Which Matters More?: Effects of Surface- and Deep-Level Diversity on Team Processes and Performance

Which Matters More?: Effects of Surface- and Deep-Level Diversity on Team Processes and Performance

Mai P. Trinh (Case Western Reserve University, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0047-6.ch010
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This chapter reviews what we know about the effects of surface-level diversity (age, sex, and ethnicity) and deep-level diversity (personality characteristics such as conscientiousness, openness to experience, extraversion, emotional stability, and agreeableness) in organizational teams. It also outlines challenges to today's diversity management and Human Resource (HR) practices, such as the lack of definite conclusions from research results, the mismatch between team diversity research designs and organizations' needs, and the lack of research examining simultaneously different aspects of diversity. Drawing from analysis results of team data from 55 teams of volunteers from Shanghai, the author recommends that HR training and selection take specific team contexts into account and increase attention on functions that support important team processes such as communication and mutual support among team members.
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Managing workforce diversity is one of the most important tasks and challenges for today’s organizations. Managers constantly face the questions of how to utilize diversity as a positive driving force within the organization, and how to resolve potential conflicts it may bring. As the nature of work shifted from being done by individuals to self-managing teams, managers and human resource (HR) professionals have increased attention to managing team diversity. At the same time, an extensive body of research has also been devoted to the various aspects of diversity, or heterogeneity, and their implied effects on team processes and performance (Bell, Villado, Lukasik, Belau, & Briggs, 2011; Jackson, Joshi, & Erhardt, 2003; Joshi & Roh, 2009; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). On the one hand, research has found that teams with diverse talents positively contribute to team performance due to their different points of view, expertise, and experience (Cox & Blake, 1991; Hoffman & Maier, 1961). On the other hand, it has also been shown that heterogeneity in teams can provoke conflict, reduce communication, and result in dissolution (Chatman, 1989; Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale, 1999; Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Frustrated by these contradicting results, research has been conducted on the effects of multiple aspects of diversity on team process and performance variables (Harrison, Price, & Bell, 1998; Mohammed & Angell, 2004). Organizational scholars have also refined their theories and analyses based on the results of recent meta-analytic studies (Bell et al., 2011; Harrison & Klein, 2007; Milliken & Martins, 1996; Van Knippenberg, De Dreu, & Homan, 2004; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998).

One reason for this far-from-conclusive state of the art is that researchers have taken different, and separate, approaches to study different kinds of diversity variables. Some come from the similarity/attraction paradigm (Byrne, 1971), some use social categorization theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986), while others utilize the information-processing/decision-making perspectives (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Jehn et al., 1999; Pelled, Eisenhardt, & Xin, 1999). Consequently, some meta-analytic studies have not been very successful identifying the links between diversity and performance, not to mention the different weights of different types of diversity (Bowers, Pharmer, & Salas, 2000; Horwitz & Horwitz, 2007; Webber & Donahue, 2001). A growing trend of research attempts at simultaneously studying the effects of different types of diversity; however, these efforts have been limited within student teams and their semester projects (Harrison, Price, Gavin, & Florey, 2002; Mohammed & Angell, 2004) or lab studies (Phillips & Loyd, 2006; Phillips, Northcraft, & Neale, 2006).

This chapter reviews what we know about diversity management in work teams as well as some challenges still present within team diversity research and HR practices pertaining to how to effectively manage and utilize the diversity pool in work teams. Recommendations for practice and future research directions are discussed. Before we begin, it is important to note that research in diversity “has mainly been conducted in and influenced by a single cultural paradigm” (Jonsen, Maznevski, & Schneider, 2011, p. 37). As explained below, the history and development of diversity research are closely related to social diversity movements in the United States, hence much of our existing knowledge about diversity is limited to the U.S. culture.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Deep-Level Diversity: Also called task-related diversity, psychological diversity, informational/functional diversity, and underlying attributes; refers to less observable deeper-leveled attributes such as personality, attitudes, beliefs, and functional expertise.

Team Communication: The sharing of information among team members to reach a common understanding.

Team Processes: The interactions that occur among team members while performing the team task and combine individual efforts into collective results.

Surface-Level Diversity: Also called demographic diversity, social category diversity, bio-demographic diversity, and observable individual differences; refers to readily detectable attributes such as sex, age, ethnicity, marital status.

Team Cohesion: Also called team cohesiveness; refers to the degree to which team members desire to remain on the team, commonly agreed upon to consist of 3 dimensions: interpersonal attraction of team members, commitment to the team task, and group pride or team spirit.

Mediation: A hypothesized causal chain in which an independent variable affects an intervening variable (the mediator) which in turn affects the dependent variable.

Team Efficiency: The degree to which the team minimizes inputs while achieving expected objectives.

Mutual Support: Team members’ mutual respect and assistance towards other teammates instead of trying to outdo one another.

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