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EDC51 Group | London, UK

Leadership development, organisational dynamics, team cohesion
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Team Diversity and Group Dynamics

Diversity plays an important part when we consider the dynamics of a company team from the perspective of group dynamics. Proper leadership of homogenous and heterogeneous aspects of the team will have a significant impact on how the team performs as a whole, the level of group cohesion, the kind of relationships are built and how much the members engage in psychological games and office politics.

Heterogeneity of a team will usually have more favourable impact on the team’s activity, interaction, performance and relationships they build.

Contrary to beliefs of many, heterogeneity of a team will usually have more favourable impact on the team’s activity and interaction and also how such team performs in relation to the outside world. This is especially important when considering setting criteria for recruitment of new employees. If not careful in the process of recruiting, a company might end up with a homogenous team—one that is quite “out of this world”.

However, heterogeneity—if not managed properly—can cause formation of subgroups and deterioration of cohesion which can be much more substantial than with homogenous teams.

This makes the concept of team diversity even more important when consider development of a company’s current teams, their leaders, and also from the perspective of their recruitment process.

The recruitment process can backlash quite significantly if the result is a carefully selected but homogenised team.

It is important to point out that teams are never purely homogenous or purely heterogeneous. They are always a mix of both. And that is because homogeneity and heterogeneity manifest themselves in different aspects—different dimensions. The aspects range from anything like social status, cultural, ethnical or racial background, gender, political, personal and professional values, professional ambition, etc.

A team usually consists of a multitude of these different aspects. Some of them are more homogenised, while others can be very heterogeneous. It is crucial that leadership takes this into account when leading the team.

A team can, for example, be homogenous in terms of social status and social class, it can be homogenous from the perspective of career and professional values (i.e. same career goals and ambition), but it can be very diverse in terms of cultural, ethnic and national backgrounds. It can also be the other way around or any other combination for that matter. Multitude of combinations are at play all the time when diversity is considered.

Group dynamics finds its origin in psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic theory and practice. However, precisely because the knowledge we derive from these approaches is immense, complex and sophisticated, it offers great potential in professional development of teams-as-a-whole and their individual members.

Heterogeneity of a team

Heterogeneity always beats homogeneity.

Heterogeneity always beats homogeneity. For some, this is somewhat counterintuitive since some organisations have difficulties bringing people that “cannot relate” into a team. But the reality is quite different, if only leadership is appropriate to the situation.

Members in heterogeneous teams, if managed properly, will be able to challenge each other’s realities. They will be able to challenge their—sometimes almost delusional—points of view and will better be able to learn how to empathise with one another and see things from another’s perspective.

Once trust between team members is in place, heterogeneous teams will be better able to relate to members outside their closed group and will often be better able to form relationships with people they don’t relate to immediately compared to homogenised teams.

Homogeneity of a team

Homogeneity of a team can be damaging not only for the team itself, but also for the company as a whole. In reality we constantly see companies fail because of the destructive impacts of team homogeneity.

Startup industry is the most obvious example of that. Many are doomed to fail, because the team is engaged in some sort of collective distortion of subjective reality—the delusion that is actually supported by the group-as-a-whole. And when the company succumbs to the reality different from the world they want to operate in, there is bound to be a clash. The result is usually deterioration of team and company culture.

The more the team is homogenous, the more it will develop a subjective reality that is in conflict with the outside world. The members will only be able to relate to each other, but not externally.

While this might be an extreme case of how team homogeneity can destroy the company, we can also find toxic examples in the corporate world and other organisational environments—especially in politics. What makes this toxicity even more important such environments is that, due to inertia of the company, it will usually linger hidden beneath the surface—in the company’s collective unconscious. Bu that only makes it more destructive in the long run.

Even though some teams may seem very heterogeneous, this could be the result of only some of its aspects—usually the most obvious ones. The team can, however, be highly homogenous on other levels, which requires attention.

For instance, you can have a highly heterogeneous team of banking executives or IT developers—one that is multicultural and multi-ethnic—but they will all still chase the same professional or societal goals, they all live in the same reality, they will have the same values. And these values on team’s collective level might not resemble the values their clients—or anyone else that they interact with—may hold.

Bringing these aspects out of the team’s collective identity and dealing with the group dynamics that they cause is essential for the success of the business.