We’re hardwired to seek out people who are like us, as a reassuring antidote to a mad world.
On the face of it, there are benefits to homogeneous teams: decisions go unchallenged and get made quickly, there’s less unrest and disagreement, and surrounding yourself with people similar to you can feel comforting.
But comfort is a strange beast. We may all seek it, but gone unchecked, comfort can slide into dangerous complacency which can stifle the most ambitious of plans.
We all know that the magic happens when we leave our comfort zones. So it follows that it doesn’t matter how comfortable your homogeneous team makes you feel, you are potentially limiting the magic you can conjure together.
Do you want voices or echoes?
People who share similar professional, social and educational backgrounds are more likely to agree with each other on a regular basis. But the most productive, progressive conversations happen when there is a culture of challenge as well as support. Having a diverse team in place is the best way to ensure that a wide range of views are thrown into the melting pot. It may take a little longer to get to a decision, but that decision will be much more likely to be well-informed, and ideas formed by a diverse group will likely be broader and more original. Unchecked, an echo chamber can reinforce conscious and unconscious biases and the dreaded groupthink can set in.
Do as I say…
A homogeneous team stands in a weak position at such a time as it has to manage EDI issues. Any allegations of discrimination will be strengthened if it can be shown that leaders have not sought to address or at least acknowledge their lack of diversity. Stakeholders will be looking for evidence that your EDI policy is not just a tick-box exercise but understood, implemented, monitored – and part of the working culture.
Equality, diversity and inclusion must be seen as more than an HR issue; it should be built into every organisation’s risk register, strategy and operational plans in the same way that every other reputational risk is.
Like attracts like
Recruitment also presents a challenge to a homogeneous team. To attract the very best talent you must offer them a diverse team where they can imagine themselves thriving. Leaders must understand the extent of diversity; looking beyond the obvious ‘differences’ to appraise a team’s diversity based on a blend of nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, faith/religion, physical ability, political leanings etc. Without promoting diversity across all these areas, you simply can’t broaden your talent pool.
And no matter the type of customer you want to attract, you can be sure that they’re either consciously or subconsciously looking to align with a representative organisation/institution.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have proved that groups of diverse problem-solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem-solvers. Research has also shown that diversity boosts revenue.
With increased diversity comes different challenges, so it’s not enough to install a diverse team and sit back and wait for the benefits to arrive. It is inevitable that increased diversity will mean increased dissonance – and while that is a very healthy thing, it must be managed with a strategy that balances discord with cohesion.
If diversity and inclusion is the norm, then so too is discomfort and tension. But managed correctly, with common goals and open communication, this discomfort and tension is the key to progressive, exciting – perhaps even magical - teamwork.
We are looking to expand our own pool of talent and particularly welcome expressions of interest from underrepresented groups. Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.
An assessment of your organisation’s diversity is a great way to identify and address your particular areas of risk, arriving at effective solutions for maximum impact. If you’d like more information on Halpin’s EDI reviews get in touch.
Olivia Dunn is Head of Marketing and Communications for Halpin – the home of experts in higher education strategy, governance, fundraising and marketing.