Group cognitive complexity: A group-as-a-whole perspective
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Work groups (or teams) are widely used in current organizations because modern tasks impose mental demands that are too large for one individual alone to successfully manage. Although the use of work groups has become popular as a solution to the growing complexity of modern tasks, many group activities still contain a variety of cognitive tasks, such as problem solving, judgment, inference, decision making, and so on. Furthermore, these group works entail new forms of cognitive requirements, such as pooling and coordinating individual member inputs. Therefore, an understanding of group cognition is important in understanding better group behaviors. By focusing on the collective cognitive processes of individual group members, this dissertation addresses one of the most pervasive questions in group research: Why do some groups perform better than others? From a group-as-a-whole perspective, this dissertation conceptualizes group-level cognition as emergent qualities reflecting social cognitive interaction among group members. By extending the concept of cognitive complexity that has been studied to describe human cognitive structure at the group level, this dissertation explores how emergent group cognitive complexity forms and operates. By drawing on extant research in the areas of cognitive diversity, information sharing, social influence, and perspective taking, this research proposes a group-level model of cognitive complexity. The proposed model details how social cognitive processes among group members influence the emergence of the two primary dimensions of group cognitive complexity (i.e., group differentiation and group integration). It also considers the role of group cognitive complexity in effective group performance. To test the research hypotheses, the study employed a business simulation game (the B&B Enterprises Management Flight simulator; Sternman, 2003). The participants in this study were undergraduate students enrolled in introductory Organizational Behavior classes at the University at Buffalo. They were randomly assigned to three- or four-person groups which assume the role of a management team for a firm in a simulated market. The total sample size was 106 groups of 376 individuals. The findings of this study suggest that group differentiation and group integration emerge through different social cognitive processes. Specifically, in addition to combined individual cognition, the dominant member's differentiation was positively associated with group differentiation, while information sharing was positively related to group integration. Furthermore, the findings clearly demonstrate the emergent group cognitive complexity construct as a significant predictor of group performance.
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