How to Keep Things Stable Along Group Faultlines (IO Psychology)

Topic(s): Uncategorized

Topic: Teams, Performance, Diversity
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAR 2012)
Article: Bridging Team Faultlines by Combining Task Role Assignment and Goal
Structure Strategies
Authors: R. Rico, M. Sanchez-Manzanares, M. Antino, D. Lau
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

Group faultlines occur when different categories of people exist within a group. This causes team members to lose cohesiveness. Similar to fault lines that lie in the ground, group fault lines can be the source of great upheaval. What can IO psychologists do to make sure faultlines don’t wreak havoc on groups?

New research by Rico, Sanchez- Manzanares, Antino, and Lau (2012) has provided an interesting and practical solution to this problem.

When do group faultlines occur? There are three necessary conditions. First, there
must be actual differences between group members, for example, people of different
ethnic backgrounds. Second, a reason for identifying these categories needs to make
sense in the particular context, for example, tall and short players on a basketball team.
Finally, the categories need to be easily identifiable, for example, males and females.
Group faultlines make communication harder and make overall group performance

So what can we do about it? The authors experimentally tested two different strategies
on a sample of groups. The first strategy is called crosscutting. This is when groups
are formed so that all members are different in at least some way. For example, say
the authors, a group of two engineers and two accountants may be subject to a faultline
based on profession. The group is said to be crosscut when the two engineers consist
of one male and one female, and the two accountants also consist of one male and one
female. The natural divisions of profession and gender combine to ensure that each
member is different from the rest in at least some primary way. This helps faultlines
from forming.

A second strategy for combating faultlines involves creating superordinate goals. This
is when all group members must work together to achieve a common goal. This helps
form group identity and increases cooperation. These goals are different than subgroup
goals, which can be achieved by the efforts of only some people in the group.

So which of these two strategies actually works to eliminate faultlines? Interestingly,
the authors found that both strategies need to be used together if we are to see any
noticeable improvement in team performance. Managers and team leaders should
utilize crosscutting in order to integrate the group, and create superordinate, group
goals in order to build cohesiveness. If only one strategy is used by itself, faultlines can
still thrive, and performance can still suffer. While it may seem challenging to consider
both of these strategies at once, this research is helpful in identifying a clear, practical
roadmap toward team success.

Rico, R., Sanchez-Manzanares, Antino, M., & Lau, D., (2012). Bridging team faultlines
by combining task role assignment and goal structure strategies. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 97(2), 407-420.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management


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