The JIBS 2020 Decade Award: Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural groups

The Selection Committee for the JIBS Decade Award was pleased to recommend the presentation of the 2020 JIBS Decade Award, recognizing the most influential article published in JIBS ten years ago, to Günter Stahl, Martha Maznevski, Andreas Voigt, and the late Karsten Jonsen for their 2010 article, “Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural groups” (JIBS, 41(4): 690–709).

The award, sponsored by JIBS’ publisher Palgrave Macmillan, is designed to recognize the most influential paper published in JIBS ten years prior and is presented at the annual AIB conference. In order to be considered for the JIBS Decade Award, an article must be one of the five most cited articles published in JIBS for the year being considered.

The 2020 Selection Committee members were JIBS Reviewing Editor Sjoerd Beugelsdijk (Chair, University of Groningen, Netherlands), the current AIB Program Chair Rebecca Piekkari (Aalto University, Finland), and immediate past AIB Program Chair Maria Tereza Fleury (Fundação Getulio Vargas, Brazil). JIBS Editor-in-Chief Alain Verbeke was an ex officio, non-voting committee member. The Selection Committee examined total citations, total number of journals citing the paper, and total number of leading journals (excluding JIBS) citing the paper to determine the top five most cited articles. The Committee read and discussed the top five nominees and then voted on the winning article.

In recommending the award-winning article, the Committee noted that: “In their article, Stahl, Maznevski, Voigt, and Jonsen explore the relationship between cultural diversity and team outcomes. In a well-written and clearly articulated analysis, the winners of the Award summarize the rich literature on team diversity and highlight theoretical inconsistencies and empirical lacuna in this literature. They develop a theory on cultural diversity and its relationship with team outcomes. The article is rooted in the OB literature on team diversity and the critical role of fault-lines when it comes to understanding the dynamics in diverse teams. Building on the well-known similarity-attraction paradigm and the related social identity and social categorization theories, the authors conceptualize the various intermediate mechanisms linking cultural diversity with team performance. The keywords to describe these mechanisms are cohesion, creativity, groupthink and conflict. For each of these mechanisms they develop specific hypotheses and specify a set of contingency effects. The related moderating variables relate to the size of the team, the complexity of the task, the geographic location of the team members, and team tenure. With respect to cultural diversity, they introduce an important novelty: the distinction between surface level and deep level nature of cultural diversity. Surface level diversity refers to differences among team members in overt demographic characteristics such as nationality. Deep level cultural diversity in turn refers to differences rooted in values and attitudes.

“The resulting hypotheses are tested in a meta-analysis of the team diversity literature, encompassing 108 primary studies in the area. Taken together, these studies cover a sample of 10,532 teams. The analysis shows that diverse teams gain from increased diversity in terms of greater creativity, but these teams also suffer from process loss due to increased conflict. The authors found – quite unexpectedly – that culturally diverse teams did not suffer from less effective communication. Interestingly, they found opposite results for surface level cultural diversity and deep level cultural diversity. Finally, their analysis shows that there is a difference in results between experimental studies relying on student samples and field studies that use non-student samples. They conclude their article with a series of follow up questions.

“This article is not only one of the most cited articles published in JIBS in 2010, but also stands out for a number of other reasons.

“First, the committee appreciates the theoretical novelty of the article. The distinction between the two types of cultural diversity - surface level and deep level – is an important insight compared to the dominant approach to interpret cultural differences based on values (as in Hofstede’s tradition). Furthermore, the carefully crafted conceptualization, whereby the pros and cons of cultural diversity and possible moderating effects are described, is powerful, because it emerges from a single, credible theoretical framework (social identity theory). The authors also use the above insights to theorize on the distinction between intra-national and inter-national differences. This distinction is critical to isolate and highlight the international dimension of diverse teams.

“Second, the hypotheses are tested using a meta-analytical method. The meta-analytical approach has become increasingly popular since 2010, but at that point in time few articles in JIBS (and in other business journals) had used meta-analysis to test hypotheses. Many meta-analyses are written to take stock of the prior literature, and to describe key findings without always having clear theory-based ideas about what the authors expect to find. In this case, however, the authors develop hypotheses and do make such predictions. The article is not just a descriptive account of empirical regularities (which might be of some interest), but goes much deeper. The article was one of the first to use meta-analysis, not only to summarize what others had found before, but also to test theory.

“Third, some of the results deviate from what was hypothesized. The authors elaborate on possible reasons as to why hypothesized relationships were not supported, thereby demonstrating the importance they attach to academic rigor and to an ethical approach to research. The authors show that they are part of a scholarly community in which progress is made only when members of this community are willing to share results that were unexpected or ambiguous. The authors’ willingness to transform their questions into actionable suggestions for future research, further demonstrates their interest in genuine scholarly debate.

“To conclude, the article is rigorous, relevant, and well written. It has clear takeaways that provide the reader with insight for subsequent, in-depth reflection. Ultimately, this is what academic research should be all about: it should inspire follow-up research by corroborating what we think we know, refuting what seems to be generally accepted, and pushing the scholarly community to think harder about observed empirical regularities.

“For all the above reasons, the selection committee unanimously recommends to grant the JIBS Decade Award to Günter Stahl, Martha Maznevski, Andreas Voigt, and Karsten Jonsen.”

In 2020, the diversity concept means much more than working with multicultural teams inside a single multinational enterprise (MNE). In many cases, multinational teams now include external ecosystem participants. Especially digital MNEs conduct part of their activities in an “open source environment” and must rely on “open community participation” from widely dispersed talent for their innovations.

The digital MNE typically wants to cater to a potentially global customer base that expects a high reliability of its products and service offerings. At the same time, the firm must allow its creative teams to engage in bottom-up, decentralized innovation. Informal aspects of team functioning that influence how new knowledge is crafted and transferred must therefore necessarily be aligned with the activities of other actors in the MNE, to allow scaling up and to guarantee that newly developed products and services will be attractive to customers in the global marketplace.

The input from quasi-independent contributors who are distributed across the world but at the same time act as members of innovation teams, may be critical to achieving higher innovation effectiveness than found in rivals adopting a more centrally managed approach to innovation, or maintaining a higher degree of internalization. How to create an organizational context conducive to the functioning of global teams that consist of both employees with conventional labour contracts and outside contributors with very different types of contractual arrangements, is one of the great challenges facing digital MNEs. As is always the case when reflecting on MNE governance, senior management must reflect on how to alleviate bounded rationality and bounded reliability concerns associated with the functioning of these hybrid teams, without hampering their entrepreneurial spirit.

The award was presented by AIB President Jeremy Clegg, JIBS Editor-in-Chief Alain Verbeke, and publisher representative Nicholas Philipson during the AIB Online annual meeting in July 2020. In a recorded session, Professors Stahl and Maznevski, along with invited discussants Josefine van Zanten (IMD Business School), Piers Steel (University of Calgary), and Dana Minbaeva (Copenhagen Business School), made a retrospective presentation of the work and discussed how the field has progressed and where it should go next.

What follows in this issue are the authors’ written Retrospective, together with the discussants’ and co-authors’ Commentaries, based on that AIB Online 2020 session. For the original 2010 article, please visit www.jibs.net, where it is free to view, along with all other past Decade Award winners.

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Verbeke, A. The JIBS 2020 Decade Award: Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural groups. J Int Bus Stud 52, 1–3 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41267-020-00376-0

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