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Whereas prevailing functional models of social hierarchy suggest that hierarchy can improve coordination in teams, conflict perspectives suggest that hierarchy can concurrently harm teams by promoting contests for more power and status that hijack teams' performance goals. In this stream of research, I extend the conflict perspective of social hierarchy by investigating determinants of hierarchical conflict, focusing on exploring their drivers, such as individuals’ ability to accurately perceive status hierarchies in groups, individual mental representations of informal organizational structures, and group diversity.

Ongoing projects

Yu, S., Kilduff, G. J., & West, T. (2023). Status acuity: How the ability to accurately perceive status hierarchies reduces status conflict and benefits group performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 108, 114–137. Humans are a fundamentally social species, having evolved in groups with status hierarchies. However, research on the dimensions of individual ability has largely overlooked the domain of status. Building upon research on the individual-level benefits of accurate status perceptions, we propose that there exists an individual dispositional ability to perceive groups’ informal status hierarchies, which we call status acuity, and which has important implications for group dynamics. We find support for the existence and importance of status acuity across several studies. In Studies 1a and 1b, we develop and validate a measure of status acuity, find that it is distinct from previously studied individual abilities including emotional intelligence, cognitive intelligence, and accurate learning of social networks, and find that it predicts important individual outcomes at work. In Studies 2 and 3, we examine the effects of status acuity in face-to-face groups. As predicted, groups whose members have higher status acuity experience less status conflict, which benefits performance on creative idea-generation as well as problem-solving tasks. This work extends existing research on status and group dynamics, and contributes to our understanding of the constellation of human abilities, offering a new answer to the question: “How well does this person work in groups?”

Yu, S., & Greer, L. L. (2022). The role of resources in the success or failure of diverse teams: Resource scarcity activates negative performance-detracting resource dynamics in social category diverse teams. Organization Science, 34, 24-50. Increasing the social category diversity of work teams is top of mind for many organizations. However, such efforts may not always be sufficiently resourced, given the numerous resource demands facing organizations. In this paper, we offer a novel take on the relationship between social category diversity and team performance, seeking to understand the role resources may play in both altering and explaining the performance dynamics of diverse teams. Specifically, our resource framework explains how the effects of social category diversity on team performance can be explained by intrateam resource cognitions and behaviors and are dependent on team resource availability. We propose that in the face of scarcity in a focal resource (i.e., budget), diverse (but not homogenous) teams generalize this scarcity perception to fear that all resources (i.e., staff, time, etc.) are scarce, prompting performance-detracting power struggles over resources within the team. We find support for our model in three multimethod team-level studies, including two laboratory studies of interacting teams and a field study of work teams in research and development firms. Our resource framework provides a new lens to study the success or failure of diverse teams by illuminating a previously overlooked danger in diverse teams (negative resource cognitions (scarcity spillover bias) and behaviors (intrateam power struggles)), which offers enhanced explanatory power over prior explanations. This resource framework for the study of team diversity also yields insight into how to remove the roadblocks that may occur in diverse teams, highlighting the necessity of resource sufficiency for the success of diverse teams.

Yu, S., Greer, L.L., Halevy, N., & van Bunderen, L. (2019). On ladders and pyramids: Hierarchy’s shape determines relationships and performance in groups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45, 1717-1733. Hierarchies take different forms, which individuals mentally represent using different geometric shapes. We propose and empirically demonstrate that individuals’ mental representations of the shape hierarchy takes affect its consequences. Five studies compared two common mental representations of hierarchy shapes—ladders and pyramids—to explore whether, why, and how individuals’ perceptions of hierarchy’s shape undermine constructive relationships within groups and group performance. Study 1 demonstrated that individuals commonly mentally represent hierarchies as ladders and pyramids. In Studies 2 and 3, employees who perceived their workplace hierarchies to be shaped like ladders (as compared with pyramids) experienced worse intragroup relationships. Finally, Studies 4 and 5 experimentally manipulated groups’ hierarchical shape in the lab and found that ladder-shaped hierarchies undermined social relationships and group performance relative to pyramid-shaped hierarchies. Taken together, these findings enhance our understanding of hierarchies’ multifaceted consequences and help shed light on the (dis)utility of hierarchy for group functioning.

Greer, L.L, van Bunderen, L., & Yu, S. (2017). The dysfunctions of power in teams: A review and emergent conflict perspective. Research in Organizational Behavior, 37, 103-124. We review the new and growing body of work on power in teams and use this review to develop an emergent theory of how power impacts team outcomes. Our paper offers three primary contributions. First, our review highlights potentially incorrect assumptions that have arisen around the topic of power in teams and documents the areas and findings that appear most robust in explaining the effects of power on teams. Second, we contrast the findings of this review with what is known about the effects of power on individuals and highlight the directionally oppositional effects of power that emerge across different levels of analysis. Third, we integrate findings across levels of analysis into an emergent theory which explains why and when the benefits of power for individuals may paradoxically explain the potentially negative effects of power on team outcomes. We elaborate on how individual social comparisons within teams where at least one member has power increase intra-team power sensitivity, which we define as a state in which team members are excessively perceptive of, affected by, and responsive to resources. We theorize that when power-sensitized teams experience resource threats (either stemming from external threats or personal threats within the team), these threats will ignite internal power sensitivities and set into play performance-detracting intra-team power struggles. This conflict account of power in teams integrates and organizes past findings in this area to explain why and when power negatively affects team-level outcomes, and opens the door for future research to better understand why and when power may benefit team outcomes when power’s dark side for teams is removed.

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