diversity mixup

Diversity´s Mixed Bag: 4 Ways to Manage It

Consider a product development team at BMW, the so-called “innovation council” which includes one purchasing manager, one software engineer, one industrial engineer, one executive vice president of marketing, and one production manager. Not only does this group have diverse and complementary expertise, but it is also likely diverse in values and beliefs. Some group members may believe passionately in the merits of revolutionary leading-edge technologies to create new sports cars like the BMW i8, while others may strongly believe in maintaining the status quo and incrementally improving the existing BMW Series. Members of this team also have good relationships with diverse organizational groups, providing them with additional resources. For instance, the software engineer has lunch regularly with other engineers, and the production manager meets weekly with the manufacturing department to coordinate workflow.

In a group like this, diversity can be beneficial to the team because it provides a valuable source of human and social capital because of the variety of information and access to external networks. However, diversity does not always lead to good things. Sometimes it can invite divisions within the group that are detrimental to team functioning, such as power and status differentials or by expertise, like all the engineers on one side and the managers on the other. To better understand and manage a diverse team like this, my colleague Maria Kakarika from Neoma Business School and I have reviewed the last two decades of diversity research and developed a framework that helps managers think about both the opportunities and challenges of diversity. We categorize diversity into four types: variety of information, variety of access, differences in values and differences in status.