Too many drivers at the wheel? Why and when superordinate role identification can undermine startup team development

Niranjan Janardhanan, Assistant Professor, London School of Economics discusses why and when superordinate role identification can undermine startup team development.


A fundamental tenet of theory and research on multiple identities is that the extent to which team members define themselves in terms of a common overarching identity—superordinate identification—enables team members to downplay differences stemming from their other distinctive identities, and promotes positive relationships among them. We argue that this tenet may not apply to teams with multiple ‘role’ identities in the same way as it does with multiple ‘group’ identities. In the context of founding teams, we demonstrate that members identifying strongly with the common role of “founder” lead to intra-team conflict over the startup’s defining characteristics that, in turn, undermine startup ambidexterity. However, these negative effects can be mitigated when founding team members strongly identify with their distinctive professional roles (i.e., engineer, programmer, analyst). Thus, whereas prior research emphasizes how superordinate group identification mitigates the harmful effects of subordinate group identification, we theorize that professional identification which differentiates team members could ameliorate the damaging effects of a common founder role identification which is common across team members. We test our hypotheses using a multi-informant three-wave survey of 318 founders in 102 startups. Our study has important implications for theory of multiple identification, intra-team conflict, and ambidexterity. 

About the speaker: 

Niranjan Janardhanan is an Assistant Professor in Management at the London School of Economics. He earned his PhD in Management from the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests pertain to how employees construct their identities and express their perspectives in teams and in organizations. His research on the effects of divergent individual experiences in teams on performance has been published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and Organization Science. His current research focuses on how employees manage their multiple work identities, particularly in novel and uncertain contexts, and reconcile diverse experiences to achieve coordination in teams. 

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