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Newcomers Annoy People, Boost Group Creativity

The Takeaway: If you're a manager with a team that gets on well together, humming along finishing their work without a lot of fuss, you should keep quiet, not interfere and be thankful, right? Not if what you're aiming for is creativity suggests recent research co-authored by Stanford's Margaret Neale. Her work suggests that instead, managers looking for innovative thinking from their teams should stir the pot by adding new members. But not just any new team member will do. It's key that they differ from the others on the team in some critical way, such as area of expertise, level of education or way of thinking.

But won't that make the old team members uncomfortable, and won't you, the manager, be bombarded by whining and complaints. Yes, Neale, responds, but that's the point: "teams with a very stable membership deteriorate in performance over time because members become too similar in viewpoint to one another or get stuck in ruts." Her research found that:

When the newcomers were socially similar to the team, old team members reported the highest level of subjective satisfaction with the group's productivity. However, when objective standards were measured, they performed the worst on a group problem-solving task. When newcomers were different, the reverse was true. Old members thought the team performed badly, but in fact it accomplished its task much better than the homogeneous group.
Basically, if there's no one complaining, you don't have the right group makeup. Her research also suggests other interventions managers can use to boost groups' creativity including a suggestion that they, "purposefully assign roles such as 'devil's advocate,' or 'cheerleader,' and occasionally switch around those roles." She explains that, "In time, a chronic devil's advocate will simply be ignored, to the detriment of the group, but if a manager publicly assigns someone else to play that role for a while, that new person initially will be much more influential, even if he or she doesn't do it as well."

For much more on the research surrounding diversity and productivity, check out the interesting article.

(Illustration of diverse meeting by lumaxart, CC 2.0)

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