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Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural work groups

Abstract

Previous research on the role of cultural diversity in teams is equivocal, suggesting that cultural diversity's effect on teams is mediated by specific team processes, and moderated by contextual variables. To reconcile conflicting perspectives and past results, we propose that cultural diversity affects teams through process losses and gains associated with increased divergence and decreased convergence. We examine whether the level (surface-level vs deep-level) and type (cross-national vs intra-national) of cultural diversity affect these processes differently. We hypothesize that task complexity and structural aspects of the team, such as team size, team tenure, and team dispersion, moderate the effects of cultural diversity on teams. We test the hypotheses with a meta-analysis of 108 empirical studies on processes and performance in 10,632 teams. Results suggest that cultural diversity leads to process losses through task conflict and decreased social integration, but to process gains through increased creativity and satisfaction. The effects are almost identical for both levels and types of cultural diversity. Moderator analyses reveal that the effects of cultural diversity vary, depending on contextual influences, as well as on research design and sample characteristics. We propose an agenda for future research, and identify implications for managers.

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Notes

  1. A synopsis of study characteristics, samples, measures, scale reliabilities, and effect sizes for the studies included in the meta-analyses is available from the authors.

  2. The detailed results of the subgroup analyses can be obtained from the authors.

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Acknowledgements

This paper has been nominated for the Temple/AIB Best Paper Award and published in the Proceedings of the AIB 2008 Conference, Milan, Italy. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting (2007) and the Academy of International Business Annual Meeting (2008). We are grateful to the editor and three anonymous reviewers for their guidance and suggestions. Financial support by IMD and INSEAD is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Günter K Stahl.

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Accepted by Rosalie Tung, Area Editor, 22 July 2009. This paper has been with the authors for four revisions.

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Stahl, G., Maznevski, M., Voigt, A. et al. Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural work groups. J Int Bus Stud 41, 690–709 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1057/jibs.2009.85

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Keywords

  • diversity
  • culture
  • multicultural teams
  • team performance
  • meta-analysis