In-Groups and Out-Groups At Work

Posted by on Mar 5, 2015 in Conflict, Teams | 0 comments

In schools and in work

In groups and out groups aren’t just a bad memory from high school.  They are ever present in the work place, often subtle, and incredibly easy to create.  Unfortunately, they often diminish effective performance and limit collaboration.

In most organizations I work with, there are still functional silos.  Manufacturing doesn’t talk to sales.  Clinical doesn’t like administration.  The commercial loan folks don’t like the mortgage folks.  It’s not that they don’t like each other as people – they just see each other as “different.”

Unfortunately that perceived difference has grave consequences.

Our history as humans trying to survive has made us very attuned to “in groups” and “out groups.”  We relied on those closest to us to help us and couldn’t trust those we didn’t easily recognize.

The brain evolved to process information about those close to us in the same way we process information about ourselves – in the same part of the brain.  So we have more empathy, more acceptance, more intention to understand.

On the other hand, when we see those in an “out group” do something, we process that behavior in a different part of the brain.  Therefore, we tend to assume they are motivated differently than us, so we have less understanding, less ability to process their pain.  And we are much more likely to misread our impact on them or miss it entirely.

Let’s say marketing is a close group and the sales team is a close group and someone in the marketing department makes a mistake.  The sales team are less likely to be empathetic, to think “oh, I could have made that mistake,” and more likely to think, “they are so incompetent.”  The next time marketing needs to collaborate with sales, they will have less success and perhaps be met with hostility, even though in any organization marketing and sale need to work together.

Here are three ways leaders can help break down barriers and build a collaborative environment.

  • Having some relaxed social time together builds connection – a pizza lunch, for example.  Casual time that includes some humor (fun) promotes a sense of relatedness.
  • Expressions of gratitude build a communal sense on both sides that can last long afterward.
  • Creating shared goals is particularly important and can re-integrate the groups so the barriers break down.

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