Himalayan climber research nets outstanding paper award for Prof. Jennifer Chatman

Himalayan Mountain Climbers
Illustration by Dulce Lopez

A paper co-authored by Prof. Jennifer Chatman that analyzed team dynamics among Himalayan mountain climbers has won the 2020 Outstanding Publication Award from the Academy of Management’s Organizational Behavior Division.

The annual award recognizes the publication that represents the most significant contribution to the advancement of the field of organizational behavior.

Chatman’s paper, “Blurred Lines: How the Collectivism Norm Operates Through Perceived Group Diversity to Boost or Harm Group Performance in Himalayan Mountain Climbing,” was published in Organization Science in 2019. She wrote it with Lindred L. Greer of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Eliot Sherman of London Business School, and former Haas PhD student Bernadette Doerr.

“We are thrilled to receive this honor,” said Chatman, the Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management. “In the paper, we offer powerful evidence from Himalayan mountain climbing and a large group experiment showing that diverse teams that are overly cooperative can mistakenly blur key distinctions among people—at their peril.”

To study how collectivism fails, Chatman and co-authors tapped the Himalayan Database, a compilation of all expeditions in the Nepalese Himalaya since 1950. The archive documents all climbs, including information about climbers: climbing experience, nationality, and details about the expedition, such as route choices and weather conditions.

Chatman focused on a dataset of 5,000 treks and nearly 40,000 climbers and measured them by climbing experience.The comprehensive data set enables researchers to better understand work teams with a single, common goal: to reach the summit, Chatman said.

“Work teams don’t always have a single objective goal. In contrast, the Himalayan expeditions do, making it easier to examine the factors affecting performance with great precision,” Chatman said. “Further, these expeditions are truly international. Most cross-cultural research has been limited to perhaps two or three countries; the Himalayan data includes climbers from a wide range of countries.”

Read more about the research here.