Conceptual discussion of group diversity, trust and performance.

AuthorEllis, Crystal L.

    Group diversity can be categorized into three distinct dimensions i.e. cultural diversity, knowledge diversity, and task diversity. Cultural diversity relates to differences in such individual identifiers as gender, race, ethnicity, and values (Cooper and Thatcher, 2010). Knowledge diversity is the different sets of knowledge, skills, and abilities of the individuals within a group (Kristof, 1996), while task diversity relates to the existence of workgroups that include members of different functional areas (Keller, 2001). In general, work group diversity impacts group awareness of a changing environment and thus its ability to react to such external changes (Schneider, 1987). It may have either a beneficial or detrimental effect on workgroup outcomes (Milliken and Martins, 1996). While diversity can be the cause of conflict within workgroups, lack of diversity may also lead to groupthink (Janis, 1971: Schneider, 1987), both situations, subsequently impacting performance. It has been suggested that the extent of trust between members of the workgroup is a critical determinant of whether the impact of diversity on the workgroup is either detrimental or beneficial (Jehn, Rispens, and Thatcher, 2010).

    Trust reduces the potential for conflict, which allows for goals to be met. However, it also enables group members to perceive any type of conflict equally, reducing inconsistencies. When group members perceive different levels of conflict, performance and creativity in that group are decreased. (Jehn, et al., 2010). "Even only one group member perceiving conflict can have implications for an entire work group: members who perceive conflict may leave the group, decrease their involvement, or possibly attempt to persuade others that high levels of destructive conflict exist." (Jehn, et al., 2010, p. 610). In addition to conflict, members must also perceive the goal of the group equally, because people are attracted to goals, they interact with each other through goals, and they ultimately leave organizations if they don't align with the goals (Schneider, 1987). Essentially, the degree of trust affects the performance outcome of a group. With organizations becoming more and more decentralized, the effectiveness of the outcomes of groups continues to increase. Jong and Elfring (2010) indicated "if trust scholars want to advance understanding of the trust-performance relationship, they need to be more specific about the processes that mediate the effects of trust" (p543). Do different types of diversity affect the degree of trust and how it is developed, in the same way? Therefore, there is a critical need for an enhanced understanding of the relationship between specific types of diversity and trust in workgroups, as it impacts performance.

    This paper responds to the above stated need for an understanding of the relationship between group diversity, trust and performance. We begin with a brief discussion of the concept of diversity followed by a review of its key dimensions i.e. cultural, knowledge, and task diversity. Next we examine the concept of trust and its impact on the relationship between the various different categories of workgroup diversity and performance. We conclude suggesting propositions that comprehensively capture the relationship and the implications for managers, future academic research and public policy formulation.


    Heterogeneous groups provide tremendous challenges, as well as enormous opportunities (Milliken and Martins, 1996), an example being the capability of diverse groups to create social identities within the group (Cunningham, 2006). However, the relationships within the work group can be developed over time depending on the success or failure of the group (Millikens and Martins, 1996). As a group makes small achievements, appreciation will develop within the group over time and in the process can reduce the initial negative effects of diverse groups. On the other hand, a study by Polzer, et al. (2002), suggested that subject to the level of interpersonal congruence within the group, task performance outcomes may either be positively or negatively impacted. Groups with high interpersonal congruence provided an improvement in task performance, while the opposite was true for low interpersonal congruence. Williams and O'Reilly (1998) chose to focus on the dimensions of group diversity to better clarify the impact of group diversity on group performance. They argue that different dimensions of group diversity i.e. cultural diversity, knowledge diversity and task diversity, impact group performance in different ways, reporting that the only benefit to increased diversity within a group can be seen through knowledge diversity, with the increase in communication. All other types of diversity are seen as harmful to performance.

    2.1 Cultural Diversity

    Culture is the "values, beliefs, and world views shared by a group of people that differ in the extent to which they emphasize the relationships with other individuals and with groups" (Cooper and Thatcher, 2010, p520). People from the same cultural background can have varying degrees of how that person identifies themselves within that culture (Cooper and Thatcher, 2010: Ely and Thomas, 2001). This shows how cultural identity is developed socially and complexly (Ely and Thomas, 2001). Cultural diversity can extend to race and gender diversity. Miller and Karakowsky (2005) identify gender diversity as the socially constructed experiences based on the persons' sex. Research has provided mixed results. Some have shown that cultural diversity is beneficial within a group setting (i.e. Thomas, 1993). Cultural diversity is seen to benefit group performance because it provides alternative solutions to be considered that may not have been ordinarily...

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