look at Census Bureau estimates shows that the US is becoming more diverse. As the country becomes more diverse, so too do organizations. As a result, now more than ever before, people are more likely to work for, work alongside, or supervise someone who is demographically different.

Recognizing the diversity of workgroups, Aida Hajro, of Brunel University London, and her colleagues conducted a large scale study to examine the workings of these groups, and how different processes might affect work outcomes. To do so, they conducted 143 interviews and engaged in extensive observations of 48 work groups in 11 different organizations.

They found that even though all the groups were diverse, they operated differently. For some, the focus was on cooperation among group members, and assertive exchanges among members was discouraged.

For other groups, the focus was on assimilation of group members, individual differences among members were ignored, and assertive exchanges were common.

In the third group, the authors observed a combination of the first two—or what they called oscillation. These groups incorporated different points of view, capitalized on differences, moved back and forth between cooperation and assertive knowledge exchanges.

The authors found that the oscillation was important. It allowed for people to develop strong relationships, think in a similar way about goals, and importantly, share diverse perspectives that help the groups perform at high levels. Thus, the most effective diverse groups are the ones where members cooperate and learn from each other, and then take the information learned to advocate for creative, effective solutions.