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Research Questions

  1. What are the positive and negative consequences of team diversity on performance?
  2. What are the contextual factors that affect the performance of diverse teams?
  3. How can Coast Guard leaders ensure success of diverse work groups?

The U.S. Coast Guard recently developed and implemented policies that foster and sustain diversity to benefit mission effectiveness. A diverse workforce can enhance the responsiveness and effectiveness across the Coast Guard's broad mission scope, but differences can also divide teams to the detriment of a goal or even an entire organization. Going forward, Coast Guard leaders will benefit from specific training and guidance to bring out the best from work groups consisting of men and women of different ethnic, racial, and functional backgrounds on a daily basis.

Key Findings

The Coast Guard Is Developing Specific Training on How to Lead a Diverse Workforce

  • This is called for by the Coast Guard's Diversity Strategic Plan, and the Military Leadership Diversity Commission report.

The Coast Guard Has Begun to Recruit a More Demographically Diverse Workforce

  • In time, minority groups are expected to form the majority of the U.S. population. Thus these groups will be the primary areas for future Coast Guard recruitment.
  • Women are outpacing men in college attendance, and it is expected that more women will be in the recruitment pool.
  • Repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy has added another demographic diversity dimension for leaders to consider.
  • Front line Coast Guard workgroups are made up of increasingly diverse individuals.

Studies Have Assessed Performance of Diverse Teams

  • Overall, results of diverse work groups tend to be mixed. Some are highly successful, while others appear to be negatively affected by the differences within the group.
  • Diverse work groups have access to a variety of views, approaches, and capabilities — but how the team is organized and the example team leaders set seem to be the key factors in whether this variety is ultimately an asset or detriment.

Coast Guard Leaders Can Shape the Performance Outcomes of Diverse Work Teams

  • Coast Guard leaders can implement certain leadership practices that help mitigate negative work group processes, and improve the performance of diverse teams.

Recommendations

  • Leaders should foster positive attitudes about diversity.
  • Task complexity and motivation should be a consideration when forming diverse work groups.
  • Teams benefit when leaders instill a superordinate identity for diverse team members to bond around.
  • Leaders should be trained to create a supportive environment for diverse perspectives, attitudes and work styles.
  • Effective leadership styles for diverse groups include those who act as a positive role model, provide motivation, and align overarching and individual goals.

The RAND Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security Fellows program, which is supported by the RAND Homeland Security and Defense Center, commissioned this Perspective.

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