The makeup of a team, including the mix of cultures and personalities, can make or break its effective output and viability. A homogeneous team would include people who are as similar as possible, with similar points of view, learning abilities and life experiences. Heterogeneous teams include a mixture of races, genders, cultures and ages that provides a wider range of life experiences and opinions. Studies in education, psychology, sociology and business reach conflicting conclusions about whether homogeneous or heterogeneous team composition provides stronger results, which is unsurprising given the vast number of studies and variables to discuss.
Homogeneous Team Benefits
Homogeneous teams -- those made up of people from the same race, gender, social background and age -- often provide equal access and participation of members, as there is less chance for exclusion. Members of a homogeneous team will have an easier time of comprehending each other's verbal and nonverbal communications and will have more shared experiences in common. The similarities can, to some extent, avoid misunderstandings, prejudices and, arguably, speed up work processes and the completion of tasks, although this is not always the case as personality conflicts can occur within homogeneous teams as easily as within heterogeneous teams. There is evidence, such as within educational programs for gifted students, that homogenizing groups on the basis of intelligence provides a good environment for high achievers to progress at a faster pace than is possible in mixed ability groups.
Homogeneous Team Disadvantages
Many studies -- including one on "Cognitive Effects of Racial Diversity" published in "Journal of Experimental Social Psychology" -- show that the lack of diversification in a homogeneous group stifles creativity and information processing. It is very difficult to form homogeneous teams without causing feelings of exclusion to minorities, be those racial or gender.
Heterogeneous Team Benefits
Having a mixture of cultures, abilities and life experiences can create a stronger dynamic within a group. Individuals can be "experts" in roles such as leader, innovator, communicator and peacekeeper. This can be an organic development or roles can be provided on formation of the group. Some studies suggest a higher degree of creativity and information processing in heterogeneous teams.
Heterogeneous Team Disadvantages
With groups that have mixed learning styles and abilities, group members can find it difficult to communicate and understand others' ideas and information. Having a minority of any sort, whether it is a particular gender, race or age group, can lead to feelings of isolation and so loss of confidence or status within the group. Members with different learning speeds and styles can find themselves left behind if communication methods settled upon suit the majority of the group, but not the whole.
The suitability of homogenizing groups depends very much on the purpose of the team. A team intended to promote cutting edge developments will benefit from grouping high intelligence individuals, but it would also benefit from a mix of cultures and life experiences. Having methodologies for communication and working processes in place early on in the team's formation can mitigate many problems in both homogeneous or heterogeneous teams.
- Journal of Experimental Social Psychology: Cognitive Effects of Racial Diversity: White Individuals’ Information Processing in Heterogeneous Groups
- University of Michigan: Department of Psychology: Gifted Students: What Is Best for Them
- Wisconsin Center for Education Research: Collaborative Learning: Homogeneous or Heterogeneous Groups?
Louise Jones has been a technical writer since 2006 and is the director of a technical writing company, providing literature for U.K. construction firms such as MITIE and Balfour Beatty. Her work also appears on various websites, focusing on business and technical articles. Jones has a postgraduate certificate in education and has been trained in information technology. She studied English at Cambridge University.