In-group versus Out-group

Geek 5, Org savvy

In previous posts, we discussed influence power. This occurs when an individual has more impact and influence than the person’s organizational chart position would grant. These folks are often the behind-the-scenes power network that make things happen and influence key decisions. Understanding power and influence is part of the Organizational Savvy component of the Geek 5.

One way to look at influence power is to consider the basic social psychology principle of in-group and out-group dynamics.  Way back in my undergraduate days, I wrote a research paper on in-group and out-group dynamics. This boils down to the fact that we give preference to people who are like us and who are part of our circle. Your in-group can be defined broadly as people of the same race as you or as all of the citizens of your country or as people in the same company or in the same department or in your trusted network of colleagues.   Your current point of reference determines who is in your in-group.  Immediate family is almost always part of your in-group.  Collegues in another department at work may or may not be part of your in-group regarding a specific work issue.

If you are part of an in-group (however broad it is) you are seen as more valuable and trustworthy, and you are given more opportunities. If you aren’t part of the in-group, then your are part of the out-group. Out-group folks have to work harder to be heard and have a positive impact. So the question becomes, who is part of the in-group surrounding the power players in your company?

A common in-group/ out-group scenario that I have witnessed centers around who the boss considers to be his or her “people”. Consider a leader who is taking over a new team. She takes time to understand the strengths and opportunities of the team members and eventually makes some changes to the group. She re-organizes the team, lets some folks go and brings in people that she has worked with elsewhere. Suddenly there is an in-group of employees who have a long history and trusted relationship with the boss. There is also an out-group of people that she “inherited”. The in-group has significant informal influence power with the boss. It can create an us (long-term employees) versus them (boss’s newly brought in folks) mentality.

If you are one of the longer-term, out-group employees, it is important to your future success that you recognize what has happened and position yourself properly.  The out-group folks have to recognize the shift in power, get along with the new in-group, show loyalty to the new boss and continue to be a strong, contributing member of the team. Hopefully over time, the out-group members become part of the in-group and the barriers will break down.

If you find yourself as part of an out-group, it is a waste of time and energy to fuss about “how it used to be” or “how it should be”.  Focus on the positive behaviors described above and work to get yourself seen as an insider with the power players.

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