Fuse or Fracture? Threat as a Moderator of the Effects of Diversity Faultlines in Teams

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While faultlines theory has received quite a bit of attention in the literature, there has been some inconsistency in findings regarding identity and information faultlines. Namely, identity faultlines do not always result in harmful social categorizations and information faultlines do not always increase information-processing capabilities. However, according to the categorization-elaboration model (CEM; van Knippenberg, De Dreu, & Homan, 2004), any category of diversity can result in categorization processes and intergroup bias. One key to understanding faultlines, therefore, lies in context-specific predictions. Building on this idea, we apply the CEM as an explanatory framework and examine threat as a contextual moderator of identity and information faultlines. We propose that threat mitigates the negative effects of activated identity faultlines on team creativity: an effect mediated by team psychological safety. In contrast, we propose that threat aggravates the negative effects of information faultlines on team decision-making: an effect mediated by status conflict. We test our hypotheses with 2 experiments and 184 teams, finding support for our predictions regarding identity faultlines and partial support for our predictions regarding information faultlines. Taken together, this study demonstrates the utility of the CEM for faultlines research, identifies an important boundary condition of the effects of identity and information faultlines, and challenges the notion that threat is always “bad” for teams.

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