Diversity and Team Performance in a Kenyan Organization

by Benjamin Marx, Vincent Pons, and Tavneet Suri

Overview — A key question in organizations is whether there is an optimal balance between diversity and sameness within teams of workers. Findings from a field experiment within a nonprofit research organization based in Kenya suggest much of the tradeoff between diversity and sameness may come from the different effects diversity has along different dimensions of organizational structure. Diversity along the organization’s hierarchy improves both effort and performance.

Author Abstract

We present findings from a field experiment on team diversity. Individuals working as canvassers in an elections-related experiment were randomly assigned a junior teammate, a senior manager, and a set of households to visit. This created random variation in the degree of horizontal diversity, vertical (or hierarchical) diversity, and external (or client) diversity within each team. We find that ethnic diversity among teammates decreases team performance, while diversity along the vertical dimension improves performance. The data on time use suggests that horizontally homogeneous teams organized tasks in a more efficient way, while vertically homogeneous teams exerted lower effort.

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