Office social events may drive diverse teams apart, not unite them
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Office social events may drive diverse teams apart, not unite them

You want your team to be close-knit, so of course you encourage team members to bond at events like happy hours, holiday parties and office picnics.

But did it ever occur to you that you might be doing more harm than good? A new study by three business management professors suggests that you might be, depending on the makeup of your team.

Homogeneous teams respond
Essentially, the study – of 369 MBA students and working employees – shows that the more homogeneous the team, the better the effect of team-building social events.

But when the team is racially diverse, “rather than bringing people together, these activities can underscore our differences,” says one of the authors, Nancy Rothbard of the Wharton School. She postulates a bunch of white workers of similar age who all like rock music being joined at a party by a black colleague who admits to a fondness for gospel and then feels out of place.

Transferrable effect
Although the study covered only racial differences, Rothbard says its effect might replicate across other diverse dimensions, such as political orientation.

Takeaway: The study doesn’t mean diverse teams should never have social events. But if you lead such a team, you might want to reconsider their format and frequency – and pay even more attention to building team respect and cooperation inside the working environment.


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