Researches say when it comes to finding a solution for a problem, better decisions come from teams that include a "socially distinct newcomer."
"One of the most-cited benefits of diversity is the infusion of new ideas and perspectives," said study co-author Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU's Marriott School of Management.
"And while that very often is true, we found the mere presence of a newcomer who is socially distinct can really shake up the group dynamic. That leads to discomfort, but also to a better process that ultimately yields superior outcomes," she added.
During the study, the researchers noticed this effect after conducting a traditional group problem-solving experiment. A newcomer was added to each group about five minutes into their deliberations.
They found that when the newcomer was a social outsider, teams were more likely to solve the problem successfully.
"(This research) is groundbreaking in that it highlights that the benefits of disparate knowledge in a team can be unleashed when newcomers actually share opinions of knowledge with old-timers but are socially different," said Melissa Thomas-Hunt, associate professor at Cornell's Johnson School of Management.
"It is the tension between social dissimilarity and opinion similarity that prompts heightened effectiveness in diverse teams," she added.
However, the newcomer might be threatening for the relationship between the old members of the group.
When a member of the group discovered that he agreed with the new outsider, he felt alienated from his fellow old-timers, consequently, he was very motivated to explain his point of view on its merits so that his peers wouldn't lump him in with the outsider.
The person who found himself disagreeing with the in-group, and instead agreeing with an outsider, felt very uncomfortable.
An opinion alliance with an outsider put his social ties with other team members at risk.
But with the conflict, the group members are likely to go deep into the discussion that facilitates much better decision-making results.
"Socially, that can be very threatening," said Liljenquist.
"These folks are driven to say, 'Wait, the fact that I disagree with this outsider doesn't make me weird. Something more is going on here; let's figure out what's at the root of our disagreement.'
"The group then tends to analyze differing opinions and critical information much more thoroughly, and that facilitates much better decision-making results."
The research is published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.