We've all participated in team building activities, where the goal is to get the team working better together in an environment very different from their usual occupation situation. As a team member you are supposed to build trust among other team players, and that they will trust you. This should have a positive impact on the teams effectiveness and efficiency.

I've been told that a diverse team is better than a team less diverse. Of course it depends on the project to be executed, but nevertheless this is what I hear and read about all the time. There are little opposition to this position, maybe because it's politically incorrect?!

However, on Wikipedias article Cognitive style one can read that:

... team members with similar cognitive styles likely feel more positive about their participation with the team. While matching cognitive styles may make participants feel more comfortable when working with one another, this alone cannot guarantee the success of the outcome.

But if the team already find trust in each other based on their similar cognitive style, they would most probably start to be more effective than an unequal team. I'm not mixing cognitive style with diversity, but I feel there is more to it than just that. What would form the ultimate team? One with the same cognitive style, or one with different cognitive style?

How to create an effective and efficient team - with the same or different cognitive style?


1 Answer 1


Let me say first off that I don't know anything about cognitive style. However, I have recently read an interesting article by van Knippenberg and van Ginkel (2010) about diversity in work teams which might be relevant here.

Demographic Diversity. To explain the sometimes contradicting effects of diversity on work teams, the authors propose a model that differenciates between two types of diversity, demographic and functional diversity. According to the authors, these two forms of diversity have opposing effects. According to Self-Categorization Theory, demographic diversity (age, gender, country of origin, etc.) is likely to initiate categorization processes (see this post for more information) through which people perceive themselves as belonging to different groups. These perceptions of ingroup and outgroup might lead to conflict and thereby negatively impact team performance.

Functional Diversity. Functional diversity on the other hand refers to different areas of knowledge and expertise, that members of a team might have and is seen as an informational ressource. A team with experts from different fields has a potential benefit (at least with regard to some tasks). This might also cling to cognitive style. This kind of diversity, then, can potentially increase a team's performance. However, it is not sufficient for a team to be functinally diverse. Rather, the members have to put this diversity to use by elaborating together on the task at hand. This Elaboration process is not automatic and involves the exchange, discussion and integration of information.

The Categorization-Elaboration Model of Work Group Diversity

It is important to note that according to van Knippenberg & van Ginkel (2010), it is not the question, which one of these two approaches is the correct one. Instead, both kinds of diversity might be present at the same time and interact, leading to the often mixed results from studies on diversity. There are a couple of moderators in the model, as well. Task complexity is thought to be a factor with regard to funtional diversity: the more complex the task, the more schould the team benefit diversity. The two other moderators are motivation and ability, which are, as I would argue, not specific to the discussion of diversity.

Team Design and Management

What can one learn from this with regard to the design of work teams? The first thing that comes to mind is that teams should be functionally diverse. In addition, the importance of the elaboration process needs to be acknowledged, because otherwise informational ressources will not be put to good use. As to demographic diversity, the suggestion cannnot be to have teams not be diverse (to prevent categorization as ingroup and outgroup). Rather, the authors suggest to foster the importance of group members beliefs in the value of diversity. van Knippenberg & van Ginkel also prevent evidence that leaders can be trained in order to do so.


Van Knippenberg, D., & van Ginkel, W. P. (2010). The categorization-elaboration model of work group diversity: Wielding the double-edged sword. In R. J. Crisp (Hrsg.), The psychology of social and cultural diversity (S. 257–280). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


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