Diverse teams are great for creativity. But according to study after study they're also good for conflict--people who are alike get along more easily and tend to enjoy working together more. Is there anyway to reap the maximum benefits of bringing to together those from different backgrounds without the added drama and unpleasantness?
Recent research out of Cornell suggests one possible suggestion, but not everyone is going to like it. What's the essence of the idea? Be politically correct.
Careful Language = More Creative Exchanges
In some quarters "over-the-top" verbal contortions to avoid offending people have been mocked as humourless, ever-changing guidelines that are overly indulgent of people's unwarranted sensitivities. Some suggest political correctness stifles honest exchange or borders of censorship (the truly far out even claim it will lead to the collapse of the country).
But according to a new study looking at the effects of PC language on mixed gender teams and published in Administrative Science Quarterly, watching your language also appears to work--at least if you're aiming to work constructively with a diverse group.
"Our work challenges the widespread assumption that true creativity requires a kind of anarchy in which people are permitted to speak their minds, whatever the consequence," commented study lead author and Cornell organizational behavior professor Jack Goncalo. Instead, the research team found that being careful not to tread on anyone's toes actually brings about a freer exchange of ideas which leads, in turn, to greater creativity.
How'd they reach this conclusion? "We conducted two experiments in which groups were instructed to be politically correct and then asked to work on a brainstorming task together. Specifically, they were asked to generate new business ideas to fill a space that was left vacant by a mismanaged restaurant," Gonzalo explained to Inc.com in an email. "We measured creative output in two ways. First by simply counting the number of ideas generated and then by having two coders independently rate the ideas for novelty." The results? No matter how you measured, PC teams were more creative.
The beneficial effects of being PC were felt by traditionally more marginalized groups, but also despite the protestations of some, careful word choice also appears to help all participants be more creative by removing fear of missteps and setting clear expectations. "Political correctness facilitates idea expression by reducing the uncertainty," Goncalo said. "The PC norm, by establishing a clear guideline for how to behave appropriately in mixed-sex groups, made both men and women more comfortable sharing their creative ideas."
Looking for more ideas on how to get the most out of your mixed gender team? Other recent research suggests you dial back on the competition if you want the women involved to perform at their peak.
What's your reaction to this study?