HOUSTON, Texas — Do great minds think alike? Perhaps. However, a recent study reveals that “mixing things up” in the workplace may actually spark even more creativity. Researchers from Rice University have found that managers who build teams with a diverse group of personalities end up reaping the rewards.
On the surface, it may seem smart to load up an office with employees who are all upbeat and enthusiastic. The Rice team, however, recommends selecting some critical thinkers along with the optimists if you want the best results. It’s a similar theory to President Lincoln’s famous “team of rivals.”
What is ‘affective diversity’?
Affect is basically emotional response. So, team members with “positive affect” are the ones putting forth expansive, the-sky’s-the-limit ideas. Team members with “negative affect” are the serious ones answering those suggestions with more questions and demands for realistic solutions. The link between creative connections and critical evaluations is the “team affective diversity” that produces winning results.
Rice researchers teamed up with other investigators from the University of Western Australia, Bond University, and the University of Queensland to test their hypotheses among 59 teams at a Hong Kong University. During the semester-long project, each team came up with a business plan that included the design and marketing of a new product.
“At any given point in time, some team members may experience positive affect such as joy and inspiration, whereas others may experience negative affect such as frustration and worry,” says study coauthor Jing Zhou, the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management and Psychology at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, in a university release. “Instead of trying to homogenize team members’ affect, teams should embrace affective heterogeneity.”
When a team reaches high levels of affective diversity, Zhou describes the result as a sort of “dual tuning” that produces exciting innovations.
Building a team greater than the sum of its parts
Zhou says the study results show that a team’s affective heterogeneity is a source from which greater creative juices can flow. Researchers caution that team members also need to have an awareness of the group’s “transactive memory system,” which is an appreciation for differences among team members. One group member might be a math whiz, for example, but appreciates that another group member is good at visualizing concepts and vice versa.
In conclusion, welcoming varied knowledge and abilities within the team along with accepting diverse emotions equals dynamic conclusions. Or, as Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This applies to team diversity, too.
“Our study suggests that teams may be aided in using their affect heterogeneity via interventions that focus on building the team’s transactive memory system, which can be accelerated when team members spend time together, share goals, receive information about member specializations and train on the task together,” Zhou concludes.
The study is published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.