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The bittersweet effect of power disparity: Implications for emergent states in collaborative multi-party systems

Alina Maria Fleştea (Department of Psychology, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania)
Petru Lucian Curşeu (Department of Psychology, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania) (Open University, Herleen, The Netherlands)
Oana Cătălina Fodor (Department of Psychology, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 5 September 2017

Issue publication date: 18 September 2017

Abstract

Purpose

Collaborative systems are particular cases of multi-team systems in which several groups representing various interests meet to debate and generate solutions on complex societal issues. Stakeholder diversity in such systems often triggers power differences and disparity and the study explores the dual role of power disparity in collaborative settings. The purpose of this paper is to extend the power approach-inhibition model (Keltner et al., 2003) to the group level of analysis and argue that, on the positive side, power disparity increases the cognitive activity of the interacting groups (i.e. task-related debates), while on the other hand it generates a negative affective climate.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors collected data at two time points across nine behavioral simulations (54 teams, 239 participants) designed to explore the cognitive and affective dynamics between six parties interacting in a collaborative decision task.

Findings

The results show that power disparity increases cognitive activity in collaborative multi-party systems, while it hinders the affective climate, by increasing relationship conflict and decreasing psychological safety among the stakeholders.

Practical implications

This study provides important theoretical and practical contributions mostly for the consultation processes, as interventions might be directed at fostering the positive effects of power disparity in collaborative setting, while mitigating its drawbacks.

Originality/value

By extending the approach-inhibition model to the group level, this is one of the first empirical studies to examine the dual nature of the impact that power disparity has on the cognitive (i.e. positive effect) and affective (i.e. negative effect) dynamics of multi-party collaborative systems (i.e. multi-team systems).

Keywords

Citation

Fleştea, A.M., Curşeu, P.L. and Fodor, O.C. (2017), "The bittersweet effect of power disparity: Implications for emergent states in collaborative multi-party systems", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp. 401-416. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMP-09-2016-0289

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited