Here’s what sport can teach us about diversity in business.
Could you win a football game with 11 goalkeepers? Or, maybe a netball match with 7 goal shooters? Ok, how about a rowing race with 9 coxes?
Of course not, is clearly the answer. But whilst these may seem like flippant examples, they hint at the challenge we often face in organisations: creating diverse teams, with each member bringing a different skillset, or way of thinking that elevates group performance.
Diversity (or the lack thereof) in the world of business is something we look at a great deal here at Hot Spots Movement. Whether that’s gender diversity, ethnic diversity or neurodiversity – it’s clear that boardrooms and offices are just not diverse enough.
There are obvious and significant ethical issues around discriminating over gender, race, sexual orientation or mental health. However, there is another reason why companies should be sitting up and taking note: Lack of diversity is impacting on the bottom-line. There is a growing body of research showing that the more diverse a team is, the greater the chance for innovation. Which whether in the context of the smallest start-up or the largest multi-national, means a competitive edge.
This may sound like common sense when said out loud. But it’s surprising how few organisations fully grasp or truly act upon this information. As such, I wanted to support this claim by taking examples from the world of sport – whilst sport without doubt has its own diversity issues, examples of the benefits of diversity are easily quantified and for many plain to see.
Academic studies of the world of sport provides concrete evidence in support of the notion that diversity positively affects performance. Researchers from Duke University tested the theory within the UEFA Champions League (Europe’s elite club football competition) and found that heterogenous teams significantly outperformed their less diverse opponents . So substantial were these findings that even when player’s transfer value and quality ratings have been adjusted for, even relatively small increases in cultural diversity could double a team’s goal difference.
Now let’s take this concept across the pond to one of the world’s most lucrative sports leagues, the National Basketball Association. Interbasket analysed the performance of the league’s most and least diverse teams over a five-year period. When comparing the 10 most against the 10 least demographically diverse teams in the league they found that teams with the highest number of foreign players won on average 11 games a season more than those who measured poorly on diversity . This is a particularly impressive result, when considering that those 11 games account for 13% of wins available for a team across a whole season. What business leader would not want to see a 13% increase in performance from their teams?
Diversity then can clearly have an extraordinarily positive impact on performance of teams, increasing creativity, innovation and flexibility. So, I challenge you the next time you’re hiring someone to look beyond someone who shares your background. Perhaps ask yourself, ‘Am I creating a team full of goalkeepers, or have I got every position covered, ready for the big game?’
Need help with your diversity strategy? Find out how Hot Spots Movement can help by checking out our website here: http://www.hotspotsmovement.com/
 Malesky, E., Saiegh, S. and Ingersoll, K. (2014). Diversity and Group Performance: Evidence from the World’s Top Soccer League. APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper.