Introduction

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There continues to be a growing interest in linking cognition to decision making,

especially group or team decision making (Schwenk, 1995; Walsh, 1995). One aspect

especially important to top management team effectiveness is cognitive diversity

(Kilduff, Angelmar & Mehra, 2000; Knight et al., 1999). Cognitive diversity is defined as

variation in underlying and invisible cognitive processes such as attitudes, beliefs or

values among a top management team (Hambrick & Finkelstein, 1987; Finkelstein &

Hambrick, 1990). An important feature of group effectiveness is the dispersion or

variation of a group’s attributes like tenure, age and differences in beliefs (Hambrick,

1994). Demographic attributes like tenure, age, functional specialties and educational

background, are often used as proxies for unmeasured psychological constructs like risk

aversion and commitment (Finkelstein & Hambrick, 1990; Hambrick & Mason, 1984). Yet,

it is less common for researchers to compile actual psychological profiles of decisionmaking

teams (Jackson, 1992). We focus on the explicit identification of differences

among a top management team regarding their perceptions and beliefs about the firm’s

future direction and strategy, especially regarding their differing perceptions of the

situation. While demographic variation implies that there are differences in perception,

an actual measurement of these different perceptions can portray the cognitive diversity

among a top management team.

A review of the literature suggests that cognitive diversity among a top management team

can either enhance or reduce a firm’s performance. It is proposed that cognitive diversity

in a top management team is important when a firm is operating in complex environments

because there is a lack of clarity about the causes of organizational success and failure

(Ashby, 1952; Weick, 1979). Multiple beliefs and perspectives, e.g., cognitive diversity,

are important in order to capture the wide range of information necessary to interpret

complex environments. Kilduff et al. (2000) found that cognitive diversity is positively

related to performance during initial decision making stages among simulation teams. As

such, an explicit representation of each perspective could be beneficial to the top

management team, especially at the initial stage of a strategic planning cycle.

On the other hand, cognitive diversity can also be detrimental to top management team

effectiveness. Some researchers have hypothesized that the greater the shared understanding,

i.e., the lower the cognitive diversity, that exists between individuals that work

together, the greater the team’s effectiveness (Cannon-Bowers, Salas & Converse, 1990).

Other researchers have found that the degree of consensus about goals and about the

means of achieving them influences the effectiveness of the firm (Bourgeois, 1980; Dess,

1987; Dess & Origer, 1987). One approach to increase the shared understanding between

individuals is to make the beliefs and perceptions explicit by modeling different interpreUsing

tations so as to capture and evaluate both the similarities and differences found in the

individuals’ cognitions (Daft & Weick, 1984; Eden & Akermann, 1998a).

Cognitive diversity is an important dimension for both researchers and decision-makers

to explicitly model. It is our contention that by explicitly modeling cognitive diversity (the

degree to which beliefs and perceptions differ among a top management team), decisionmakers

within a top management team can better understand the situation and provide

a starting point for deciding on the future direction of the firm. We report on a method

that captures both individual and group belief structures. By comparing individual belief

structures, it is possible to construct cognitive factions, individuals or subgroups with

different beliefs and perspectives. An explicit uncovering of these beliefs can facilitate

both researchers interested in investigating the relationship between cognitive diversity

and performance and decision-makers interested in investigating and resolving different

perspectives within their top management team.

The purpose of this research is to describe a way to uncover cognitive diversity among

members of a top management team and to demonstrate, using different analytical

techniques, the validity of the identified cognitive factions within the top management

team. We identify cognitive factions by grouping individual team members together that

have similar belief structures. The number of cognitive factions represents the level of

cognitive diversity within the team. As such, the cognitive diversity of the team is

represented by the different factions.

As Hambrick (1994) has pointed out, “many top management ‘teams’ may have little

‘teamness’ to them . . . By opening the question of how integrated—how team-like—a

group of top managers are, we create the opportunity for important advances in research.

First, it allows the explicit introduction of top group integration as a construct. . . .[and

s]econd, explication of the construct of top group integration will allow its use as a

moderator in studies of associations between top group attributes and organizational

outcomes.” As such, the explicit representation of cognitive diversity, through the

identification of cognitive factions, at the beginning of a strategic planning cycle, will

benefit the planning process. Explicit representation of multiple perspectives can

enhance the team’s understanding of the scope of the firm’s environment and situation.

The views from the factions increase the scope of views and alternatives for the firm to

consider. This allows minority views to be explicitly “heard” and discussed that might

otherwise be ignored. As such, at the initial stage of a strategic planning cycle, an explicit

representation of the different perspectives, belief structures of cognitive factions, prior

to the negotiating and bargaining processes can be beneficial to the top management

team in developing a better plan.

In the remainder of the paper, we review causal mapping techniques, overview our causal

mapping-based approach for capturing individual and deriving collective cause maps,

identify the cognitive factions through the use of cluster analysis and describe the

factions using various analytical techniques that demonstrate that indeed the factions

are different. Next, we discuss the collective causal maps of the cognitive factions and

summarize the results. Finally, we discuss implications for managers and researchers.