Diversity and problem-solving

Piers Young reports on research that shows diversity is a key to effective group problem-solving. But he says, our tendency to mix with kindred spirits may be in the way.

In short to optimise our group problem-solving we need to make sure our groups are diverse, but nature, or rather our natures, shoot us in our feet.

When faciliating, it’s easy to think you’re doing a great job when everyone seems to be agreeing – this can be a mistake. It’s good to embrace conflict and difference to help create some diversity.

My own experience of groups is that, when I pay attention, there is a lot of diversity but it can easily be supressed. So the challenge is more about bringing out the diversity from behind the surface appearance of agreement.

One simple example: it’s easy for the quiet types to be excluded from discussions. There are lots of ways of dealing with this – one of the simplest is to break up large groups from time to time into twos and threes to make it easier for the more reticent to get some air time. Sometimes, just making a neutral observation that some people are talking more than ofthers can shift the group dynamic in a way that gets more to speak.

On a broader canvas, using Improv exercises nearly always brings out subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences in the way people think and operate. For some, the most exciting learning is not in the exercises, but in the debrief where they discover how many different lessons people have drawn from it.

So as well as getting clearly diverse folks into your group, it’s important to look for the great diversity that’s already there, but less obvious.

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