Article Critique: “Diverse Teams: Breakdown or Breakthrough?”

1 Introduction Diverse teams’ management is among the central issues in today’s research and practice of business administration (Robbins & Coulter 2004). This kind of work arrangement correspond to the changes in modern societies (Mousumi 2008), balances the best work practices from different sources (Harzing 2004) and is considered as essential for holistic marketing operations (Kotler & Keller 2006). One possible reason for the attractiveness of diverse teams is the promise to combine two popular managerial concepts – workplace diversity and team orientation (David 2007).

Nonetheless, in order to be effective, diverse teams must be managed carefully, as their heterogeneity may also underlie unique challenges. This paper reviews a 1995 article (“the article”)by Griggs & Louw (“the authors”), which presents a study case of unsuccessful management of a diverse team and suggests some guidelines for proper management. The article is criticised in reference to its academic qualities, as well as to its relevance as a helping tool for managers.

2 Academic Review

2.1 Conceptual Strengths

The article’s main academic strength is by expanding the discussion over diverse teams and by relating this discussion to other common concepts in management. By doing so, the authors merge the issue into the mainstream of managerial theory and practice instead of excluding it. The arguments are thus mostly clear and encourage further merge into other categories, as successfully done by Cavaleros et al (2002), among others.

The expansion of the discussion is done by describing diversity as a “full spectrum of differences represented in the general population,” (Griggs & Louw 1995) considering not only conventional factors, but also “skills, intelligence, education, and looks” (ibid). Doing so, the authors take a further step from describing diversity merely “in terms of gender, race, ethnicity [and] age,” (Robbins & Coulter 2004) but encourage the reader to examine individual differences in teams (and their corresponding opportunities and challenges) in a much more comprehensive way.

A major bulk of the article is dedicated to an analysis of a study case from the authors’ own experience from the perspective of Tuckman’s (1965) Four Stages Model for group development (forming-storming-norming-performing). They recognize the main weakness of the model, namely its lack of genuine practical insights (Kozlowski & Bradford 2003), and try to modify its frameworks to suggest particular dynamics that characterize diverse teams. For example, the authors suggest “polarization” and “ethnocentralism” as one of the underpinnings of the storming stage of diverse teams.

2.2 Conceptual Weaknesses

Despite its lucid advantages, the article “fails to deliver” in more than a few aspects: First, issues of poor self-awareness are referred to as major obstacles for team formation. Despite the truthfulness of the general claim, the suggested “self-inventory” is presented briefly, without any referral to an applicable self appraisal tool. Moreover, the authors completely ignore the prospect of pre-formation awareness training, which can create the needed attitudes among potential candidates (Cavaleros et al. 2002) instead of excluding them from such teams.

Another key weakness lays in the discussion of possible conflicts, or in the absence of such a discussion. More precisely, although conflicts between team members can arise from many sources and have a wide array of symptoms (Tjosvold & Tjosvold 1991), the authors choose to focus only on one conflict they encountered – a dispute between two group members over reposting style. Even if the problem had personal and cultural underpinnings, the experienced reader would immediately understand that this particular disagreement could have been avoided, for instance by imposing group-wide reporting standards (Robbins & Coulter 2004).

2.3 Overall Assessment

The article should be read with cautious, as its publication date (14 years ago) may imply that some insights are no longer valid. Moreover, the study of diverse teams was quite new at the time; in fact, thorough academic research on this issue had only started to form in the mid-1990s (Cavaleros, C, Van Vuuren, LJ & Visser, D 2002). However, the authors’ credibility as experienced consultants in this field may compromise for the lack of vast body of research at that time. Hence, the article should be treated as an introductory work instead of a specific empirical or theoretical research. Summing up the main points, at least three issues for further research arise from the article: the use of self-awareness criteria instead of general job performance to predict an individual’s behaviour in a diversified team; means of early detection of tension; and reinforcement of cooperative behaviour by adapting specific cultural and/or individual traits into teams’ collective cultures.

3 Practical Relevance for Today’s Managers

3.1 Practical Strengths

The article’s two “engines,” namely the study case and Tuckman’s (1965) Four Stages Model, make it a powerful source for both experienced and untrained managers, thanks to several main features: First, the authors make several “breaks” throughout the story, giving short, often bullet-pointed warnings and instructions regarding “do’s” and “don’ts” for managers. The sets of skills during each step of the Model are of particular importance.

Second, although the authors describe themselves as specialist consultants in this field, they do not hesitate to point out their own mistakes. By doing so, they give personal example for their preaching for openness. This approach contributes to the reliability of the article as well.

Finally, they discuss team adjourning, a fifth element to the Model, which was added by Tuckman to its original Model in 1977 (Kozlowski & Bell 2003). The recommendations regarding the actions needed from managers after the original tasks have been fulfilled may help the reader to develop her reputation beyond the performance of specific tasks.

3.2 Practical Weaknesses

Although they balance well between descriptions and analyses, the authors leave quite a few open edges. For example, while mentioning that none of the solutions offered by the other team members did work (p. 26), these solutions are not explained, hence suggesting that formal codes of conduct are deemed to fail. Such an argument may be problematic, as structured work processes may balance difficult group dynamics (Harzing 2004).

In addition, other factors that may have influenced the conflict in the team are categorically ignored. It is unlikely that the personal differences between the two men are the only causes for the failure of the team. Hence, the absence of serious internal and external audit is not only amateurish (David 2007), but also make it harder for us to fully understand the tension in the team.

3.3 Overall Assessment

The authors draw an easy to follow path of possible difficulties and practical guidelines for managers of diverse teams. The structure and the content appeal to practitioners, who are probably more interested in getting straightforward solutions than in a thorough (and possibly exhausting) scientific discussion. In conclusion, although the article tends to fall short on some issues, the authors’ main messages are clear, and their advocacy towards greater sensitivity to individual differences and careful management are conveyed in a sincere and professional manner.

References

  • Cavaleros, C, Van Vuuren, LJ & Visser D 2002, ‘The effectiveness of a diversity awareness training programme’, SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, vol. 28, issue 3, pp. 50-61.
  • David, FR 2007, Strategic management: concepts and cases (11th edition), Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River.
  • Griggs, LB & Louw, LL 1995, ‘Diverse teams: Breakdown or breakthrough?’ Training & Development, vol. 49 issue 10, October, pp. 22-29.
  • Kozlowski, SWJ & Bell, BS 2003, ‘Work groups in teams in organizations’, in WC Borman, DR Ilgen and RJ Klimoski (eds.), Handbook of psychology volume 12: industrial and organizational psychology, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, pp. 333-377.
  • Kotler, P & Keller, KL 2006, Marketing management (12th edition), Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River.
  • Harzing, A-W 2004, ‘Composing an international staff’, in A-W Harzing and J van Ruysseveldt (eds.), International Human Resource Management, SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, pp. 251-282.
  • Mousumi, R 2008, ‘Workplace Diversity’, in RW Kolb (ed.), Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society, SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, pp. 605-609.
  • Robbins, SP & Coulter, M 2004, Management (8th edition), Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River.
  • Tjosvold, DW & Tjosvold, MM 1991, Leading the team organization: how to create an enduring competitive advantage, Lexington Books, New York.
  • Tuckman, BW 1965, ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’, Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 63, No. 6, pp. 384-399