Student thesis: PhD


Current literature regarding the impact of social hierarchy on team functioning remains far from conclusive, with some studies finding a beneficial effect of social hierarchy whereas other studies discovering a prejudicial effect. Additionally, existing attempts to reconcile these mixed findings are still theoretically incomplete, with mere focus on external environments outside teams or on top-ranking individuals within the teams (i.e., leaders), while substantially overlooking the nature of social hierarchy as well as peculiar hierarchical characteristics. Following the multiplicity perspective of social hierarchy, and building on the research differentiating power and status as two bases of social hierarchy and their distinct social consequences, in this study, I propose that the conflicting findings may be attributed to the valued social dimensions based on which social hierarchy is established.

Particularly, power hierarchy benefits team performance because it promotes team structure clarity, which further facilitates information and workload sharing, and hinders information withholding, team workload sharing, and status conflicts. In comparison, status hierarchy diminishes team performance because it blurs team structure clarity, which increases subsequent information withholding, team social loafing, and status conflicts, but reduces information and workload sharing. In addition, time pressure strengthens the above effects because team members rely more both power and status hierarchies to guide their interactional behaviors. At dyadic level, I explore the opposite impacts of power and status on instruction giving. This suggests a potential bottom-up route through which both social hierarchies shape team structure clarity.

To test these hypotheses, I conducted a large-scale survey-based empirical data collection with round-robin design across two time points. The final sample consists of 1428 dyads from 478 participants and 122 teams. The results provided general support for my hypotheses. In particular, team structure clarity is a mechanism underlying the opposite impacts of power and status hierarchies on information sharing, information withholding, workload sharing, team social loafing, and status conflicts. Additionally, information sharing and workload sharing are two second-stage mediators that link power and status hierarchies, team structure clarity and team performance. Furthermore, time pressure moderates the impact of power hierarchy on team structure clarity. It also moderates the two serial mediations from power hierarchy to team performance through information and workload sharing separately. Finally, at dyadic level, power and status have distinct impacts on instruction giving, offering evidence for an implicit bottom-up effect leading to the emergence of team structure clarity at team level. Overall, my dissertation contributes to the hierarchy functionality debate by highlighting the critical role of hierarchical basis and articulating the underlying mechanisms.
Date of Award31 Mar 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

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