Leaders need diverse teams for creative problem solving

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Typically, when hiring and building workplace teams, leaders prefer people who look like them, but that doesn’t get us innovation, said Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, HBS, at a recent Faculty of Arts And Sciences Diversity Dialogue. “A strong leader’s job is to bring different people together and coordinate” them to come up with creative solutions to problems, she said.

Using the Lessons Learned from the (2010) Chilean Mine Rescue case, Edmondson said, “It’s harder to convince people who are not like you” to work together as a team to develop solutions. Citing the Chilean rescue, she said, “People rose up to take on tasks that needed to be handled. Through cooperation and teamwork, they survived.” She went on to say that “leaders need to be open to new ideas, especially when there is not an established procedure.”

“Diversity issues matter less when there is a crisis,” said Russ Porter, FAS administrative dean for science, who attended the dialogue. People are more likely to look beyond difference and seek ideas from all sources when there is a crisis.  Edmondson agreed, saying that “collaborative problem solving” is most important, and “all people need to be heard.”

The Diversity Dialogue was the final of three this year offered in partnership by the FAS Dean’s Office, FAS Human Resources and the FAS Office of Diversity Relations and Communications.