During graduate school, I learned about the Homogeneous Unit Principle. Simply put, the theory states that people are most comfortable in groups of people like them. Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, reinforces the idea of the Homogeneous Unit Principle. His extensive study and research found that people are increasingly isolated within our communities largely in part to increased diversity and multiculturalism. People withdraw from interacting with others because they are uncomfortable relating to people they perceive as “different.”

Michael Jonas, writing in the Boston Globe calls this “the downside of diversity.” Citing Putnam’s research, he writes that “in the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.”

Diversity can be a hindrance to working together, when people allow their discomfort with “others” stand in the way of collaboration and community.

We may use politically correct language; we may say the right buzz words about the importance of embracing diversity. At the end of the day, though, Putnam’s research shows that even though we may not admit it, many of us strongly prefer to live, work, and interact with people who are just like us.

Leaders who work to bridge differences do so against enormous resistance at times, both from within and from without. Yet collaborating in diverse groups unleashes energy, insight, and creative solutions. Jonas states: “Culture clashes can produce a dynamic give-and-take, generating a solution that may have eluded a group of people with more similar backgrounds and approaches.”

While it may be comfortable and easy to stay in homogeneous groups, we will accomplish far more when we work in more heterogeneous groups.

Joion the conversation!

What can you do as a leader to help people overcome their resistance to working in heterogeneous groups?

What success have you found working with people from different backgrounds or perspectives from your own?

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission.