In a recent conversation with a friend, he shared his experience as a member of two different peer advisor business groups.
My friend was saying that the second group seemed to lack the intimacy of the first. When we dug deeper and explored the differences between the two, here is what we uncovered.
The first group had been together for a long time and was homogenous. The members were all male, all from the same socio-economic class, and all about the same age. On the other hand, the second group was diverse with gender, race, ethnicity, background, economic class, and other differences.
In a previous blog on this topic, With Diversity Comes Diversity, I share my experience in building diverse teams. What is missing in this previous story are the questions my friend raised, “What was different about the second group? Why didn’t it have the same level of intimacy as the first?”
I believe Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks gave us the answer in his Ted Talk entitled How we can face the future without fear, together. Rabbi Sacks talks about what he calls “the us of identity.” Comparing the monuments of the United States and Britain, he points out that in the United States, we “read” memorials, e.g., the Martin Luther King Memorial has more than a dozen quotes from his speeches. In London, the monuments contain only the names of their famous leaders.
Why the difference? According to Sacks, the difference is because America was from the outset a nation of wave after wave of immigrants. Hence, it had to create an identity by telling a story that we learned in school, read on memorials, and heard repeated in presidential inaugural addresses. Britain, until recently, wasn’t a nation of immigrants, so it could take its identity for granted.
The two groups my friend experienced typify the groups described in With Diversity Comes Diversity. Group One had similar backgrounds, which led to shared interests, and they often agreed on topics; they had an us of identity. Contrast this with Group Two, a diverse group with little, if any, natural common ground, lacking an us of identity.
Intimacy and a feeling of shared destiny, i.e., an us of identity, are essential for building trust and ultimately effectiveness in any group, a business peer group, or a team within a company or a country, in Sack’s opinion.
Research shows that diverse points of view deliver better decisions, and yet, homogeneity is comfortable, easy, and therefore compelling for a leader.
Does this mean we either settle for lower quality decisions, i.e., homogeneity, or get better decisions and have to settle for lower trust?
Is it possible to create intimacy in a diverse group?
I believe the answer to the first question is a resounding no and the answer to the second question is yes. And, the leader of a diverse group must do the hard work. S/he must weave a common story, an us of identity, that team members can rally around. This us identity then becomes the shared destiny that leads to trust and intimacy.
When the leader intentionally creates a diverse team AND weaves a common story, the resulting group will consistently outperform the homogeneous one.
NOTE: I am taking a sabbatical for the month of April. I will be back in early May with my usual Sunday Stories.