Developing a Theoretical Model of Intercultural Small Groups: Understanding the Effects of Culture and Cultural Diversity on Work Group Processes and Outcomes

Article excerpt

Summary

Demographic changes around the world have created an impetus for an increasing number of models to explain the effects of cultural diversity on work group effectiveness. In the current paper, group effectiveness is conceptualized as having both a task (e.g., productivity) and a relational (e.g., cohesiveness) component. It is argued that a culturally appropriate model of effectiveness for culturally diverse groups needs to have several features. First, the model needs to consider both task and relational effectiveness. Second, the model needs to identify how cultural values influence communication processes. Thus the model should be able to identify why process difficulty or loss occurs. Third, the model needs to identify how communication processes affect outcomes. A number of models of group effectiveness are described and evaluated. Based on the strengths and limitations of these previous models, a new model of effectiveness for culturally diverse groups is advanced. The face-negotiation model explains how situational and cultural factors influence the self- and other-face (or image) needs of individuals. The face-negotiation model argues that face needs affect the group processes which influence outcomes, and that effective diverse groups balance selfand other-face needs during interactions.

Key words: cultural diversity, group communication, group effectiveness

Demographic changes around the world have created an impetus for an increasing number of studies about the effects of culture and cultural diversity on small work group communication. In the United States for example, immigrants, minority group members, and females will account for 75% of the total new workforce entrants in the next decade (Judy & D'Amico, 1997). A culture is a population of people with similar attitudes, values, beliefs, and a shared system of knowledge (Triandis, 1995a). Cultural diversity ,means the representation, in one social system, of people with distinctly different group affiliations of cultural significance" (Cox, 1994, p. 6). Cultural diversity can be indexed by national culture, ethnicity, language, gender, job position, age, or disabilities.

As a result of these demographic changes, numerous researchers have conducted studies examining the influence of cultural diversity on small group processes and outcomes. Many of these studies compare the processes and outcomes of culturally homogeneous and heterogeneous groups (Watson, Kumar, & Michaelson, 1993; McLeod, Lobel, & Cox, 1996). For example, Watson et al. (1993) conducted a longitudinal study of the process and performance of all European American and mixed ethnic student groups. They found that the homogeneous, European American groups significantly outperformed and had more effective processes than the heterogeneous groups on three initial tasks, but on the fourth and final task, there were no significant differences in process or performance between the groups. These findings are consistent with the major conclusions of this line of research: (1) cultural diversity can benefit group performance because of the access to divergent viewpoints (especially over time) (McLeod et al., 1996) and (2) cultural diversity leads to less effective communication processes (e.g., tension and power struggles) or process difficulty because of different communication styles (Cox, 1994).

Despite the importance of these findings, scholars are not sure why cultural diversity affects small group processes and outcomes (Sessa & Jackson, 1995). There is a sparse amount of research attempting to unpack cultural diversity in order to understand how culture influences groups. This limitation has lead to the development of several models explaining group process and performance (Maznevski, 1994; Oetzel, 1995; Hofner Saphiere, 1996; Maznevski & Peterson, 1997). However, most of these models have not been empirically tested or evaluated. The purpose of this essay is to review these models (and the extant literature) to determine the strengths and weaknesses in models explaining group processes and outcomes in culturally diverse groups. …