Identity asymmetries: An experimental investigation of social identity and information exchange in multiteam systems



Many complex organizational tasks are performed by interdependent networks of teams – multiteam systems. A critical challenge in multiteam systems is how to promote information exchange across teams. In two studies, we investigate how identity asymmetries, i.e., differences between teams in terms of which entity – team or overarching system – constitutes their primary focus of identification, affect interteam information sharing and performance. In study 1, we experimentally manipulate teams' foci of identification (team- or system-focused) in a sample of 84 five-member teams working in one of 21 four-team multiteam systems (252 team dyads) performing a computer strategy simulation. We find that that information sharing depends on the identity foci of the teams on both sides of the exchange. Most strikingly, while system-focused teams shared information equally with all teams, team-focused teams shared less information with system-focused teams than they did with other team-focused teams. Interteam information sharing furthermore predicted interteam performance. In study 2, we investigate the implications of a system's composition in terms of identity foci by means of a simulation study based on the empirical results of study 1. The results of the simulation yield novel propositions about the non-linear effects of social identity in multiteam systems.