Effects of Activating Team Diversity Dimensions on Member Perceptions of Conflict, Trust, and Respect

Justina M. Oliveira, Charles Scherbaum


Research findings regarding the effects of team diversity have been mixed, as some literature suggests diversity is beneficial while other findings suggest diversity may be detrimental. The discrepancy in team diversity research findings seems to be rooted in the fact that while team diversity can at times be helpful (for tasks involving idea generation, creativity, and decision-making), diverse teams often struggle with members splitting into subgroups, which is detrimental to team functioning. Complicating our understanding of the role of diversity on team processes is the fact that diversity often exists on multiple dimensions. This study took a new approach in which faultline activation (making a team aware of differences across members) and cross-cutting diversity dimensions (composing the team in a manner that maximizes similarity across members) were studied with live interacting teams that had members of varying national origin and gender. Multilevel modeling was used to explore the effect of faultline activation and cross-cutting at the team level of analysis. When faultline activation was established by making diversity dimensions within the team apparent, team members experienced higher relationship conflict as well as lower levels of trust and respect, even when controlling for their performance on a team task. These findings suggest that an awareness of which group processes may be negatively impacted by activating faultlines is essential to ensure a positive team climate. Furthermore, the results regarding the detrimental influence of faultline activation regardless of diversity dimension composition (cross-cut or non cross-cut teams) indicate that faultline activation may have a stronger effect than cross-cutting.

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