June 3, 2004

News & Opinion: Solidarity vs. diversity

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 5:19 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

One challenge for companies -- and an even bigger challenge for small groups -- is how to maintain diversity and clear space for dissenting opinions while also fostering the kind of solidarity and commitment that help organizations get things done. In other words, diversity is essential for making good decisions, but strong organizations also thrive on a sense of common purpose and identity. This fascinating study of Civil War deserters argues that soldiers who were in units that were homogeneous were much less likely to run or go AWOL than were soldiers in units that were relatively diverse.
That suggests a dismal conclusion -- you can have cognitive diversity or you can have group cohesiveness, but not both. But in this case recognizing the dilemma should help organizations wrestle with it. Disagreement tends to erode cohesiveness because too many companies see dissent as destructive. But if you set up the right system for aggregating people's judgments, and make explicit the fact that diverse opinions will actually end up strengthening the group's collective judgment, it may help dissenters to speak up without fear of being quelled. I think one area where this approach would yield an immediate payoff is in the corporate boardroom, where too often directors seem to go along to get along.