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Paper accepted in Organization Science

posted Mar 22, 2012, 12:30 PM by Michael Maes   [ updated Oct 22, 2012, 2:04 AM ]
Organization Science accepted our paper on the effect of demographic faultlines on polarization in work teams. 

Title: In the short term we divide, in the long term we unite: Demographic crisscrossing and the effects of faultlines on subgroup polarization

The paper is coauthored by myself, Andreas Flache, Etty Jehn, and Károly Takács.

The paper is published online ahead of print here.

We would like to thank the anonymous reviews, and the editor of OS for their patience and numerous valuable comments that helped us improve the manuscript. 

Do strong demographic faultlines breed opinion polarization in work teams? We integrate two theories that have been used to explain faultline effects. The first, Lau and Murnighan’s approach, suggests that in teams with strong faultlines the mechanisms of homophilious selection of interaction partners and persuasive influence cause subgroup polarization, defined as the split of the team into subgroups holding opposing opinions. The second, from sociological and anthropological traditions, emphasizes that crisscrossing actors bridge faultlines because they share demographic attributes with several subgroups. Demographically crisscrossing actors help to prevent polarization in social groups. We argue that Lau and Murnighan’s theory implicitly factors the effects of crisscrossing actors in. However, we show that the authors overlooked crucial implications of their theory because they did not consider crisscrossing actors explicitly. Most importantly, we demonstrate that demographic crisscrossing implies that even teams with strong faultlines will overcome polarization in the long run, although they might suffer from it in the short term. We develop and analyze a formal computational model of the opinion and network dynamics in work teams to show the consistency of our reasoning with Lau and Murnighans’ theory. The model also revealed another counter-intuitive effect; strong faultlines lead to structures of interaction that make teams with strong faultlines faster in arriving at a stable consensus than teams with weak faultlines.