Group heterogeneity increases the risks of large group size: A longitudinal study of productivity in research groups

Heterogeneous groups are valuable but differences among members can weaken group identification, raising group motivation and coordination costs. Weak group identification may be especially problematic in larger groups, which, in contrast with smaller groups, require more attention to motivating members and coordinating their tasks. We hypothesized that productivity in larger (vs. smaller) groups would decrease with greater heterogeneity. We studied the longitudinal productivity of 549 research groups varying in disciplinary heterogeneity, institutional heterogeneity, and size. We examined their publication and citation productivity before their projects started and 5 to 9 years later. Larger groups were more productive than smaller groups but their marginal productivity declined as their heterogeneity increased, either because their members belonged to more disciplines or to more institutions. These results provide evidence that group heterogeneity moderates the effects of group size, and suggest that desirable diversity in groups may be better leveraged in smaller, more cohesive units.