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Do considerate leaders hold the key to success in diverse teams?

Deloitte, Diversity, Team diversity

Diversity can affect a variety of important team outcomes. So, how do we get the best out of diverse teams? Leadership has been identified as a critical determinant of the effect of diversity on team outcomes. This research, conducted by Dr. Astrid Homan and Dr. Lindred Greer of the University of Amsterdam, suggests that ‘considerate leadership’, whereby leaders “show concern and respect for followers, look out for their welfare, and express appreciation and support”, can improve team functioning in diverse teams.

This research found that not only is a considerate leadership style preferred by members of diverse teams but that it improves the performance of diverse teams.

Aim

This research examined the role of considerate leadership in diverse teams. The analysis was two-fold: examining leadership preferences and whether the preference for ‘considerate leadership’ translated into performance outcomes.

Method

The authors proposed that:

  1. Members of diverse teams are more likely to prefer considerate leadership than members of homogeneous teams 
  2. Diverse teams will perform better and experience less subgroup formation to the degree that their leader shows more consideration.

These hypotheses were tested in two different environments:

  1. The first studies focused on whether people preferred considerate leadership when working in a diverse team. In study 1a, a sample of 36 university students and employees read a scenario about working in a diverse or homogeneous team and then selected their preferred leadership style. In study 1b, a sample of 103 employees read a scenario about working in either an educationally diverse or homogeneous team and then reported their leadership preference
  2. Study 2 tested whether considerate leadership would positively affect the functioning of diverse teams. 617 employees participated in this study. Surveys using Likert scales were distributed to both leaders (to assess individuation and team performance) and employees (to assess considerate leadership and subgroup formation). Together the leader and employee surveys tested the relationship between considerate leadership, subgroup formation and team performance.

Findings

The research supported the hypotheses that leaders who show concern and respect for followers, look out for their welfare and express appreciation and support are preferred by, and beneficial for, diverse teams.

(1) Diverse teams prefer considerate leadership

In both studies 1a and 1b, participants preferred considerate leadership when they anticipated working with a heterogeneous team more so than a homogeneous team. Researchers suggested that diverse teams may have preferred considerate leadership because issues such as subgroup formation and associated intergroup biases (e.g. conflicts, low trust and deteriorated relationships) can hinder team outcomes. Considerate leadership can limit subgroup formation and related processes because it focuses on healing relationships, increasing trust and managing frictions. Therefore considerate leadership will be preferred by team members of diverse compared to homogeneous teams.

(2) Considerate leadership improves diverse team performance

The research indicated that considerate leadership is not only preferred in diverse teams but also results in improved team performance, measured by the delivery of high quality products and services on time. Results indicated that considerate leadership leads to better functioning as well as less subgroup formation within diverse teams. Differences within diverse teams can be perceived in two key ways: individuals may see diversity in terms of subgroups or in terms of the unique qualities of each individual. The research suggests that this is because considerate leaders appreciate and acknowledge individual feelings and ideas.

Implications

Given that considerate leadership is preferred by, and beneficial, for diverse teams, organisations should focus on developing these capabilities in leaders of diverse teams in order to generate positive outcomes. Diverse teams require leaders to show more considerate leadership, valuing members’ unique differences, thereby improving relationships within the team, and reducing the formation of subgroups which may undermine the overall team performance. Capability development should therefore focus on the following skills:

  • Coaching and addressing the development of the individual team members  
  • Ensuring individuals feel safe and supported, for example by looking out for their welfare and helping them to solve personal problems 
  • Showing concern and respect for followers 
  • Expressing appreciation for the contribution of team members

This research again stresses the profound impact of leaders on team performance.

To read the full article, see Homan, A.C. & Greer, L. L. (2013) “Considering diversity: The positive effects of considerate leadership in diverse teams” Group Processes Intergroup Relations, Vol 16, No. 1, pp105-125.

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