Aiming for more diversity? Start by providing psychological safety.

“Not only is diversity crucial for creativity and social justice, but research also shows that a diverse workplace is good for the bottom line. In fact, companies with a diverse workforce are 35% more likely to experience greater financial returns than their respective non-diverse counterparts.  A team that has a variety of worldview perspectives can educate employees and clients, and reach untapped customer demographics. This opens the conversation to new, unexplored, and different ideas. This can be a game-changer in the professional world.

We took this from the site of the Forbes business magazine and I bet you agree.

Are diverse teams really that much more creative or productive?

In reality, it turns out that diverse teams often perform less well than homogeneous teams. The reasons are quite obvious. Collaboration is easier between people with a similar background and who share the same (implicit) norms about how to behave at work: what priorities to set, what to say and what not to say, how to behave towards a manager or a colleague from another team, what jokes are appropriate...

A recent study of 62 R&D teams in 6 large pharmaceutical companies (1) seems to confirm this: diversity has, on average, a slightly negative effect on team performance.

Psychological safety is paramount.

However, the same study also indicates that teams only perform well when team members feel "psychologically safe." Psychological safety can be defined as "the belief that you will not be punished or humiliated if you speak up about ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes."(2)

Low psychological safety, the study showed, was detrimental to the relationship between performance and diversity. In that case, team members' dissatisfaction with their team also increased with the diversity within the team.

On the other hand, in teams where the team members felt  "safe", there was a positive relationship between diversity and performance. The more diverse those teams were, the more satisfied employees were with that team.

Therefore, if you want to reap the benefits of a diversely composed team, you will have to work on psychological safety. This presupposes the determination to make a difference, the desire to trust each other and the willingness to create an environment where you can speak up. 

How do team leaders ensure greater psychological safety?

You could have guessed it, the above depends to a large extend on the team leaders.

They must

  • ensure that each team member feels involved and can participate actively
  • allow opinions and concerns to be shared
  • be honest about what they don't know
  • show genuine interest in each employee - including in the frustrations and emotions they may have
  • make conflicts negotiable
  • encourage new ideas and question the status quo
  • provide positive energy and fun.

In diversified teams it also helps if managers

  • are good listeners and ensure that every opinion is heard
  • explicitly state the value of differences of opinion
  • ask open questions
  • help bridge differences in background and expertise.

More and more research confirms it: a good team leader is an emotionally intelligent team leader.

It's not just a job for team leaders.

In fact, you may extend this to higher management and to all your colleagues: daring to trust each other, being able to speak frankly and being committed to make a difference together are the indispensable ingredients of any successful organization and of any successful team.

Have no illusions, applying those principles is hard work. So consider it a learning process that will lead you, through trial and error, to teams that score high in terms of both performance and mental well-being.

Note: For this article, we found our wisdom here:

  1. 1. https://hbr.org/2022/03/research-to-excel-diverse-teams-need-psychological-safety
  2. 2.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhoLuui9gX8

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