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15 September 2014

Gangster Squad - Diversity Prevails

Over the last few months I’ve been focused on some new personal objectives, namely achieving better work life balance.  One reason for this is to spend less time with my laptop and more time with my fiancée.  Our aim:  to have one mid-week ‘date night’ each week.  Last Wednesday we kept it easy and simply rented a DVD.

Sometimes you watch a film as we refer to them here in Ireland (movie) that you just really, really, love.  And for me, last week’s rental “Gangster Squad” did just that.  I don’t recall it winning any awards and it certainly won’t be for everyone, but for me it offered more than just a good movie experience, it left me with a lovely sense of nostalgia.

Dad-and-meIt reminded me of the more old school gangster films, the type my dad used to love, and I used to watch on the couch beside him as a teenager almost through finger covered eyes.  Sadly, my dad passed away when I was only 21, so to watch a film 13 years later, and have it make me feel closer to my dad – well of course, for me, that is a result.  (I’ve included a photo of me with my dad taken October 1998.)

Recently I had dinner with a partner from PwC Ireland who commented on how clearly passionate I was about my role.  I reflected on that statement after watching this movie as it was more than nostalgia that was on my mind when the film concluded.  The partner is right, when diversity is the key theme that hits me from a ‘gangster movie’ it cannot be denied that I am extremely passionate about the ‘day job’.

So where exactly does diversity find its place in a ‘Bugsy Malone’ style film about a Los Angeles Gangster.  The movie itself centres on a rogue police squad (the gangster squad) assembled to take down the notorious, ruthless and unstoppable gangster Mickey Cohen in the very late 1940’s.

This small squad of six in total was selected ingeniously.  While it was a small squad it had diversity in abundance; across lots of dimensions such as generational, skill, experience, ethnicity, personality and thought diversity. 


For me, as the movie progressed it was clear as day that this team delivered creative ideas all of which stemmed from diversity inspired innovation.  Ultimately this was what made this squad, the right squad.  Their diversity was combined with a clear purpose and belief by all in what was right for their city -- a better, safer, cleaner LA. 

Certainly this team was all male.  In fact most of the cast was male.  So why am I writing a Gangster Squad related blog for the Gender Agenda?  

Well, it is the squad leader’s wife who takes it upon herself to select the various squad members.  In essence it was a female character that unleashed the power of diversity and through this action alone contributes to their overall success.  

This does not surprise me; I’m familiar with the Harvard research findings that regardless of the IQ of a group’s individual members, if the group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.   The chart below plots the collective intelligence scores of 192 teams observed in the referenced Harvard study against the percentage of women these teams contained.  Indicated on the red bars is the range of scores in the group of teams at each level, with the blue circles highlighting the average score.


Clearly the findings of this study suggest that the teams with more women tended to fall above the average, while teams with more men tended to fall below the average.   Of course, I don’t want to give anything about the film away, but the contribution of one further female character, in essence further increasing the level of female involvement ultimately leads to a critical game changing moment in the movie…..

So how can we translate the lessons from this squad’s success to our own organisations? 

First, teams must have a purpose.  In Gangster Squad the team all had a moral hunger for what was right.  Creating a common purpose will be a motivational driver for team success.

Second, organisations need to be focused on creating diverse teams because diverse teams are good for business.  In fact, informal studies at Stanford University looking at student team design for almost a quarter-century strongly suggest that a team’s diversity is indeed very relevant to a team’s success.  

This research indicates that performance improves when a team pays attention to its individual personalities. The basic principle learned is that even though it will likely take longer for such psychologically diverse teams to achieve efficient cooperation and smooth communication,  in the long run teams do better when they are composed of people with the widest possible range of diversity.



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