Harness diversity knowing that different kinds of diversity affect collaboration differently

"Team science is an exercise in diversity.  The dimensions of differences that come together in inter- and trans-disciplinary research range from disciplinary, social, knowledge, and skills, to personality and power, just to name a few. Although the rationale for team science is grounded in an appreciation of the potential benefits of disciplinary diversity, that diversity does not automatically blend into a harmonious, cooperative team of researchers exchanging information and moving in the same problem-solving direction.

"At the most general level, many research studies show that as long as there is not great pressure within a group to conform and agree, heterogeneous groups outperform homogeneous groups in solving problems (Hong and Page, 2004). Heterogeneous groups are often found to have more interpersonal and group-process related problem than homogenous groups.  More specifically, demographic diversity negatively affects group process. However, such problems are not inevitable and they need not be insurmountable.

"Differences are at the core of the research team’s strength and at the same time serve as a challenge to their successful functioning:  Strength because the very purpose of a team is to bring multiple perspectives to bear on complex problems; and challenge because the more people involved, the greater the likelihood of difficulties in communication, conflict, and coordination. Unless managed well, any type of diversity can become the basis for conflict and stereotyping or other problems in social integration and communication.  You may have such diversity in your group; categories that have known to impact group performance and group process are listed below:

"Social Categorical Differences

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Physical Abilities

"Differences in Knowledge or Skills

  • Education
  • Functional Knowledge
  • Information of Expertise
  • Training
  • Experience
  • Abilities

"DIfferences in Values or Beliefs

  • Cultural Background
  • Ideological Beliefs

"Personality Differences

  • Cognitive Style
  • Affective Disposition
  • Motivational Factors

"Organizational- or Community-Status Differences

  • Tenure or Length of Service
  • Title
  • Special Relationship with Some Organizational Leaders

"Differences in Social and Network Ties

  • Work-Related Ties
  • Friendship Ties
  • In-Group Memberships.

"How to Harness Diversity in Team Scholarship

  • Establish trust

  • Create and Environment of Psychological Safety

  • Develop the skills to have difficult conversations

  • Set expectations

  • Recognize that different perspectives are essential for a better outcome

  • Share and understand differences among group members

  • Be curious and ask questions before making a decision

  • Assume that every team member has something important to contribute.

"Although researchers typically are more interested in doing science than in attending to the finer points of group dynamics, spending time developing skills in communication, conflict management and decision making can have a beneficial effect on the scientific work itself.  The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative is one service focused on working with collaborative teams to guide them through a structured dialogue in order to achieve greater self-awareness and mutual understanding among team members (Michael O’Rourke - The Toolbox Dialogue toolbox-project.org)."


Hong, L., and Page, S. E. (2004) Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA. 101(46): 16385 - 16389.

Quoted from pages 90 - 94 in Bennett, L. M., Gadlin, H., Marchand, C. (2018). Collaboration and Team Science Field Guide. 2nd edn., National Institutes of Health Publication No. 18-7660, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, United States of America