Aligning Differences: Discursive Diversity and Team Performance

Katharina Lix, Amir Goldberg, Sameer Srivastava, Melissa A. Valentine

SocArXiv (and forthcoming in Management Science)
July 21, 2021

Abstract: How does cognitive diversity in a group affect its performance? Prior research suggests that group cognitive diversity poses a performance tradeoff: diverse groups excel at creativity and innovation but struggle to take coordinated action. Building on the insight that group cognition is not static but is instead dynamically and interactively produced, we introduce the construct of discursive diversity, a manifestation of group cognitive diversity, which reflects the degree to which the meanings conveyed by group members in a given set of interactions diverge from one another. We propose that high-performing teams are ones that have a collective capacity to modulate shared cognition to match changing task requirements: they exhibit higher discursive diversity when engaged in ideational tasks and lower discursive diversity when performing coordination tasks. We further argue that teams exhibiting congruent modulation---that is, those with low group-level variance in members' within-person semantic shifts to changing task requirements---are more likely to experience success than teams characterized by incongruent modulation. Using the tools of computational linguistics to derive a measure of discursive diversity and drawing on a novel longitudinal data set of intragroup electronic communications and performance outcomes for 117 remote software development teams on an online platform (, we find support for our theory. Our findings suggest that the performance tradeoff of group cognitive diversity is not inescapable: groups can navigate it by aligning their levels of discursive diversity to match their task requirements and by having members stay aligned with one another as they make these adjustments.

Featured Fellows

Sameer B. Srivastava

Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley
Faculty Affiliate