Trying to juice up your next ad campaign? Develop a clever new product strategy? Research shows that adding an outsider to the mix can improve the thinking of your team and produce better results. According to a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,

Better decisions come from teams that include a “socially distinct newcomer.” That’s psychology-speak for someone who is different enough to bump other team members out of their comfort zones…

Researchers noticed this effect after conducting a traditional group problem-solving experiment. The twist was that a newcomer was added to each group about five minutes into their deliberations. And when the newcomer was a social outsider, teams were more likely to solve the problem successfully. [From Kellog School of Management News - Embracing the ‘socially distinct’ outsider.]

The good news is that the “outsider” doesn’t have to be an expensive consultant or an external facilitator. The important thing is that the newcomer is distinct in some way from other group members. Beyond such obvious social distinctions as race and gender, the study’s author, Katherine Phillips of Northwestern University, suggests other examples that might work:

– One employee from accounting working on a team in which everyone else is from sales
– An employee of a company that has just been bought out finding herself on a team of people from the acquiring firm
– An out-of-stater finding himself on a team full of natives of the company’s home state

The outsiders in the study weren’t necessarily vocal or opinionated; their mere presence seemed to be sufficient to make the group think harder. According to Phillips, this research is one justification for maintaining an emphasis on workplace diversity: a diverse team (whatever the elements of diversity might be) will produce better results.

So, when you are pulling together the next team or task force, add all of the “obvious” team members, and then throw an outsider into the mix. You’ll be glad you did.

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