By Ursula Brinkmann, PhD, and Oscar van Weerdenburg


You have probably heard a lot by now about the many ways in which teams can benefit from their diversity. Business magazines like Forbes and Harvard Business Review have been singing its praise for years; and books like Dream Teams and Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking celebrate diversity as the key to a never-ending buzz of creative cooperation.

Teams without diversity, in contrast, suddenly seem dull, islands of repetition and routine where nothing ever happens, really.

In fact, many people find themselves in one of three teams. In the first type of team, people are pretty much alike, and the team is running quite nicely. In the second type, people do differ from each other, but they hardly talk about it, and the team is running OK. In the third, people differ from each other, everybody is highly aware of their differences and conflict is constantly looming. If you are in one of these teams, you may wonder what it is you’ve been missing.

So why should you be interested in diversity for your team, and what happens if you start paying attention to the differences between team members?

There are five good reasons for why diversity is interesting for teams.

Five good reasons for welcoming diversity in your team

  1. In diverse teams, the majority is less inclined to choose the wrong approach. In fact, many famously bad decisions – the Invasion of Pig’s Bay, for example – have been taken because team members were too much alike, a phenomenon called group think.
  2. Diversity in a team improves decision-making even if only a single member disagrees: He or she forces the others to either come up with better arguments or to change track. The movie Twelve Angry Men (yes, all men), in which one jury member (starring Henry Fonda) prevents eleven other members from unjustly finding a young boy guilty of murder, is an electrifying example in case.
  3. Even irritating opinions and irrelevant counterarguments routinely improve the team’s overall analyses and decision-making. The others are forced to come up with better arguments, which sharpens their thinking and raises their awareness of alternative perspectives.
  4. With more perspectives, the team will be more likely to find the correct solution. Thanks to an engineer, for example, we now know that our kidney tubules are vital parts of our kidney’s operations. For years, kidney tubules were considered useless remnants of evolution. But when the engineer looked at the loops, he understood at once that they were counter-current multipliers, whose function is, as we are sure you know, to concentrate liquids in a system.
  5. More perspectives and more diverse experiences help the team pick up and correctly interpret signals from the local context. In his book, The Future of Diplomacy, author Philip Seib describes how today’s more empowered citizens and new media tools have transformed diplomacy into a global participatory process, forcing diplomats to be more aware than ever before of small changes in public opinion in the countries in which they work.

How much does your team already realise the five advantages of diversity, and what else could you do to help your team benefit from its diversity?

To start benefitting fully from your team’s diversity, remember two things: fault-lines and pro-diversity beliefs. You will want to avoid fault-lines and to promote pro-diversity beliefs.

1.     Fault-lines

Fault-lines are fractures in the earth’s surface that occur when the Earth’s tectonic plates move or shift; the San Andreas fault in California is a famous example. Fault-lines in a team are fractures running between groups of team members. With strong fault-lines, team members are likely to experience painful conflict, keep key information to themselves, develop one-sided loyalties and make more mistakes than necessary. Fault-lines easily develop when several features of diversity conspire – think of three male lawyers from Houston, all in their 40-ies, working with three female rappers from New York, who are all in their 20-ies. But just as geologic fault-lines result from underlying forces, so do team fault-lines: They tend to develop not because team members come from different cultures, but because of stress, fear, anger, and uncertainties. Two bankers once told us, for example, that new fault-lines had been arising every day ever since two colleagues got fired. To reduce those feelings, we seek recognition and protection by forming in-groups, and use or invent differences to justify those in-groups.

2.     Pro-diversity beliefs

If you are convinced that your team’s differences will contribute to team performance, then you have pro-diversity beliefs. A recent study investigated 41 teams working for the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in country and abroad, and focused on fault-lines arising around gender and age. The researchers Franziska Schölmerich, Carsten Schermuly and Jürgen Deller found that performance was robustly high when both leader and team members were whole-heartedly positive about their team’s diversity. In contrast, in teams in which the leader or other members were less positive about their team’s diversity, performance was less robust, and the teams more likely to fall apart into subgroups based on age and gender differences. The crucial importance of pro-diversity beliefs has been shown in numerous research studies over the past 15 years, in contexts involving government, education and business.

We hope that the two principles – avoiding fault-lines and fostering pro-diversity beliefs – will already help you and your team to benefit from your differences. In our Team Readiness workshops, we take a closer look at these principles, and how you can apply them in your (culturally) diverse teams.

But what about teams of the first type, where people are pretty much alike – do they underperform because they lack diversity?

That may indeed be the case, especially if their work requires fresh thinking, new ideas and complex decision-making. So how could these teams become more diverse? As a first step, we recommend making existing differences more salient: How do team members differ in terms of education, seniority, regional background, hobbies and interests? How do they differ in terms of thinking style, problem-solving preferences, communication and participation? As you focus more on differences, you will also want to use facilitation and decision-making tools that help everybody deal with them. The more comfortable your team feels about their differences, the more open it will become to new members who differ in other aspects as well. But regardless of which differences you pay attention to, remember to avoid fault-lines and to emphasize the many clear and specific benefits of team diversity.

Does your team need to get ready for diversity? Contact us at


Ursula Brinkmann and Oscar van Weerdenburg (2014): Intercultural Readiness: Four competences for working across cultures. Palgrave MacMillan.

Scott E. Page. (2007). The difference: How the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools, and societies. Princeton University Press.

Franziska Schölmerich, Carsten C. Schermuly & Jürgen Deller (2017): To believe or not to believe? The joint impact of fault-lines and pro-diversity beliefs on diplomats’ performance. In Human Performance.

Philip Seib (2016): The future of diplomacy. Wiley.

Shane Snow (2018): Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart. Penguin Random House.

Matthew Syed (2019): Rebel ideas. The power of diverse thinking. John Murray Press.