Working with diverse teams

The notion that diverse teams come up with more creative solutions (or at least ones that better reflect a diverse audience/customer base) seems to be pretty widespread. But how does it work in practice?

Some interesting research out of America suggests that “political correctness” may be necessary to make it work:

Our research shows that men and women both experience uncertainty when asked to generate ideas as members of a mixed-sex work group: men because they may fear offending the women in the group and women because they may fear having their ideas devalued or rejected. Most group creativity research begins with the assumption that creativity is unleashed by removing normative constraints, but our results show that the PC norm promotes rather than suppresses the free expression of ideas by reducing the uncertainty experienced by both sexes in mixed-sex work groups and signaling that the group is predictable enough to risk sharing more—and more-novel—ideas.

The researchers did a couple of interesting experiments, priming students with politically correct norms. There appears to be a negative affect in homogeneous groups, but in mixed groups it produced a marked increase in “creativity”.

What I appreciate about this research is the light touch. It fits with the view of political correctness as a form of decency. Like any notion of decency (swearing for instance), there can be social sanction, but the limitations also breed their own form of freedom.

We know how to act, and, more importantly, how not to. If you care about not making others uncomfortable then the restriction can be freeing.


(My emphasis)