Team development 1: Diversity

This is the first in series of two articles on team development. The second blog will treat teams as performance or competence units. Today there is much talk about the benefits of diversity, claimed to be leading to higher economic output in organizations. Perhaps the most important form of diversity in work life concerns individuals’ different, often opposite work styles predisposing to discontinuities in the team’s communication and collaboration. Opposite roles carry indigenous, valuable competencies which often remain unutilized, unintegrated to the team’s effort. The better the team is able to integrate diverse competencies to its action, the broader and more creative performance palette it can deliver.


As in sport teams, mere piling up of diversity does not guarantee a broader or more creative performance palette. The value in diversity does not pop up by itself. Through times there have been teams with high member diversity but which teams can be described as stalled, quarrelsome or being torn apart to different directions. Teamwork will always be accompanied by discontinuities in communication and collaboration. Misunderstandings, interpersonal frictions and conflicts cannot be fully avoided. How the team is able to see and handle such discontinuities will determine whether diversity enhances or hampers the team’s performance.


Work groups as well as random groupings of people tend to include individuals with opposite roles. Individuals working in opposite ways or styles are particularly prone to discontinuities in interaction, ranging from misunderstandings to virtual absence of communication. Opposite roles embody competence and the challenge is to link the role incumbent’s competence for the team's benefit. Discontinuities are losses to the team while continuity creates value for the team in terms of improved communication. The figure below presents three common pairs of opposite roles: Thinkers vs. Doers, Introverts vs. Extroverts and Implementers vs. Innovators.

Thinkers vs. Doers
Teams tend to incorporate people with two opposite behavioral orientations. THINKERS spend their energies in thinking about and pondering things. Thinkers are competent in perceiving things with a broad and deep scope. However, a problem may arise along their tendency of over-theorizing things and remaining inactive ie., in turning simple things into complex ones and in spending much time in intellectual analysis instead of taking action. DOERS direct their energies into action and performance. They are competent in perceiving things in a concrete, practical manner. Problems may arise along their tendency to oversimplify things, skip their true complexity and jump impatiently and blindly into action. Teams always need both styles that is, "things should be done with thought".

Introverts vs. Extraverts
Teams have often people with two opposite interaction styles, introverts and extraverts. INTROVERTS are competent in focusing on substance. They are strongly inner-directed which signifies competence but sometimes also competence deficit. Introverts' main challenge is that they are not seen or heard which leads to underutilization of their input. The culture in many teams (eg., in management teams) favors noisy display of power which tends to leave introverts in a shadowy position. EXTRAVERTS are in turn competent in communication and creation of social networks. They are strongly outer-directed which is copetence but sometimes also a competence deficit. Extraverts' main challenge relates to their superficial and hasty focus on substantive issues.

Implementers vs. Innovators
Creative teams often tend to include travelers of the two main lanes in planning and problem solving. IMPLEMENTERS implement existing and well-proven processes. They approach things based on facts and perceive them in a practical manner by focusing their attention on concrete and visible aspects of things. Implementers produce logic-based standard solutions. Their competence deficits relate to poor ideation, narrow perceptions and overly mechanistic, "by-the-book" solutions. INNOVATORS create new processes. They approach things by seeking for new ideas and openings and perceive the big picture in things. They produce creative solutions addressing unique features in situations. Their competence deficits lie in ideas without connection to facts, broad but way too abstract perceptions and in far-fetched, in practice poorly working solutions. Continuous and seamless interaction between implementers and innovators is a source for remarkable competence, particularly if the team is pursuing creative achievements.


Examination of opposite roles leads to seeing and naming diversity also in general. In new teams such perusal sessions help in getting people to know one another. In more established teams, perusal of roles helps in unlocking communication discontinuities. People may have been cemented in their old positions for years and illumination of discontinuities leads to a more open collaboration culture.

The most important goal is the creation of a diversity-inclusive culture. In new teams, people's tendency of digging themselves into defensive trenches is avoided before such things begin to develop. In older teams, taboos swept under the carpet may be exposed. Synergy is not reached until diversity becomes integrated to the team's shared effort.


Overall, the root cause for the growing importance of diversity relates to the enormous increase in environmental complexity. The importance of diversity grows as simple routine tasks are replaced by broader and more complex tasks requiring creative problem solving. Diversity is of particular concern to teams pursuing creation of new things, in planning new products or services which requires rich influx of ideas, broad perception and creative solutions. Stated simply, broadened world requires a broader, integrated palette of competencies.

Wikipedia on Team Diversity
See the longer blog on team diversity

Petteri Niitamo, PhD

Petteri Niitamo, PhD, has written books on motivation, job interview and assessment methods. He attended the PhD program on personality psychology at UC Berkeley in 1986-1989. In 1993-2002 he worked as chief of the Psychological assessment unit at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and has served as an adjunct professor of competencies and psychometrics at Aalto University in 2004-2012.