When and how do Differences Matter? An Exploration of Perceived Similarity in Teams



Date of this version


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Diversity, Team, Perceived similarity, Conflict, Information sharing, Effectiveness, Social categorization, Information/decision-making


In this paper, we directly assess perceived similarity—the degree to which members view themselves as having few differences—because we want to understand when teams notice diversity on various member characteristics and how they interpret it. Our results indicate social category diversity was related to initial estimates of both perceived social category similarity (SCS) and perceived work style similarity (WSS). And, whereas perceived SCS did not change over time, perceived WSS decreased significantly over the period of our study. We suggest this change in perceived WSS can be explained by an information-processing/decision-making framework. We found informational diversity was positively related to conflict in teams, and in turn conflict was negatively related to subsequent estimates of perceived WSS. However, informational diversity was positively related to information sharing in teams, which in turn was positively related to subsequent estimates of perceived WSS. Finally, these updated estimates of perceived WSS affected subgroup formation and team process effectiveness. We discuss how our research explores the subjective experience of diversity by team members, provides a dynamic view of the relationship between diversity and team outcomes, and informs emerging theory about the activation of faultlines in teams.

Citation/Other Information

Zellmer-Bruhn, Mary E., et al. "When and how do differences matter? An exploration of perceived similarity in teams." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 107.1 (2008): 41-59.