Demographics and IT team performance

Concurrent research from UCLA’s Managing the Information Resource program and Ohio State’s CIO Solutions Gallery indicates that 85 per cent of the high-value work of IT is conducted by teams.

A major driver of team effectiveness (as measured along three dimensions: output, learning and satisfaction) is team design. Everyone seems to be talking — actually, shouting — about IT geographics: Where is the IT team going to do the work? But the more significant issue regarding team performance is demography. A well-managed team that is racially, sexually and generationally diverse will materially and consistently outperform a well-managed team that is homogeneous when performing tasks that call for adding structure to chaos or generating momentum from ambiguity.

The IT leader of the future will need to be prepared to manage cross-culturally and cross-generationally, if the projections of the U.S. Census Bureau are valid. They will find that generations don’t just define stages of life, from youth through young and unmarried, and on to coupled and raising children, and then to mature empty-nester. Generations can also be correlated to the states of mind (beliefs, values, preferences and behaviours) that people have at a given stage of life.

Here are some of the highlights from Demography 101:

(Note: The Census Bureau is the source of the broad demographic information; IT-specific information is culled from the UCLA research, other research from UC-Berkeley and research for the CIO Habitat Report.)

U.S. population by race

In IT shops participating in the recent CIO Habitat Study, 65 per cent of the IT employee base was white, closely mirroring current national demographics.


White: 71 per cent

Hispanic: 12 per cent

Black: 12 per cent

Asian: 4 per cent

Other: 1 per cent


White: 53 per cent

Hispanic: 24 per cent

Black: 13 per cent

Asian: 9 per cent

Other: 1 per cent

U.S. population by age

Demographers don’t all agree on when a certain generation starts and stops. Generation gurus will tell you that you typically find as much as a seven-year overlap. There is not one hard-wired point in time that designates the end of one generation and the beginning of another.

Birth Cohort: Distribution year, size in IT shops

Gen Y: 1980-2000, 70M, 11 per cent

Gen X: 1961-81, 49M, 59.4 per cent

Baby: 1946-64, 76M, 29.6 per cent boom

The path to effective demographically informed management begins with awareness. As you prepare to assemble world-beating teams, you need to be aware of the following factors:

– Mind-set (how the team members think).

– Communication style (how they prefer to process information).

– Foundational values (what really matters to them).

– Attitudes toward and preferences regarding authority (how they work with others).

The workplace of the future will be a rich stew of cultures, values, beliefs and ages. Two questions for you: Do you know how to “cook” demographically, and will you have the ingredients (that is, the diversified workforce) to do so?

Thornton A. May is a longtime industry observer, management consultant and commentator. Contact him at [email protected]

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