People generally tend to team up with others who share common characteristics. Here is a jolt (a brief experiential activity) that dramatically demonstrates the advantages of diversity in teams. This activity works best with 20 to 30 participants and requires about 3 minutes for play and 5 minutes for debriefing.
Prepare letter cards. Take five blank index cards and write each of these letters on one side of a separate card: A, E, M, S, and T. Prepare as many sets of these five cards so that each participant will have a card with one of the five letters.
Distribute the cards. Give each participant a letter card, making sure that each card is distributed to the same number people. It does not matter if a few cards are left over.
Organize teams. Ask the participants to use their letter cards to form teams of five people as quickly as possible. Do not give additional instructions. Most participants will form teams with people who have the same letter.
Announce the challenge. Ask the participants in each team to form the longest possible word with the letters on their cards.
Explain the situation. Point out that the teams that have participants with index cards of the same letter are not able to spell any word (except “A”). Explain that if the participants had formed themselves into teams with different letters, they would have been able to spell the word TEAMS.
Relate to the workplace. Ask the participants to reflect on different workplace teams and decide whether they are maximizing and leveraging diversity among members.
Conduct a follow-up. Ask the participants to reorganize themselves into teams of five, trying to maximize the diversity among its members.
- People with diverse characteristics form more productive teams.
- Because diverse teams provide a greater variety of solutions, they are more likely to create positive outcomes in the workplace.