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EQ, team diversity and high performance

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In today's technology driven workplace it has become increasingly commonplace for managers to liaise with staff members via a virtual team framework (video conference calls, cloud project management etc.) where subordinates could potentially be from anywhere in the world. This surge in team diversity, in terms of age, ethnicity and cultural philosophies, has created a real interest in the benefits and possible difficulties of a culturally diverse team membership.
Diversity can be something of a 'hot potato' topic for managers whether in the virtual or local workplace. Some believe that diversity within a working team is beneficial and only makes a group stronger by bringing a mix of ideas, talents, and perspectives; while others believe that it can result in an all-too-easy breakdown in communication, significantly impacting productivity through misunderstandings.

Both perspectives are often deeply entrenched and opposed to one another, but recent research suggests that, surprisingly, they may both be correct.

The Research
Anne Neederveen Pieterse and her colleagues at Erasmus University, Rotterdam examined the potential benefits of diversity via the interactions between team members. They split 436 business school students into 4-person teams. Each student (participant) completed a survey which asked them to rate the cultural diversity of their assigned team, primarily either all-Dutch or comprising people from various different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
The survey also assessed how students valued two different types of goal orientation:
  • Approaches to learning - where participants would value opportunities to expand their knowledge and assimilate new information.
  • Success/failure - the value participants put on succeeding in a task and avoiding being seen to fail.
    Each team was then asked to run a fictional company for a three week period and were then graded on their overall performance by tutors who were unaware of the purpose of the experiment.

    The Results
    The results of the experiment showed quite clearly that diversity did indeed affect team performance. But this effect changed drastically depending on how individuals had scored on their goal orientation.
    When teams scored high on being open to learning, then diverse teams actually performed better than the all-Dutch teams.

    Conversely, when teams scored low on the same measurement, the diverse groups performed worse.

    Finally, diverse teams who scored high on the second measurement of desiring success and avoiding being seen to fail, performed worse than the all-Dutch groups, but better when they scored low on that measurement.
    The EBW View
    Not surprisingly perhaps, the research supports the view that when people working together are open to learning and trading ideas, then diversity becomes a real advantage. Such diversity encourages the exchange of viewpoints and the introduction of ideas which facilitates high performance within groups; however, when diverse teams are more concerned with appearing to succeed then they become closed off from one another and the differences in personality, emotional drives and communication become problematic.
    The main take away from the research is the importance of understanding the needs of team members and what drives them.

    As a team leader the key is to focus on developing a team’s Emotional Intelligence by understanding a team’s membership personality, emotional drives and goal orientation and using that knowledge to fast track a team from being average to a high performing team.

    Answer these 5 questions to develop a diverse high performing team
    1. Do you really know what makes all your team members tick?
      Successful team leaders, find the time to understand everyone on their team, regardless of differences in age, geography or experience and what makes them tick and how they can best contribute.
    2. Do you give regular feedback?
      Only 50% of employees think their team leader provides them with feedback. A diverse team needs regular feedback to help generate better understanding when they cannot rely on cultural shortcuts.
    3. Do you listen?
      Over a third of employees think their bosses do not listen to their workplace concerns. Different people like to raise issues in different ways, and not always in an open forum. Emotionally Intelligent managers understand what makes their team tick, so are ready to listen…. whatever the format the message arrives in.
    4. Have you developed an agreed set of team guidelines?
      Amongst a diverse team, conflict will arise. When describing effective leadership, employees do not point to the big, company-wide initiatives like values, but rather having a common set of guidelines for things like meetings and day-to-day conversations.
    5. Do you check your messages are really understood?
      A third of managers do not check what they are saying is being understood, do you check the message is being received and understood in the way you intended, how would you know?
    Click this link to find out more about using EQ to develop diverse high performance teams
    Anne Nederveen Pieterse, Daan van Knippenberg, & Dirk van Dierendonck (2013). Cultural Diversity and Team Performance: The Role of Team Member Goal Orientation Academy of Management Journal, 56 (3), 782-804.