Age diversity and team outcomes: a quantitative review

Does age diversity enhance or inhibit team performance? Put another way, is it better (i.e. more financially rewarding, more satisfying or more productive) for individuals to be part of a group which shares a similar age profile or one with a broader range?
Answers fall into two familiar camps. There are those who say that diversity – including age diversity – brings a broader set of information to the group and thus expands the group’s knowledge base. Others, and particularly those who adhere to generational stereotypes, argue that age diversity is more likely to increase levels of inter-personal conflict and thus reduce collaboration. So which is it?

In order to determine the answer, Doctors Schneid and Isidor, together with Professors Steinmetz and Kabst from the University of Padeborn conducted a meta-analysis of 74 studies. Their controversial finding: age diversity doesn’t matter much either way. In essence, age diversity is a whole lot less relevant to team performance than it’s given credit for.

Aim: To examine whether there is a relationship between age diversity and team outcomes such as performance quality, financial performance, innovation and creativity, effectiveness, satisfaction, and turnover.

Method: A meta-analysis of 74 studies published between 1984 and 2013, comprising 10,218 teams and 60,933 individuals. Studies were analysed in terms of team tasks (i.e. simple vs complex), the team’s size and context (i.e. field or university study), age cohort and the team’s performance.

Findings: None of the examined team outcomes (performance quality, financial performance, innovation and creativity, effectiveness or satisfaction) were significantly related to age diversity. Given this foundational finding there was no need to consider the potential direction of the outcome measures (i.e. assisting or detracting from team performance). The one exception to this general finding concerned turnover, i.e. age diversity was significantly related to turnover, but only when a task was complex. The researchers could not explain this exception, but hypothesised that it may be due to the isolation of older team members in accordance with age stereotypes combined with the increased likelihood of retirement for older workers.

Implications: Spanning just 19 pages, the brevity of this study belies its significance. In essence, this study challenges popular views about the importance of age diversity to team performance. This is not to say that age diversity may not play some role in team performance, but that it is not as important as other diversity factors (such as gender or race).

If that’s right, organisations might reconsider the energy being devoted to “managing” age diversity, and redirect efforts back to more significant drivers of team performance.

References

Schneid, M., Isidor, R., Steinmetz, H. and Kabst, R. (2016) “Age diversity and team outcomes: a quantitative review”, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 31 Issue: 1, pp.2-17, https://doi.org/10.1108/JMP-07-2012-0228


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