I've been preaching for years about the value of diversity in shaping your company culture. There's enormous strength that comes from differences in ethnicity, gender, age, and individuality of style and expression.

And the benefits are awesome. When you welcome a steady flow of ideas and input from several angles, and outside your own knowledge base, it improves decision-making in your leadership.

But what if you could crank up the strength of a diverse team another notch, where the potential for innovation was raised to unimaginable levels?

Now you can. But first, you're going to need some bilinguals on your team. Let me explain.

The Effectiveness of a Multilingual Team

I ran into the profound linguistic work of Gabrielle Hogan-Brun, and it still sounds too good to be true, but science doesn't lie. She is the author of Linguanomics: What is the Market Potential of Multilingualism?

Her mission? To convince us of the market and social potential of language diversity. With cities like Los Angeles, New York, and London counting hundreds of languages among their residents, the evidence on the value for bilingualism is piling up.

While that doesn't sound earth-shattering, the brain science piqued my curiosity. Drawing from countless studies, Hogan-Brun writes in Quartz that "the structural plasticity of the bilingual brain functions differently to monolingual brains."

Digging further, neuroscientists discovered that a key area of the brain heavily involved in the processing of language, forming concepts, and thinking abstractly, is denser in bilinguals than monolinguals, and becomes denser as language proficiency increases.

Evidently, the way it's structured, bilingual brains are more capable of improved attention, intelligence, and better verbal and spatial abilities.

This has profound impact for how teams work collaboratively. According to Hogan-Brun, if you "put a bunch of these malleable minds together in a company...you create the potential for some truly original thinking."

The research she has documented asserts that multi-language and mixed-language work groups have increased natural tendency to come up with innovative solutions to practical problems, and have a greater capacity to process information.

The reason for this, posits Hogan-Brun, is that when speakers from different language backgrounds work together using a common language, "they draw on subconscious concepts that lie below the surface of the language they happen to be conversing in."

This means their brains see problems and solutions in different ways, multiplying the attributes and skills teams need for planning, managing complexity, and problem solving. Plain and simple, multilingual teams just get more stuff done, period.

The New Secret Weapon

What does all this boil down to? Companies would be foolish to not increase diversity further by leveraging the cognitive benefits that come from multilingual teams. This may mean redesigning employee recruitment and development processes inclusive of both culturally/socially-diverse talent and talent diverse in languages. Obviously, if you're getting the picture here, investing in this strategy should give you a clear, competitive edge. The only question is, does it discriminate?

Published on: Apr 11, 2017