‘Research has consistently shown that diverse teams produce better results, provided they are well led. The ability to bring together people from different backgrounds, disciplines, cultures, and generations and leverage all they have to offer, therefore, is a must-have for leaders’ (Ibarra and Hansen 2011: 71)
According to Ibarra and Hansen (2011), leaders should foster diverse teams as they result in high performing organisations, with higher levels of creativity, and a lack of diversity may cause team and organisation failures. Diversity, in the organisational context, generally refers to differences in the workforce regarding age, ethnicity, gender (Visagie, et al. 2011), ability and personality (Hong and Page 2004; Hyun 2012). These differences require organisational or team leaders to be able to balance the competences of diverse team members in order to ‘produce better results’ (Ibarra and Hansen 2011: 71), while developing other leadership capabilities in order to increase operational performance in general.
Leadership, in this context, refers to the act of communicating vision, goal setting and maintaining and coordinating the team process (Hsieh and Drucker 1988). These leadership functions allow for diverse teams to be managed effectively and result in high performance. However, diverse teams are challenging to maintain and conflicts arise easily due to miscommunication, coordination errors and disagreements (Cronin and Weingart 2007). Leaders should be able to manage diverse teams as success can be highly lucrative and failures may greatly detriment the organisation (Causon 2008). Lynda Gratton (2010), former Human Resource Director at PA Consulting and professor at London Business School (London Business School 2013), whose research regarding the future of work identifies high-performing virtual teams and transparent and authentic leadership as areas that will affect organisations, concurs with Ibarra and Hansen’s (2011) view of diversity management and team leadership, in which globalisation, greater advancements in information and communication technology research, and the growth of the multinational corporation have caused team diversity management to become a leadership necessity (Hyun 2012). Therefore, leaders must be aware of the opportunities and challenges associated with diverse teams, so as to avoid destructive conflict and to ensure organisational success, through the management of high performing and innovative teams.
However, leaders should also be aware that the management of diverse teams should not come at the expense of organisational functionality, team cohesion and overall performance (Knouse 2006). Leaders have other functions and skills that are equally as important to organisational success as the management of diverse teams. Individual performance and overall organisational success is also important and leaders are required to communicate the vision, mission and objectives to the entire organisation and all employees, not only to teams.
A form of leadership that exemplifies the integration of team diversity management as one element of the functions of leadership is transformative leadership; ‘an ethically based leadership model that integrates a commitment to values and outcomes by optimising the long-term interests of stakeholders and society and honouring the moral duties owed by organisations to their stakeholders’ (Caldwell, et al. 2012: 176). The implication that diverse team management is merely one part of ‘the long-term interests of stakeholders and society’ (Caldwell, et al. 2012: 176) is supported by Lynda Gratton (2010), who adds the elements of relationship-building and networking as essential leadership skills of the future.
Therefore, it is posed that diverse teams may be highly lucrative, or may create a high level of conflict. Leaders should be aware of the possible pitfalls associated with team diversity, while attempting to utilise the resource effectively. However, managing diverse teams is not the only leadership function or skill necessary; communicating organisational vision, mission and objectives and relationship-building and networking are also required for leaders to be successful. The views presented by Lynda Gratton (2010) have been shown to support both arguments. Ultimately, leaders are responsible for the performance of the organisation and should find a balance between the two arguments, as failing to do so will result in great detriment to the organisation.
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Gratton, L. (2010), ‘Lynda Gratton Investigates: The Future of Work’, Business Strategy Review, Autumn 2010, 16-23
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Hsieh, T. and Drucker, P. (1988), ‘Leadership: more doing than dash’, McKinsey Quarterly, 1988, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 8 March 2013.
Hyun, J. (2012), ‘Leadership principles for capitalizing on culturally diverse teams: The bamboo ceiling revisited’, Leader To Leader, 2012(64), 14-19, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 6 March 2013.
Ibarra, H. and Hansen, M. (2011), ‘Are You a Collaborative Leader?’, Harvard Business Review, 89(7/8), 68-74, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 6 March 2013.
Knouse, S.B. (2006), ‘Task Cohesion: A Mechanism for Bringing Together Diverse Teams’, International Journal Of Management, 23(3), 588-596, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 March 2013.
London Business School (2013) Lynda Gratton, faculty profile at London Business School [online] available from <http://www.london.edu/facultyandresearch/faculty/search.do?uid=lgratton> [8 March 2013]
Visagie, J., Linde, H and Havenga, W. (2011), ‘Leadership Competencies for Managing Diversity’, Managing Global Transitions: International Research Journal, 9(3), 225-247, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 6 March 2013.