In my last post, I wrote about research that found for diverse teams to be successful they must be able to exchange “uniquely possessed information” (Mannix and Neale, “What Differences Make a Difference? The Promise and Reality of Diverse Teams in Organizations”, 2005). While this seems simple to do, the topic is fraught with issues such as members’ willingness to share, ability to share, ability to handle conflict, group dynamics, and so on. Members of diverse teams often end up having private opinions and, if this is the case, how can a team make good decisions without all the information on the table?
The authors go on to say that private opinions and the kind of conversations that ensue depend on who is doing the talking and who is doing the listening: whether the member is in the “majority” or the “minority”. Which individuals are perceived “majority” or “minority” depends on context. Minority or majority is used in reference to diversity which was defined as “any attribute that another person may use to detect individual differences.” (Williams and O’Reilly, 1998) Think about differences in function, seniority, country of origin, gender, corporate/field, etc.
If you sit in a diverse or global team, consider your own experience in light of these findings:
Many of the implications of these findings can be taken directly from the list itself. For example, majority and minority opinion holders can consider these findings and ask why, how and when this is the case for themselves. Why, for example, would a majority opinion holder be more influenced by a minority opinion holder when they receive it in writing? Why would a minority opinion holder expect that a disagreement from a majority opinion holder be a personal affront? Exploring your assumptions and biases by thinking through the implications of these findings for yourself and your team can be a useful way to move beyond our very human tendencies to operate on auto-pilot.
Quality decisions, then, requires that we watch our own patterns when in a group. Leaders may consider that their support may be the most critical element if a minority opinion holder is to be heard. Setting a norm of openness and learning, listening and inquiring can help. Minority opinion holders who are considered experts may benefit from being consistent, in which case they can be seen as especially influential.
The leadership literature and our own consulting experience indicate that the abilities to be open to differing views and to navigate conflict are among the top attributes of successful leaders. How can you stay aware of majority and minority dynamics in the moment and recognize that you are deciding who you hear?