What’s the route to higher efficacy and productivity?  Might that be by staffing with "messy" groups?  So suggests a recent book entitled The Difference:  How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies by Scott E. Page, professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan. 

Using mathematical modeling, Dr. Page shows how variety in staffing produces organizational strength– and bottom line results.  In his models, diverse groups of problem-solvers outperformed groups made up of similar individuals with high problem-solving ability.  The diverse groups got stuck less often that did the smart individuals, who tended to think similarly.

According to Dr. Page, different talents and perspectives, which he calls "tools," bring more and different ways of seeing a problem and result in faster/better ways of solving it.  Diverse cities are more productive, diverse boards of directors make better decisions, diverse companies are more innovative.  Interdisciplinary work is the biggest trend in scientific research, he says, and should be the route that business and the professions pursue.

So what does this have to do with lawyers?  Law departments that stretch across many countries are often diverse by necessity.  And by going global, many firms are diversifying by circumstance.  In both cases different cultural, personality and economic perspectives come into the mix.  While trying to preserve the benefits of diversity, these departments and firms are also confronted with the morass of confusion that many different people doing things differently can make.  Molding those differing perspectives into the "BigLaw" firm or department way of doing things–either purposefully, by circulating the administrative memo or lecturing the new recruits, or inadvertently, perhaps by unconsciously discouraging lawyers from ringing an alarm when they spot missteps, can leave you with unintended consequences. 

KPMG’s program to test all US partners (see our KPMG Model Delivers Risk Management, Teamwork, Client Satisfaction and Diversity Too) and then use that information to balance various teams–marketing, client, industry and management, to name a few–is a shining example of the usefulness of diverse approaches to every type of issue facing professional services firms.  KPMG is affirmatively pursuing and integrating diversity in their business model to great benefit.

Finding the right balance to both capitalize on the benefits of diversity and to minimize the administrative and management fallout produced by those differences is a modern law firm’s challenge.  There is every reason to believe that getting it right is worth the effort.