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Diversity Communication in Teams: Improving Problem Solving or Creating Confusion?


  • Laura Frigotto


  • Alessandro Rossi


Despite the rich and interdisciplinary debate on the role of diversity and communication in group problem solving, as well as the recognition of the interactions between the two topics, they have been rarely treated as a joint research issue. In this paper we develop a computational approach aimed at modeling problem solving agents and we assess the impact of various levels of diversity and communication in teams on agents' performance at solving problems. By communication we intend a conversation on the persuasiveness of the features characterizing the problem setting. By diversity we mean differences in how agents build problem representations that allow them to access various solutions. We deploy the concept of diversity along two dimensions: knowledge amplitude, that is, the amount of available knowledge (compared to the complete representation of a problem), and knowledge variety, which pertains to the differences in agents' knowledge endowments.x10Our results show the different impact of these two sources of variety on problem solving performance in teams, as well as their interplay. Regarding knowledge amplitude, when agents' representation of the problem is considerably incomplete, communication provides confusion as it is difficult to find a common language for sharing thoughts, and agents perform better alone. Adding knowledge variety to this scenario, the effects of communication are even more negative. Conversely, as the representation of the problem gets more and more complete, communication becomes more and more effective. Albeit displaying a clear non-monotonic effect: increasing the communication strength, performance increases until an optimal point, after which it declines and gets very rapidly worse than individual behavior. In this case, the introduction of knowledge variety further increases performance in teams, since benefits from integrating partial representations of the problem occur more frequently than communication clashes. Finally, highly diverse teams seem to be less sensitive to changes in communication strength, while as diversity declines, even small discrepancies from the optimal communication strength level might account for a strong variability of performance. In particular, overestimation of the required communication effort might cause severe performance breakdowns.x10Our results suggest that organizations and firms should jointly consider communication intensity and different sources of diversity in teams, since interactions among these variables might result in problem solving groups resembling more a Tower of Babel than an effective and helpful workplace

Suggested Citation

  • Laura Frigotto & Alessandro Rossi, 2007. "Diversity Communication in Teams: Improving Problem Solving or Creating Confusion?," Quaderni DISA 119, Department of Computer and Management Sciences, University of Trento, Italy, revised 13 Jun 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:trt:disatr:119

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