Technological advances have increased the pace at which products are brought to market and shortened their life cycles. As a result, companies are now more than ever forced to remain flexible and competitive and are thus more inclined to form work teams, rather than assigning tasks to individuals (LePine, 2003). How to compose an effective team therefore becomes a primary concern for companies while they’re hiring new employees. There is a common myth among hiring managers – the thought that they need to (only & solely) hire the best candidates.
To understand why exactly this is a myth, it’s important to first understand how to determine the best candidates for a company. So let’s dive in! (I promise to keep it short, don’t worry!)
What we all get wrong: Hiring Criteria
Determining who is the best for a company can be done based on several criteria.
One might think suitable candidates should simply “click” with the company at all times and thus that they would automatically fit into the culture. However, the risk in using criteria like this is that we (un)consciously end up choosing people that are similar to us and neglecting the fact that diversity can improve team and company performance (Dike, 2013; Schneider, 1987).
Other criteria could be specific skills, and only considering candidates who already possess those. For example, for positions that require a lot of risk assessment, a recruiter might only want to choose people who are very attentive to details. However, too much of anything is bad. So, the risk of having a team of people who are all very detail-oriented is that it may also harness productivity and create too much emphasis or discussion on irrelevant details.
Simply put, an effective team should include people from diverse backgrounds, professions, having various personalities and different levels of cognitive abilities. Dike (2013) had pointed out several benefits of having diversity in workplaces, such as increasing productivity, teamwork, efficient idea brainstorming, learning and growth, diverse experience as well as effective communication with customers.
Why is a diverse team composition important?
Different Perspectives-Informational Diversity
As Austin and Pisano (2007) wrote in their article:
“Everyone is to some extent differently-abled (an expression favoured by many neurodiverse people), because we are all born different and raised differently. Our ways of thinking result from both our inherent “machinery” and the experiences that have “programmed” us.”
Due to the discrepancy of our life experiences, we all have different mindsets and would look at things differently. Having different viewpoints to a problem widens our team’s solution repertoire and might yield more innovative solutions. Sometimes, we get used to our established thought patterns and might get stuck on the same problem over and over again. Being in a diverse team can help to collect new insights and challenge our (fixed) mindset.
When team members exchange their ideas and opinions, a possible consequence of different thought processes is conflicts that (might) arise. Conflicts can be double-edged swords that either destroy harmony among teams or improve performance if they are placed in the right environments. For the positive effect, Bradley and colleagues (2013) showed that when task conflict occurs in teams with high levels of openness or emotional stability, it can help with promoting team performance in the sense that team members treat conflicts as a moment to grow.
On the negative side, for example, if your team has only individualistic employees, a small conflict might escalate to a serious argument due to their lower acceptance of others’ opinion. On the other hand, if your team has only collaborative employees, conflict might not even be solved due to their (over) respect to others’ opinions.
Complementary Strengths and Weaknesses
We are all made up of various traits and possess different levels of cognitive abilities, whereby individual differences manifest. Individual differences declare that we have both strengths and weaknesses within certain tasks. For example, people who are very collaborative can preserve harmony in the workplace, promote learning environments, and respect differences in opinions. At the same time, they might struggle with tasks that require independent decision-making and productivity at the individual level. At this point, individualistic people can be complementary. Individualistic people are good at self-monitoring and ultimately promote productivity, as well as making instant decisions. However, they might find it difficult to ask for help and might have a lower tolerance for others’ mistakes, which a collaborative teammate could help to make up with.
There is some support from the academic literature. Mckay and colleagues (2009) showed that diversity of employees boost individual performance, productivity and job satisfaction as well as reduce turnover, recruitment and training costs. Moreover, Suharnomo and colleagues (2017) listed several benefits of having diverse individuals in the workplace, such as enhancing customer relationships or promoting development and sustainable business. It can also enhance employees’ critical thinking and professional skills through learning from each other. Furthermore, it allows organisations to attract talents around the globe and improve corporate attractiveness (Cletus, 2018).
Neurodiverse people vs Neurotypical people
Another aspect of a diverse work team is to include not only neurotypical employees but also neurodiverse employees. Neurodiversity is a term that refers to those who use different ways of cognitive processing. It refers to “the variation and differences in neurological structure and function that exist among human beings, especially when viewed as being normal and natural rather than pathological [i.e., disability or impairment]” (Loiacono & Ren, 2018). Simply put, neurodiverse people have different ways of thinking, interacting with, and perceiving the surrounding environments (Li, 2019). People who are diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s, Dyslexia, and more fall under the umbrella of the term neurodiversity. The concept of neurodiversity is rooted in the belief that people with differences are not necessary to be cured, they just need some accommodation and assistance instead.
Neurodiverse people are often at a disadvantage in typical hiring procedures due to the different ways of brain functioning. When they make it through the hiring process and are successfully hired, their turnover rate is higher than neurotypical people (Edwards, 2021). Their “hidden” talents need to be flourished with a nontypical approach so that they can contribute to the company in their own unique way (Loiacono & Ren, 2018). For instance, individuals with Asperger’s are good at paying close attention to detail, logical reasoning, focus, visual skills, and creative solutions, compared to neurotypical people (Lorenz & Heinitz, 2014). Another example is that employees with dyslexia are good at coming up with ideas for problem-solving and planning (Bewley & George, 2016).
The point I m trying to get across is that at the end of the day, a diverse team composition that includes both neurodiverse and neurotypical employees might bring more benefit to the company.
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Bewley, H., & George, A. (2016). Neurodiversity at work. London: National Institute of Social and Economic Research.
Bradley, B. H., Klotz, A. C., Postlethwaite, B. E., & Brown, K. G. (2013). Ready to rumble: How team personality composition and task conflict interact to improve performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98, 385. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029845
Cletus, H. E., Mahmood, N. A., Umar, A., & Ibrahim, A. D. (2018). Prospects and challenges of workplace diversity in modern day organizations: A critical review. HOLISTICA–Journal of Business and Public Administration, 9, 35-52. 10. https://doi.org/10.2478/hjbpa-2018-0011
Dike, P. (2013). The Impact of Workplace Diversity on Organisations. http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-2013070314557
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Suharnomo, A. Y., Wahyudi, S., & Wikaningrum, T. (2017). A systematic literature review of managing workplace diversity for sustaining organizational competitive advantage. International Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Technology, 8, 398-406.