Team processes, team conflict, team outcomes, and gender: An examination of U.S. and Mexican learning teams

Team processes, team conflict, team outcomes, and gender: An examination of U.S. and Mexican learning teams

Available online at International Journal of Intercultural Relations 32 (2008) 524–537 Team p...

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Available online at

International Journal of Intercultural Relations 32 (2008) 524–537

Team processes, team conflict, team outcomes, and gender: An examination of U.S. and Mexican learning teams Warren Watson a,*, Danielle Cooper a,1, M.A. Jose Luis Neri Torres b,2, Nancy G. Boyd a,3 a


Department of Management, University of North Texas, P.O. Box 305429, Denton, TX 76203, USA Facultad de Contabilidad y Administracio´n, Universida¨d de Colima, Av. Universidad 333, 28016 Colima, Col., Mexico

Abstract Team learning is growing rapidly in popularity in United States (U.S.) and Mexican universities. This instructional approach consists of using learning teams in which participants are required to work together regularly for a semester period of time and produce evaluated team outcomes. These team outcomes, along with their individual performance, have a significant impact on each individual’s final assessment. We compare team processes, team conflict, team outcomes, and gender interaction in Mexican and U.S. student teams. U.S. teams report more team-oriented behavior and more cohesiveness, and Mexican teams report more selforiented behavior and more conflict. Nationality (United States or Mexico) has a moderating effect on the relationship between gender heterogeneity and cohesiveness and conflict. Suggestions are given for applications and future research. # 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Team learning; Team outcomes; U.S. and Mexican cultural diversity

In the United States (U.S.), collaborative learning is widely applied in academia and business and crosses many content disciplines (Brooks & Ammons, 2003; Sivan, 2000). Learning teams have existed for some time, and during the last 25 years approaches to team instructional methods have been developed such as cooperative learning (Chasnoff, 1979; Johnson & Johnson, 1992), team learning (Watson, Michaelsen, & Sharp, 1991), and problem-based learning (Slavin, 1989). The use of team projects in the classroom and in business has long been popular, but over the last two decades the application of a more organized team learning format across the entire semester or training period is preferred. Students and trainees no longer simply participate in teams for interpersonal exercises or temporary projects, but rather the team format is increasingly applied throughout the semester or training program, with participants’ contributions being assessed to a significant degree by how they produce on team projects and team exams. Such approaches are referred to as learning teams, where participants are required to work together regularly for a longer period of time and produce evaluated team outcomes that have significant impact on each individual’s final assessment (Michaelsen & Watson, 1993).

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 940 565 3140. E-mail addresses: [email protected] (W. Watson), [email protected] (D. Cooper), [email protected] (M.A.J.L.N. Torres), [email protected] (N.G. Boyd). 1 Tel.: +1 940 565 4487. 2 Tel.: +52 312 316 1073. 3 Tel.: +1 940 565 3158. 0147-1767/$ – see front matter # 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2008.01.002

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Similarly, problem-based learning (aprendizaje basado en problemas) and team learning (aprendizaje de equipo) are utilized by a growing number of Mexican schools and universities. In a 2004 survey of 109 undergraduate business programs, 15% reported the use of team-based learning methods (ANFECA, Asociacio´n de Facultades y Escuelas de Contabilidad y Administracio´n, URL, downloaded 4 October 2007). Because the use of teams in learning in Mexican and U.S. universities has spread in the last decade, research on the subject is needed. Furthermore, studying learning teams in Mexico and the U.S. may offer insights into how teamwork differs across these two cultural contexts. 1. U.S. and Mexican cultural differences A number of researchers have examined cultural differences between the United States and Mexico. Hofstede (1980, 2001) identified four dimensions of national culture that may be used for cultural comparisons: uncertainty avoidance, power distance, individualism, and masculinity. Power distance implies a greater tolerance for role differences between supervisor and employee, while masculinity reflects the ways in which different cultures deal with gender differences and implies a greater tolerance for gender role differences. Individualism (versus collectivism) reflects the ‘‘relationship between the individual and the collectivity which prevails in a given society’’ (Hofstede, 1980, p. 148), and is largely a statement of independence from the family. Finally, uncertainty avoidance describes a tolerance for uncertainty and reflects a concern with saving face and avoiding anxiety. The results of Hofstede’s extensive research reveal that Mexican nationals tend to be more power distance-oriented, more masculine, and collectivistic, while U.S. nationals tend to be more individualistic and more tolerant of uncertainty. Hofstede (1980) concludes that any examination of organizational and management problems must be evaluated within the cultural context, reflecting important differences that are built into the fabric of society. Research has extended Hofstede’s findings to include measures that examine what constitutes individualistic/ collectivistic values. For example, Green, Deschamps, and Paez (2005) compared U.S. and Mexican student attitudes regarding competitiveness, self-reliance, and interdependence. Competitiveness was defined as ‘‘winning is everything,’’ self-reliance was defined as ‘‘only those who depend on themselves get ahead in life,’’ and interdependence was defined as ‘‘it is important to maintain harmony within a team.’’ U.S. students reported more interdependence and less competitiveness than Mexican students. This finding appears to alter the original assumptions of cultural differences that exist based on the dimensions of individualism and collectivism. Allik and Realo (2004) examined individualism along with social capital, which was defined in terms of interpersonal trust and organizational membership. Interpersonal trust includes trusting people and thinking that most people are honest, while organizational membership involves serving on committees in organizations (business, civic, social, and public). U.S. respondents reported more interpersonal trust, organizational membership, and individualism than Mexican respondents. Clearly, we are seeing that the constructs of individualism and collectivism are complex. Gabrielidis et al. (2007) examined cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico in conflict resolution, finding support for the dual-concern model. The results of their study indicated that Mexican students preferred conflict resolution, thus reflecting more concern for accommodation and collaboration than U.S. students. Mexican students also reported greater independence of the self than U.S. students. This finding suggests that independence and interdependence may be separate dimensions instead of a continuum. Again, the cultural differences on these constructs warrant further exploration. Finally, House and his colleagues provide additional insight into cultural value differences in the workplace. Using the GLOBE (Global Leadership Organizational Behavior Effectiveness) survey to examine individual and teamwork leadership values across many countries (e.g., see House & Javidan, 2004), they empirically verified 10 culture work value clusters from a 62-culture sample (Javidan, Dorfman, de Luque, & House, 2006). Latin America and Nordic clusters were part of the group. Hofstede’s research indicates that Mexican values are aligned with Latin American values and Nordic values are closely aligned with values in the U.S. (Hofstede, 2001). The Latin America cluster reported more assertiveness and less human orientation than the Nordic cluster. Another GLOBE study shows specific comparisons of Mexico to the U.S. (Den Hartog, House, Hanges, Ruiz-Quintanilla, & Dorfman, 1999). Mexicans reported less participation, less humane orientation, and slightly less team orientation than employees in the U.S. Mexican employees also reported more self-protection and slightly more autonomy than U.S. employees. Thus, research reflects a trend in cross-cultural research that described Mexicans as being more individualistic and U.S. participants as being more team-oriented.


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2. Learning teams Learning teams are natural teams (cf. McGrath, 1991) that are observed in the context of classroom performance, and their use involves real consequences for participants. They consist of students (resources) that must work together across time (transform) in order to produce successful outcomes both as individuals and as teams (products). Team process is a critical element in creating team synergy (Watson, Johnson, & Merritt, 1998). Learning teams usually complete team projects based on exploring, analyzing, and proposing solutions to a complex problem concerning their domain of study. Such projects involve planning and executing tasks while in competition with other learning teams, as well as being evaluated by class standards administered by instructors. Since this collaborative instructional approach is gaining popularity in both the U.S. and Mexico, it is important to examine further cultural differences that influence the nature of learning teams’ process and outcomes. This focus leads us to pose the following question: what team processes, team conflict, and team outcomes are descriptive of U.S. and Mexican learning teams? Many studies have been conducted that compared U.S. and Mexican cultural values, while few have addressed team processes and team outcome differences between the two countries. 3. Team processes, team conflict, and team outcomes Individuals in a team exhibit both facilitative and interfering behaviors toward group performance (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). Interference occurs when an individual’s or subgroup’s performance is incompatible with the performance of others. Bales and Strodtbeck (1951) categorized dimensions related to group member behavior in problem-solving situations as socio-emotional, task, and negative reactions. Schein (1988) described task and maintenance behaviors that focus on team synergy, as well as certain self-oriented behaviors that are exhibited by individuals or subgroups. Self-oriented behaviors are those that individuals exhibit as mechanisms for defining and redefining individual desires and dissatisfactions about the team. Examples of Schein’s self-oriented behaviors are tough responses (i.e., fighting, controlling, resisting authority) and withdrawal or denial responses (i.e., passivity, indifference, too much logic). Group success occurs through team-oriented individual efforts that evolve when team members interact effectively. This creates a team synergy, where the whole is better than the sum of the parts. Group discussion stimulates the development of ideas, insights, and strategies that no one member previously considered. For example, when discussing problems, groups have been found to provide a greater number of ‘‘crucial insights’’ as to how to best solve problems than individuals accomplish working alone (Skon, Johnson, & Johnson, 1981). Groups also are more likely to identify and reject incorrect solutions to problems (Shaw, 1983), and they facilitate a higher motivation to achieve. Group synergy is realized through a context of cooperation in which members give help and assistance in promoting each other’s success. Groups can perform at a higher level than individuals can alone, if team-oriented behaviors are enhanced and if selforiented behaviors do not overly inhibit teamwork. It is also clear that individual differences may significantly add to a group’s process tasks (Watson & Kumar, 1992). Correspondingly, an excess of individualistic behaviors will interfere with group synergy. However, if individualism is overcome through feedback about interpersonal behaviors, then individuality may prove to be an advantage (Watson, Kumar, & Michaelsen, 1993). Process feedback may be a key to the utilization of self- and team-orientation cycles. The importance of process feedback on performance has long been argued (Schein, 1988; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959; Watson et al., 1991). Since team learning is being used more and more in the U.S. and Mexico, it is important that we better understand the extent to which team members rely on teamoriented and self-oriented behaviors in student teams. Team-orientation and self-orientation process outcomes have been applied in team research utilizing learning teams (Watson, Johnson, Kumar, & Critelli, 1998; Watson, Johnson, & Merritt, 1998), and the evidence from research suggests that these process outcomes do correlate with team performance. Team-oriented and self-oriented measures have proven to be stable dimensions across time. In addition, they are descriptive of the team–self processes, and are considered to be important team outcomes in their own right. In this study, we describe U.S. and Mexican learning teams utilizing these constructs. In addition to team processes, we are interested in team conflict. Conflict is a state of disharmony that can cause negative results in team activities (Rayeski & Bryant, 1994). When conflict is present within a team and between teams, it affects decision-making (Amason, 1996; Jehn, 1995). This is an intriguing concept since research also shows

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that some conflict is beneficial (Cosier & Schwenck, 1990; Schwenk, 1990). Amason, Thompson, Hochwarter, and Harrison (1995) examine this issue in terms of cognitive conflict and affective conflict. Conflict that appears beneficial to a team is cognitive conflict because it focuses on issue-related differences and encourages team members to question their assumptions. Cognitive conflict also encourages innovation and creativity. Affective conflict can be detrimental to teams since it results in animosity among members and includes disagreements over personality and emotional issues. Effective groups are those who manage cognitive conflict to their advantage, and who minimize affective conflict. How cognitive and affective conflict evolves and how the two types of conflict influence one another is not entirely clear, and more research is needed to understand the nature of these concepts (Kotlyar & Karakowsky, 2006). Thus, these conflict constructs will be utilized in the current study of U.S. and Mexican learning teams. Finally, team cohesiveness is viewed as a preferred team outcome. Group cohesiveness has long been a key element in the study of group behavior (Zander, 1979). Many studies examine team performance outcomes on relevant team tasks such as exams, evaluated projects, and decision-making exercises (Watson et al., 1991). Other preferred team outcomes have been described such as member satisfaction and attitude change (Hackman & Morris, 1978; McGrath, 1991). We use cohesiveness as a complex index of member commitment, attraction to the group, and adherence to high standards of goals and performance (e.g., see Mudrack, 1989). Thus, this construct will also be utilized in the current study of U.S. and Mexican learning teams. 4. Type I hypotheses In this study, the team level of analysis is adopted in which teams have worked together for a significant period of time. This is considered to be an appropriate view of team characteristics and outcomes (Wilson, Goodman, & Cronin, 2007). In addition, Type I and Type II analyses of cultures will be examined (Tsui, Nifadkar, & Ou, 2007). In Type I analyses, nationality (U.S. and Mexico) is the independent variable. Therefore, we examine between-nation differences in team process, team conflict, and team outcomes. Type II analyses are conducted with nationality being a moderator (i.e., an interaction) with targeted behaviors and an outcome. We feel the use of both views will enhance our understanding of learning teams in the U.S. and Mexico. Many studies have focused on value differences among nations which are of considerable importance. We are exploring team learning in two nations, and we have interest in team processes, conflict behaviors, and team outcomes. Since many universities in both nations are committed to this collaborative instructional technology, we will look at this technique with the two perspectives described above. Our first set of hypotheses will be tested with Type I analyses. Even though much has been made of the values comparison (e.g., Hofstede, 2001), we are more concerned with interpersonal behaviors and team outcomes. We understand Mexican nationals are classified as more collectivistic and less individualistic than U.S. nationals (Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv, & Sanders, 1990), but research has shown that this is not a dichotomous dimension, and most collectivistic scale items assess relationships with family and friends (Comadena, Kapoor, Konsky, & Blue, 1989). Green et al. (2005) found that Mexican students reported more competitiveness than U.S. students, and U.S. students reported more interdependence than Mexican students. In that study, competitiveness means ‘‘winning is everything’’ and interdependence means an emphasis on maintaining group harmony. In addition, Gabrielidis et al. (2007) found that Mexican students preferred more independence (versus interdependence) of the self than U.S. students. Drawing from this research, we offer the following hypotheses: H1. U.S. teams will report more team-oriented behaviors than Mexican teams. H2. Mexican teams will report more self-oriented behaviors than U.S. teams. Another interpersonal process that we examine is observations of conflict behaviors. Some level of conflict has been shown to enhance group effectiveness (Schwenk, 1990), while too much conflict interferes with group effectiveness (Schein, 1988). Amason et al. (1995) examine this issue in terms of cognitive conflict and affective conflict. Cognitive conflict focuses on issue-related differences, and affective conflict involves interpersonal disagreements. As described previously, Mexican students have reported more competitiveness (Green et al., 2005) and more independence than U.S. students (Gabrielidis et al., 2007), while U.S. students have reported more interpersonal interdependence and more interpersonal trust than Mexican students (Allik & Realo, 2004). Competitiveness is likely to be associated with more interpersonal disagreements on a team. In contrast, a focus on interdependence and trust is likely to stimulate the


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exchange of information that minimizes differences in task-related perspectives. Thus, we offer the following hypotheses: H3. U.S. teams will report more cognitive conflict behaviors than Mexican teams. H4. Mexican teams will report more affective conflict behaviors than U.S. teams. In this study, cohesiveness is considered to be a team outcome (e.g., Hackman & Morris, 1978). Cohesion is defined as the degree to which team members work together to achieve their goals. A multi-faceted cohesiveness perspective is used in which we apply the constructs of commitment to the team and high standards of team goals and team performance (Mudrack, 1989). We follow a traditional interpretation of cohesiveness in which we observe the factors that cause members to want to remain with this group (Festinger, Schachter, & Back, 1950). Past research indicates that cohesiveness correlates with team performance (Watson et al., 1991), and thus, team cohesiveness is viewed as a preferred outcome. Additionally, team cohesiveness positively correlates with team performance in both face-to-face and virtual teams (Hambley, O’Neill, & Kline, 2006). As previously described, U.S. students tend to report more interpersonal trust and interdependence than Mexican students. Thus, we offer the following hypothesis: H5. U.S. teams will report more team cohesiveness than Mexican teams. 5. Type II hypotheses Another important issue in teams is how differences among team members impact team processes and outcomes. In our Type II analyses, we examine how heterogeneity in gender may differentially influence a key outcome in teams – cohesiveness – as well as an important aspect of team process – conflict – in learning teams in the U.S. and in Mexico. 5.1. Gender heterogeneity and team cohesiveness Demographic heterogeneity, including gender, may interfere with social processes in teams. Individuals tend to prefer others who are similar to themselves (Byrne, 1971) and who belong to the same social categories as themselves (Mullen, Brown, & Smith, 1992; Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Thus, having team members from different genders on a team is generally expected to negatively impact group cohesiveness. This view has been supported by research which has found a negative relationship between gender heterogeneity and cohesiveness in teams (Harrison, Price, & Bell, 1998; Shapcott, Carron, Burke, Bradshaw, & Estabrooks, 2006). However, this research has primarily been conducted in the United States, and the influence of gender heterogeneity in teams may differ across cultural environments. For example, in their examination of gender differences in supervisor–subordinate relationships, Pelled and Xin (2000) found different effects of gender differences between the United States and Mexico. Similarly, gender heterogeneity may differentially impact team cohesiveness across these two contexts. Two key cultural differences between the United States and Mexico are likely to relate to how teams respond to gender differences—individualism–collectivism and masculinity–femininity. As previously noted, the cultural differences between individualism and collectivism may be more complex than previously assumed. One way in which individualism–collectivism may influence group member perceptions is through expectations of similarity with group members. Yuki (2003) argues that in cultures that have been categorized as collectivist, group members may have a more differentiated view of one another, while in cultures that have been categorized as individualist group members may view themselves as more similar to one another. This is because in more collectivist cultures, groups tend to contain networks of relationships in which individuals play different roles. In contrast, when individualists are members of groups, they tend to focus on the group as a whole, rather than dyadic relationships, and thus, they expect similarity from group members. For example, Yuki (2003) found that homogeneity increased group identification for individuals from the United States. This suggests that team members in the United States may be more bothered by differences, including gender differences, among team members than team members in Mexico. As mentioned previously, the results of past research indicate that Mexico has a more masculine culture than the United States (Hofstede, 2001). It may be expected that in a masculine culture, gender differences would be more disruptive to team cohesiveness. However, in team settings in which team members are equal participants, masculinity is less likely to trigger differential treatment toward women than in a setting with established power

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differences. For example, interviews with Mexican and U.S. employees of Mexico-based joint-ventures suggested that gender discrimination in Mexico was less apparent when men and women had smaller power differentials (Stephens & Greer, 1995). Furthermore, in more masculine cultures, gender roles tend to be more distinct than in less masculine cultures. Because gender roles are more distinct, it is possible that team members may be more accepting and understanding of gender differences in communication norms. Research in the United States suggests that differences in communication norms between genders – for example, women interrupting less than men and presenting their ideas less assertively – reduces perceptions of women’s contributions in teams (Tannen, 1995). If such differences in communication are more expected in a culture, women’s actual contributions to the team may be recognized to a greater extent and norm differences may have less of an impact on cohesiveness. This suggests that gender heterogeneity may actually have a weaker negative influence in Mexico than in the United States. Drawing from these arguments: H6. National context is likely to influence the relationship between gender heterogeneity and cohesiveness such that this relationship is more negative for U.S. teams than Mexican teams. 5.2. Conflict As described earlier, affective conflict refers to interpersonal disagreements among team members, while cognitive conflict describes conflict in a team that relates to the actual work being performed, such as disagreements over procedures, judgments and interpretations. While affective conflict is generally argued to be problematic in teams, some researchers have suggested that cognitive conflict may actually have some benefits because it stimulates team members to confront and examine different perspectives on their tasks (Amason et al., 1995; Jehn, 1995). 5.2.1. Gender heterogeneity and cognitive conflict Differences in demographic characteristics, such as gender, may be associated with differences in the perspectives that individuals bring to a task (Cox, Lobel, & McLeod, 1991). Thus, gender heterogeneity is likely to increase the amount of available perspectives in a team and the likelihood that task-related disagreements will occur. Cultural differences between the United States and Mexico may influence this relationship between gender heterogeneity and cognitive conflict. As a more masculine culture, gender roles and socialization may be more differentiated in Mexico than in the United States (Hofstede, 2001), increasing the differences in perspectives of male and female team members. Furthermore, as suggested previously, teams in Mexico may be more accepting of differences among male and female team members than teams in the United States. Thus, when male and female team members have different ideas about how to approach the task, they may be more willing to share these differences. Drawing from these arguments, we offer the following hypothesis: H7. National context is likely to influence the relationship between gender heterogeneity and cognitive conflict such that this relationship is less positive for U.S. teams than Mexican teams. 5.2.2. Gender heterogeneity and affective conflict Affective conflict often involves tension and annoyance stemming from value differences between team members (Jehn, 1995). Because men and women tend to differ in terms of their values (Cross & Madsen, 1997) and norms of behavior (Tannen, 1995), gender heterogeneity in teams is likely to increase the amount of affective conflict in a team. There tends to be a greater gap in values between men and women in cultures that are more masculine (Hofstede, 2001). However, these differences are also more likely to be expected in a more masculine culture, and therefore, they are less likely to stimulate tension. Furthermore, as suggested previously, in cultures that have been categorized as collectivist, team members may be more accepting of differences among team members than in cultures that have been categorized as more individualist. These arguments suggest that gender heterogeneity is more likely to increase affective conflict in U.S. teams than in Mexican teams. H8. National context is likely to influence the relationship between gender heterogeneity and affective conflict such that this relationship is more positive for U.S. teams than Mexican teams.


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6. Method 6.1. Participants The U.S. sample consisted of 287 participants (139 males, 48.4%, and 148 females, 51.6%), who were enrolled in principles of management courses at a large state university in southwestern United States. The mean age of these participants was 23.42 years (S.D. = 4.47). Each participant was a member of 1 of 75 learning teams. Each team consisted of five or six members, and membership remained constant throughout the semester. During this time period, the team members had frequent opportunities to interact as they engaged in a wide variety of team activities. Team projects composed approximately 25% of each student’s grade, providing each individual with motivation to contribute to the team’s success. The Mexican sample consisted of 358 participants (136 males, 37.7%, and 222 females, 61.5%), who were enrolled in principles of management courses at a large state university in southwestern Mexico. The mean age of the participants was 21.09 years (S.D. = 2.69). Each Mexican participant was a member of 1 of 69 learning teams structured identically to the U.S. teams. 6.2. Procedure Over a 2-year period of time, one of the authors conducted four 1-week seminars for Universida¨d de Colima faculty in order to assure consistency in the application of team learning principles. The first two seminars focused on how to design and implement team learning (see e.g., Watson et al., 1991). The last two seminars examined lessons learned from using team learning and how to improve this instructional technique. These efforts assured that the collaborative teaching approach was applied in a similar manner in the U.S. and Mexican samples. Data for this study were gathered over the next year. The demographic data (age and gender) were gathered during the first class period. This demographic information was used to divide the participants into small teams balanced by gender as much as possible. The participants were then assigned to their particular groups during the next class period. The students periodically had class time to work on their projects, and a substantial amount of work was performed outside class. To be successful, groups had to delegate outside work, as well as work face-to-face, and integrate their results. Feedback on team performance and interaction was collected throughout the semester. During the formation of the teams during the first week of class, communication with each team member regarding team expectations was conducted within each team. During the second week of class, the instructor led each team in the process of team members identifying characteristics of an effective and an ineffective team. Then each team worked as a group to decide the same issues. These findings were discussed with emphasis on how each team should use this information to enhance their performance. Common issues were communication, preparation, and leadership. During the next week of class a list of traditional team effectiveness characteristics were presented and discussed. There was some overlap with what the teams had discovered earlier, but some differences. After every team exam and team activity, team performance and team interaction was evaluated regarding what they did well and what they could do better. At the beginning of the semester, the instructor also discussed the value of leadership in each team and how it could manifest differently for each team. This was repeated on at least two occasions during the semester. Therefore, there were regular formal and conversational discussions and descriptions regarding the evaluation of the team and the team members’ contributions and what could be improved. 6.3. Measures Self-oriented behaviors were measured with a 10-item instrument (Watson, Johnson, Kumar, et al., 1998; Watson, Johnson, & Merritt, 1998) which describes team members’ actions regarding individual-focused behavior. This construct was measured using a Likert-type scale that demonstrated a .84 reliability. Team-oriented behaviors (Watson, Johnson, Kumar, et al., 1998; Watson, Johnson, & Merritt, 1998) were measured with a 16-item instrument which evaluates team members’ actions regarding team synergy-focused behavior. This construct was measured with a Likert-type scale that demonstrated a .85 reliability. Team cohesiveness was measured with an eight-item instrument (Watson et al., 1991) which describes team members’ descriptions regarding whether the team met their personal goals and shared high performance standards, as well as their tendency to want to be on the same team again. This scale has

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shown a reliability of .83. Self- and team-oriented behaviors and team commitment were averaged to produce a team score for these measures. Cognitive conflict and affective conflict were measured with the Amason et al. (1995) instrument. Cognitive conflict constitutes four items of his seven-item instrument, while three items target affective conflict. Affective conflict has shown a reliability of .81, and cognitive conflict has shown a reliability of .83. The mix of gender on a team was measured by a heterogeneity score (Blau, 1977), which has been cited as reliable and consistent with other acceptable indices of heterogeneity (Bantel & Jackson, 1989). This index shows the proportion of team members in a category in a team. For instance, if all members on a team were female, the score for the team would be 0 and approach 1 if there were an equal distribution. Finally, a ‘‘decentered’’ approach, i.e., translating for equal meaning, as opposed to a strict, literal translation, was used to translate the survey into Spanish. The Spanish version of the questionnaire was then administered to 60 Mexican students in order to pilot test the Spanish version. Three Universidad de Colima business faculty, who were also fluent in English, volunteered to subsequently review both the English and Spanish versions of the survey. Throughout this process, ambiguities in the Spanish version, or inconsistencies between it and the English version, were noted and corrected. This technique should limit misunderstandings emanating from nuances of language, however, it does not guarantee conceptual equivalency (Peng, Peterson, & Shyi, 1991). To further assure the equivalence of instrumentation of the Spanish version of the questionnaire, we factor analyzed both data collected from the 60 Mexican students and data collected from 60 U.S. students to determine if the patterns of answers showed consistency in item interpretation. The team-orientation and self-orientation measures showed 80% item agreement between U.S. and Mexican students. Those factors were used for the final analyses. In summary, because of the combined effect of careful translation, independent back-translation, student input and the factor analytic results, we believe that the Spanish questionnaire was conceptually equivalent to its English counterpart, and the previously demonstrated construct validity of the instrumentation was not hampered. 7. Results Descriptive statistics are shown in Table 1. To test Type I hypotheses, a multivariate general linear model was constructed (SPSS 13), that used nationality as the independent variable. Dependent variables were team-oriented behaviors, self-oriented behaviors, cohesiveness, cognitive conflict, and affective conflict. Table 2 shows that the overall model was significant (d.f. = 5, 138; F = 7.31; p < .01). H1 stated that U.S. teams would report more teamoriented behaviors than Mexican teams, which was supported (F = 17.34, p < .01). Means for Mexican and U.S. teams are given in Table 3. H2 stated that Mexican teams will report more self-oriented behaviors than U.S. teams, which was supported (F = 11.61, p < 01). H3 stated that U.S. teams will report more cognitive conflict than Mexican teams, which was not supported. Mexican teams reported more cognitive conflict than U.S. teams (F = 4.46, p < .05). H4 stated that Mexican teams will report more affective conflict that U.S. teams, which was supported (F = 25.61, p < .01). H5 stated that U.S. teams will report more cohesiveness than Mexican teams, which was supported (F = 4.41, p < .05). The Type II hypotheses were also tested using a general linear model, and the findings are presented in Table 4. Following Cohen, Cohen, West, and Aiken’s (2002) recommendation for regression models with interactions, independent variables were centered. In order to test the moderating effect of national context (U.S. versus Mexico) on the relationship between gender heterogeneity and cohesiveness, the gender heterogeneity variable, nation, and the Table 1 Descriptive statistics Variables









1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

22.32 40.85 15.31 6.81 7.05 32.91

2.62 4.18 3.95 2.31 1.63 4.45

1 .08 .13 .18 .02 .05

1 .61 .54 .31 .77

1 .55 .41 .56

1 .64 .48

1 .31


Age Team behaviors Self-behaviors Affective conflict Cognitive conflict Cohesiveness

Correlations equal to or greater than .18 are significant at p < .05.


W. Watson et al. / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 32 (2008) 524–537

Table 2 Tests of between-subjects effects for Type I hypotheses Variables


Mean square




Team behaviors Self-behaviors Cohesiveness Affective conflict Cognitive conflict

1 1 1 1 1

272.12 169.02 85.61 115.74 11.68

17.34 11.61 4.41 25.61 4.46

.001 .001 .038 .001 .036

.11 .07 .03 .15 .03

The multivariate model was significant (d.f. = 5, 138, F = 7.31, p < .01, R2 = .39). Table 3 Descriptive statistics for Type I between-subjects effects Nation




Team behaviors 1 2

39.4422 42.194

4.18182 3.74572

69 75

Self-behaviors 1 2

16.436 14.2673

3.47479 4.10304

69 75

Cohesiveness 1 2

32.1024 33.6458

4.47794 4.34082

69 75

Affective conflict 1 2

7.7511 5.9564

2.34758 1.89973

69 75

Cognitive conflict 1 2

7.3025 6.7324

1.41445 1.78372

69 75

Nationality: 1 = Mexico; 2 = U.S. Table 4 Two-way interaction between gender heterogeneity and nation Variable Average age Team-oriented behaviors Self-oriented behaviors Affective conflict Cognitive conflict Nation Gender heterogeneity Nation  gender heterogeneity F R2 Adjusted R 2


Cognitive conflict

.06 .74 * .15 .16 .06

.06 .04 .05 .47*


1.27 3.40 4.84*

.13 .62 1.87*

30.16** .64 .62

16.01** .45 .43

Affective conflict .02 .15* .19* .68 .92* .43 .14 15.58** .41 .38

n = 142. Note. Tests are two-tailed for control variables and one-tailed for hypothesized effects. * p < .05. ** p < .01.

interaction term for gender heterogeneity and nation were entered into the model along with control variables. Control variables included the average age of team members and the team process variables: team and self-oriented behaviors and affective and cognitive conflict. A similar approach was followed for testing the influence of this interaction on cognitive and affective conflict; however, each of the conflict variables was removed as a control in their respective regression models.

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Fig. 1. Gender heterogeneity, nation and cohesiveness.

Fig. 2. Gender heterogeneity, nation and cognitive conflict.

The interaction term was significant for cohesiveness (B = 4.84, p < .05). As shown in Fig. 1, the results support H6, which predicted that gender heterogeneity would more negatively influence cohesiveness in the U.S. than Mexico. This graph and subsequent interaction graphs were created by drawing the regression line for when the moderating variable is 1 standard deviation above the mean and when the moderating variable is 1 standard deviation below the mean (Aiken & West, 1991). The interaction term was also significant for cognitive conflict (B = 1.87, p < .05). As shown in Fig. 2, the results are supportive of H7, which predicted that gender heterogeneity would more positively influence cognitive conflict in Mexico than in the U.S. The interaction term was not significant for affective conflict (B = .14, n.s.), thus H8 was not supported. 8. Discussion The use of collaborative learning is growing rapidly in U.S. and Mexican universities. This instructional approach consists of using learning teams in which participants are required to work together regularly over the course of a semester and produce evaluated team outcomes. These team outcomes, along with individual performance, have a significant impact on each individual’s final assessment. Even though we applied the same team learning instructional technology in universities in both countries, we assume that there will be cultural influences that show relationships to team processes, cohesiveness, conflict, and gender within teams. First, we examined Type I hypotheses that applied nationality as the independent variable (Tsui et al., 2007). Second, we used nationality as a moderator with key variables in the study to examine Type II hypotheses. With both viewpoints, we gain insight into the differences in learning teams in the U.S. and Mexico.


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8.1. Type I hypotheses Hofstede (2001) has reported that individuals in the U.S. are more individualistic, while individuals in Mexico are more collectivistic. Other work has indicated that this is a complex concept, and that Mexican students prefer more independence of the self, while U.S. students prefer more interdependence. Our findings support the latter statement. At the end of a semester of participating in learning teams, U.S. students report significantly more team-oriented behaviors. Team-oriented behaviors included such activities as everyone participating, listening to each other, delegation of responsibilities, and reaching consensus (Watson, Johnson, Kumar, et al., 1998; Watson, Johnson, & Merritt, 1998). These results, however, do not necessarily conflict with the dimensions of individualism–collectivism. Most of the items on traditional collectivism measures describe membership in the family and extended family and relations with friends. The team behaviors indicate more synergy and effort within an academic work group. In addition, the hypothesis that Mexican students would report more independence and distance of the self are supported by our findings. As we predicted, Mexican students reported more self-oriented behaviors than U.S. students. Selforiented behaviors included such activities as members being unreasonably stubborn, pretence of knowledge which is not so, and members not participating. If self-behaviors overtake team synergy, then they become a detriment to team outcomes (Watson, Johnson, Kumar, et al., 1998; Watson, Johnson, & Merritt, 1998). Other Type I hypotheses we tested addressed conflict within teams. Amason et al. (1995) categorized interpersonal conflict as affective and cognitive conflict. Affective conflict causes the most discord interpersonally since it is about personality and anger issues. A degree of cognitive conflict can help group outcomes since it involves discussion about different ideas and alternate approaches to a task. The actual degree of each type of conflict that produces specific outcomes remains undefined (Gabrielidis et al., 2007). Mexican students reported more competitiveness and independence of self than U.S. students, while U.S. students reported more interdependence and interpersonal trust than Mexican students. Correspondingly, we thought that Mexican students would report more affective conflict, while U.S. students would report more cognitive conflict. We found, however, that Mexican students reported both more affective and cognitive conflict than U.S. students. Mexican students were both more emotional in their conflicts, and also indicated more differences in ideas and opinions about tasks than U.S. students. Greater independence and competitiveness probably influenced both more affective and more cognitive differences of opinion. The above Type I hypotheses with nationality as the independent variable focused on team process behaviors and interpersonal conflict. We selected team cohesiveness as an outcome variable (see e.g., Hackman & Morris, 1978). Team cohesiveness is defined as team preferences such as the desire to be with the same team in another class, whether the team enabled them to reach personal goals, emphasis on team goals, and having high standards of performance. Since we proposed that Mexican student teams would report less team-oriented behavior, more self-oriented behavior, and more affective conflict than U.S. students, we assumed that U.S. teams would report greater team cohesiveness than Mexican teams. This was supported. Significantly more cohesiveness was indicated by U.S. teams than Mexican teams. This is important because Mexican teams demonstrated less effective team processes and more conflict, while the outcome variable of team cohesiveness is much greater for U.S. teams. For quite a number of years, the Mexican culture has been shown to be more collectivistic and less individualistic than the U.S. culture, but is this finding related to learning team effectiveness in Mexican universities, and how does this compare to U.S. learning teams? Collectivism is usually measured with items describing relationships with family and friends, and individualism is usually measured with items about personal achievement, and both concepts deal very little with the notion of working in objective teams (Comadena et al., 1989). Research has described Mexican students as being more competitive and having more self-independence, while U.S. students indicate more interdependence and interpersonal trust. Our research supports previous studies by showing that Mexican teams report more self-oriented behavior, less team-oriented behavior, more affective and cognitive conflict, and less team cohesiveness than U.S. teams. Certainly, cultural differences could influence these results. 8.2. Type II hypotheses Similar to our prediction, the Type II results indicated that gender heterogeneity negatively affected cohesiveness in the U.S. student teams and positively affected cohesiveness in the Mexican student teams. This finding suggests that in the more individualistic, less masculine culture of the United States, team members may be less comfortable with gender differences on a team than in the more collectivistic, more masculine culture of Mexico. One possible

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explanation for this difference is that in individualist cultures, such as the United States, group members expect more similarity within groups than in more collectivist cultures (Yuki, 2003). Additionally, it may be that in the more masculine culture of Mexico, team members are better able to handle differences in working styles between genders because gender differences are more expected. We also found that gender heterogeneity diminished cognitive conflict in the United States but increased cognitive conflict in Mexico. This finding supports the idea that in Mexico, gender differences may be more defined than in the U.S., leading to greater differences in task perspectives across genders and also a greater comfort openly sharing these differences. These results have implications for cross-cultural research as well as the literature on diversity in teams. First, they suggest that individualism–collectivism and masculinity–femininity may have complex effects on interactions across genders. Differences along these cultural dimensions between the U.S. and Mexico appear to influence the extent to which male and female team members are able to work effectively together and share different task perspectives. Additionally, the findings demonstrate that cultural context is a key factor to be considered when examining the effects of diversity in teams. The slopes of the relationships between gender heterogeneity and both cohesiveness and cognitive conflict were in opposite directions for the U.S. student teams and the Mexican student teams. The differences in these effects support the assertion in Williams and O’Reilly’s (1998) review of the diversity literature that contextual factors should be incorporated into models of diversity. The findings also suggest that different approaches are likely to be required when managing teams with gender diversity in Mexico and the United States. 9. Conclusion Even though the independent variable of nationality and the interactions of nationality and gender resulted in the above findings, we also feel that experience in teamwork and knowledge about team effectiveness can be a powerful influence (see e.g., Watson et al., 1993). Exploration of the influence of team-related experience and knowledge on outcomes provides an avenue for future research. Research has demonstrated that culturally diverse groups have more process problems early on than non-diverse groups. Nevertheless, with frequent process feedback and instruction about working as a team, process difficulties diminish. Collaborative learning in the U.S. easily goes back to the 1970s, while in Mexico this trend has been popular only within this decade. In the U.S., collaborative learning is widespread in universities and public schools. At this point, we do not really know how much of the above findings are due strictly to cultural differences and how much are due to lack of experience. Further research may provide a better understanding of the roles of both culture and team processing and instruction on team outcomes. It is quite likely that instruction in team processes will be a substantial influence on effective team outcomes, regardless of cultural context. Such an understanding may extend an application of these team-based principles to the organizational environment in which both homogeneous and cross-cultural teams are called upon to produce positive outcomes. This will increase the potential of these teams to contribute to organizational effectiveness. Even though the focus of this research is on the comparison of U.S. and Mexican learning teams, and the interaction of culture and gender, future research should investigate similar processes and outcomes with teams of mixed nationalities. What differences might there be between teams comprised of Mexicans and U.S. citizens compared to similar teams made up of only one nationality? Since these types of teams are becoming more prevalent in the U.S. and Mexico, this is an important point of research. How are these teams different and how are they similar? What hiring concerns should be taken into account when creating mixed nationality teams? Some research of teams with mixed ethnicity and nationality has been conducted within the U.S. (Watson et al., 1993; Watson, Johnson, Kumar, et al., 1998; Watson, Johnson, & Merritt, 1998). That research found that mixed teams had less process effectiveness in the early stages of their development. 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