Organisations are operating in an increasingly competitive multinational and multicultural global marketplace. To be successful in this dynamic business world, organisations need to serve a diverse customer base and satisfy the growing demands for efficiency, quality and flexibility. To achieve these aims, organisations have attempted to capitalize on the diversity in their workforce and implemented cross-functional and diverse teams (Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Irvine & Baker, 1995). The strategy of implementing diverse teams assumes that heterogeneous teams have greater ability to innovate, consider a variety of perspectives and generate higher quality outcomes than homogeneous teams or by any one employee (Bantel & Jackson, 1989; Jackson, 1992). Despite support for these positive outcomes of diversity (e.g., Kirchmeyer & Cohen, 1992; McLeod & Lobel, 1992; McLeod, Lobel & Cox, 1996; O'Reilly, Williams,
& Barsade, 1997; Watson, Kumar & Michaelson, 1993), heterogeneous teams also experience problems such as reduced social integration (O'Reilly, Caldwell & Bamett, 1989), increased conflict (Jehn, Chadwick & Thatcher, 1997), less frequent communication (Zenger & Lawrence, 1989) and greater dissatisfaction and turnover (Jackson, Brett, Sessa, Cooper, Julin & Peyronnin, 1991; Tsui et al., 1992). Thus, diversity appears to be a "double-edged sword" (MilHken & Martins, 1996) or a "mixed blessing" (Williams & O'Reilly, 1998), increasing the likelihood of more innovative and creative outcomes, as well as adverse social group processes. Not surprisingly, an often cited challenge confronting managers is how to manage a diverse team to maintain the heterogeneity of perspectives that is crucial for quality solutions while reducing the negative processes and outcomes (Williams & O'Reilly,
The aim of the research presented in this thesis was to extend the diversity literature by examining individual dissimilarity within work teams, and to identify the factors necessary to create positive experiences and minimise negative experiences. This thesis extended previous research by examining: (1) the relationship between actual and perceived dissimilarity, (2) the relationship between dissimilarity and conflict, (3) the relationship between dissimilarity and work group involvement, (4) the moderating role of perceived group openness to diversity, and (5) the moderating role of team identification. These relationships were summarised within a proposed dissimilarity model, and four studies were conducted to test the associations.
Study 1 examined a portion of the proposed dissimilarity model in a laboratory setting. It tested the associations between actual and perceived dissimilarity, and conflict, and the moderating
influence of team identification. Results supported the predicted associations between actual and perceived demographic dissimilarity, and that perceived dissimilarity explained a greater amount of variance in conflict than did actual dissimilarity. There were only weak associations between actual dissimilarity and conflict. Team identification interacted with degree and collectivism dissimilarity in the prediction of conflict. Perceived value dissimilarity was a significant positive predictor of conflict.
Study 2 extended Study 1 to a sample of working MBA students, and examined the influence of perceived group openness to diversity. The associations between actual and perceived dissimilarity were weak. Consistent with Study 1 findings, compared to actual dissimilarity, perceived dissimilarity was a stronger predictor of conflict. Actual and perceived value dissimilarity emerged as significant positive predictors of task and relationship conflict. In
addition, perceived visible and informational dissimilarity were associated with conflict. Similar to Study 1, team identification interacted with actual dissimilarity variables in the prediction of conflict. Perceived group openness to diversity also moderated the effects of actual and perceived dissimilarity on conflict.
As Study 1 and 2 found that actual and perceived dissimilarity had separate effects on conflict, Study 3 focussed on the consequences of perceived dissimilarity in an organisational setting. It investigated the impact of perceived dissimilarity on conflict and work group involvement, and the moderating influence of team identification and perceived group openness to diversity. Results supported the previous studies' findings that perceived value dissimilarity was a significant positive predictor of outcomes (conflict and work group involvement), whereas perceived visible and informational dissimilarity interacted with perceived group
openness to diversity in the prediction of work group involvement. Team identification also ameliorated the positive association between perceived visible dissimilarity and relationship conflict.
Study 4 aimed to generalize Study 3 findings to a health care context. In contrast to Study 3, this study observed that perceived visible and informational dissimilarity were significant negative predictors of work group involvement whereas perceived value dissimilarity only had significant positive associations with conflict. The moderators affected the associations between dissimilarity and work group involvement: team identification interacted with perceived visible and value dissimilarity in the prediction of work group involvement, and perceived group openness to diversity interacted with perceived visible and informational dissimilarity in the prediction of work group involvement.
Overall, the studies empirically confirmed the majority
of the hypothesised relationships. Dissimilarity variables were directly linked to conflict and work group involvement, and these effects were moderated by individual's perception of the group's climate towards diversity, and team identification. The present research demonstrated that improving a group's diversity climate and individual's level of team identification should result in improved employee interactions. Accordingly, it is important that managers recognise the utility of using key climate factors in shaping employee's involvement in, and identification with work groups, such as leading with a clear and appealing vision, enhancing employee relations, and promoting effective communication among employees.