When we think of diversity, the first aspects that come to mind are age, gender, race, and other visible characteristics. Over the years, many people have believed that this type of diversity in business teams would increase outcomes such as creativity and performance.

Harvard researchers, however, have discovered that diversity in thought is more important. In fact, teams which are more cognitively diverse - in perspective and knowledge processing - are able to solve problems more efficiently.

In addition to processing diversity, time-based preferences are another deep-level diversity factor to consider.

Dr. Susan Mohammed, a professor of psychology at Penn State University, is the leading researcher on "temporal diversity" and has spent years researching time-based factors in teams. She and her colleagues have identified four distinct ways in which individual members of teams can differ temporally:

  1. Team Members May Differ in Time Urgency.
    There are two ends of the spectrum: time-urgent and time-patient.

    Time-urgent people view time as a precious resource that should never be wasted. They are constantly aware of the passage of time and deadlines, and are "chronically hurried." They may be unjustly viewed as demanding and possibly even uptight.

    Time-patient people are on the opposite end of the spectrum, with a more relaxed view of time and deadlines. Because of this, they can sometimes be falsely viewed as lazy and undisciplined.

  2. What is the Pacing Style of Each Member?
    Pacing style is how a person distributes effort in relation to deadlines.

    There are 3 types of pacing styles, which remain consistent for each person:
    Deadline Action Style: These are the procrastinators who complete work in a hurry, right before the deadline.

    Early Action Style: These are the exact opposite of deadline action style people. They start working as soon as possible and finish way ahead of time.

    Steady Action Style: These people distribute their effort and work evenly across the period of time from when they are given a task until the deadline comes.

  3. Each Team Member Has an Inherent Perspective on Time.
    This addresses the importance of the past, present, and future to each individual. This disposition can predict outcomes such as how individuals will plan, process information, and make decisions.

    Past-focused perspective: place emphasis on the past and dwell on what has occurred. Either pessimistic and aversive to past events, or nostalgic and sentimental.

    Present-focused perspective: live in the moment, take more risks, and want immediate pleasure rather than delayed satisfaction. They set short-term goals.

    Future-focused perspective: highly goal-oriented in nature, make long-term goals, and consider future consequences more often.

  4. Multi-tasking: A Distinction Between Monochronicity vs. Polychronicity.

    Approaches to multitasking are traits, not states. This means that individuals tend to consistently resort to one way of working or the other.

    Monochronicity: a person prefers completing one task at a time; is linear in nature. Team members may perceive them as slow.

    Polychronicity: prefers multi-tasking on a regular basis. Team members may perceive them as unfocused.

Why do these matter?

Research indicates that diversity among team members regarding these time factors can lead to brilliance or disaster.

Dr. Mohammed and other "temporal diversity" researchers have found that temporal diversity can certainly improve performance, but too much diversity can lead to conflict within teams.

How can you manage "temporal diversity" on your team?

Here is how you can maximize the benefits of temporal diversity as a leader:

  • Be mindful that temporal differences will exist in teams.
  • Assign roles and tasks to individuals which match their time-based tendencies.
  • Consider individual differences when developing both teams and roles themselves.
  • Develop norms and agreements regarding scheduling, while remaining sensitive to each member's tendencies.
  • Promote an understanding of temporal diversity within the team and develop clear ways to cope with differences.

There are so many ways to create diversity in our organizations and teams. Looking beyond the obvious differences, and tuning in to how individuals perceive their environments and process their work, will be far more effective than simply focusing on the color of your employee's skin.

Good luck!