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Want to increase your team’s performance? Gender diversity could be beneficial

Teams that have gender diversity benefit when its members have a learning goal orientation because they share team leadership.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Many of us have heard the famous adage ‘teamwork makes the dreamwork’ from leadership author John Maxwell, but what is the key to actually making a team work?

New research from the University of Florida Warrington College of Business offers insights into an aspect of how to build a high-performing team. Gender diversity on self-managing teams was found to be beneficial rather than harmful to teams, as long as team members were interested in learning from each other.  

Yixuan Li and Klodiana Lanaj

Assistant Professor of Management Yixuan Li and Martin L. Schaffel Professor Klodiana Lanaj.

“Prior studies typically consider demographic diversity to matter less for team performance, as such diversity attributes may not necessarily imply variations in knowledge and skills,” explained Yixuan Li (Ph.D. ’18), Assistant Professor of Management and lead author on the study. “We show that gender diversity could directly promote team task performance by stimulating shared leadership for learning-oriented, self-managing teams.”

Learning-oriented teams are those in which members have a general motivation for learning and task mastery in team contexts. Previous research suggests that diverse teams with learning-oriented mindsets stimulate open information flow, proactive learning and valuing of dissimilar others.

Li with co-authors Martin L. Schaffel Professor Klodiana Lanaj, Jaclyn Koopmann (Ph.D. ’16) of Auburn University and John R. Hollenbeck of Michigan State University, uncovered these insights across two empirical studies. In their first study, the researchers show that gender diversity benefitted self-managing team task performance in teams that had a higher learning goal orientation. In a second study, the researchers find that gender diversity improved task role enactment via shared leadership in teams that had higher learning goal orientation.

Based on their findings, the researchers note that managers may want to do two things. First, create gender-diverse teams, and second, select team members who have a learning orientation.

“Team-members who have a learning orientation are more likely to share influence and leadership with others in gender-diverse teams,” Li said. “Being surrounded by dissimilar others motivates these team members to be open to divergent perspectives in ways that ultimately benefit team performance.”

This study is forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology.