Faultlines in Meetings – Analyzing Subgroup Structures in Team Discussions

This paper belongs to Thematic Session 2 of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Julia Straube, Technische Universität Braunschweig (Industrial/Organizational and Social Psychology)

Communication is essential to team performance (Hewes & Poole, 2012). Especially in team meetings, team members need to communicate effectively to share and understand information and to fulfill a common task successfully (Kauffeld & Lehmann-Willenbrock, 2012). Demographic faultlines — hypothetical dividing lines that separate a group into more or less homogeneous subgroups (Lau & Murnighan, 1998; Meyer & Glenz, 2013) — can hinder information exchange between subgroups in teams, as team members tend to be more open to communication with their own subgroup (van Knippenberg, de Dreu, & Homann, 2004; Vora & Markóczy, 2012). Additionally, these faultlines have shown various negative effects on team outcomes, such as performance and overall team functioning (Lau & Murnighan, 1998; Schölmerich, Schermuly, & Deller, 2016). To gain further insights into underlying processes, we observe between-subgroup communication in meetings. The aim of this study is to quantify between-subgroup communication and to connect it to various team constructs, such as external performance ratings. We suggest that a faultline-based subgroup structure can be observed in an early team meeting, with team members communicating more frequently with ingroup than outgroup members. We further hypothesize that the extent to which communication within team meetings takes place between faultline-based subgroups mediates the effects of faultline strength and team diversity on group outcomes.
We videotaped 14 newly formed software engineering teams during their first team meeting and coded speaking turns. Subgroups were identified based on demographic faultlines. Between-subgroup communication was evaluated by meeting communication networks based on speaking turns and was related to overall meeting communication as well as subgroup size, resulting in the Faultline Communication Index (FCI). Analyses revealed significant correlations of age diversity and FCI but no significant relations between gender diversity or faultline strength and FCI. First results show tendencies to support our mediation hypotheses. This will be further validated with a bigger sample (N = 33).
Results underline the importance of between-subgroup communication in meetings for team functioning. Findings emphasize the relevance of age diversity in software engineering teams. As such, our study contributes to the integration of faultline research and group communication networks in the context of team meetings by introducing a measure to assess between-subgroup communication in meetings. Furthermore, we provide insights into dynamics between subgroups and their interaction with diversity.

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