Still Feel Like an Outsider? Your organization needs you.

I was reminded of how important outsiders are to group discussions when I saw the photos in of groups of men meeting to decide issues directly impacting women.  How could these groups so clearly miss the obvious: that they do not share a perspective that could help them understand experiences, needs, and create effective solutions? Even so, we see this frequently, and it is not surprising that for those of us in the underrepresented or minority groups, these generate the stories we tell ourselves.

Beyond losing important perspectives, skills and different approaches to problems, there are analyses that indicate that creating homogenous groups, or relying on like-minded individuals can lead groups down the path to disaster. Although they may drive quickly to consensus, the solutions groups also become mired in “Groupthink”.  They do so by avoiding alternative views, and not questioning the most facile solutions.  They also miss or ignore important data points that do not agree with their consensus view.  Thus, they can quickly select a solution that will end in disaster.

Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie shared their research in Wiser – Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Better Decisions. Homogenous groups make wrong decisions with great confidence and certainty, often by not asking questions and acquiring data that confirms their biases. They conclude that to avoid Groupthink it is not just the process of making decisions that must change, the composition of the group making them is also important.

In reviewing some of the decisions of boards, they identified that the presence of a single woman made a difference in ability of a group to make sound decisions. Including people who may have been otherwise shut out whether because of their gender, ethnicity or educational background is associated with better decisions.

What could speak to this better than dollars and cents? Credit Suisse Research Institute’s CS Gender 3000 survey found impressive differences in business results for those companies that had higher proportions of women on their boards and/or executive ranks. To quote just one example, companies with 50% or more women senior women averaged 8% Compound Annual growth since 2008 vs. a 20 basis points (0.2%) slowdown for the MSCI ACWI (Morgan Stanley Capital Index All Country World Index which includes a diverse portfolio of small and large cap equities). This is only one of the eye-opening statistics in this must-read report.

Why, then, do we find groups in power – whether in government, education or business, often err on the side of homogeneity and comfort?

As our discussions become more and more partisan, and as we create groups that increasingly feel they are on the outside of decision-making circles, we risk losing valuable input and perspectives. We risk losing on a great deal of value. We also lose the ability to make better decisions and find creative solutions to problems. And by ignoring large segments of the population we will, of course, risk continuing on a path of minimal growth.