Why transparency is needed for team success

When it comes to building an effective and satisfied diverse workforce, a recent survey of scientists offers some insights for the business world.

More than 260 scientists from 105 National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary environmental-science teams reported a correlation between positive team climate (which included fair authorship practices and open data sharing within teams) and their satisfaction with the team. However, people representing more dimensions of demographic or scientific diversity–e.g., women, LGBT team members or early-career scientists–perceived the same team’s climate to be more negative than their more represented counterparts. As a result, they reported less satisfaction with their teams and the way they work.

“Our research is focused specifically on individual team satisfaction [among science teams], but I think probably similar processes are happening at other kinds of workplaces where people work in teams or groups,” says Isis Settles, professor of psychology and Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan. She conducted the research with colleagues from her institution as well as Michigan State University and the U.S. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

The authors noted that other research showed that cultural diversity was “related to greater creativity on engineering teams through the mediating role of information sharing, but that result was only for teams with a climate of inclusion (i.e., equitable employment practices, integration of differences and collective decision-making).”

However, while diversity is good for team climate, “it’s important to do more than just bring underrepresented people onto the team or into the organization,” Settles says. “We’re suggesting that fair and transparent policies and procedures can really help support underrepresented individuals who might feel like they have less power or influence on the team.”

The authors wrote that “having clear, openly discussed and collaboratively developed team policies and practices is likely to promote data sharing and encourage fair credit allocation related to authorship.” In addition, fair and transparent policies and procedures “are likely to alleviate power imbalances that can diminish satisfaction with teams. The importance of promoting positive climate also accords with the finding that diversity can have varied effects on team outcomes, and what matters is whether organizations support diversity by recognizing the contributions of all individuals through fair processes and rewards.”

Settles adds that these tactics will create an environment that lets everybody in the workgroup feel like they can speak up and raise issues without fear of repercussion. It’s also important to pay attention to the informal norms of the workplace–aka, “how we do things around here.”

“Everybody in the organization doesn’t always have access to those informal norms and expectations about how things are done,” she says. “Making them transparent [by] writing them down [and] making sure everybody knows them reduces the need for people to get that information informally.”

As HR folks know, supporting people in underrepresented groups helps them view the workplace more positively and feel more satisfied, avoiding the “revolving door” of diverse talent.

The researchers’ definition of diversity was widened beyond demographic characteristics to include job diversity, since many people surveyed were from different disciplines and at different career stages.

“People who were ‘low status’ in terms of their scientific diversity also perceived the climate to be more negative,” Settles says. “There’s just something about being underrepresented in the organization along a number of different kinds of dimensions that may influence people’s experience at the workplace.”


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Maura C. Ciccarelli
Maura Ciccarelli is freelance writer based in Southeastern Pennsylvania. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.