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Archive for April, 2013


Organizational Psychology – Multivariate Dynamics in Organizational Science

Answers the Question

How should you approach the analysis of longitudinal data that may possess dynamic cycle of influence among multiple variables?

How it Began

Research interest in dynamic processes are increasing in the field of organisational psychology, at the same time the length and complexity of longitudinal data structures have increased.  Longitudinal data are increasingly important in the study of organizational behaviour. However, the current models used to represent the patterns present in longitudinal data are largely limited to the study of recursive relations (i.e., HLM and SEM). This is inconsistent with what we know about the self-regulated functioning of organizations, teams, and individuals where feedback loops and cyclical processes are thought to be the norm.


Key Terminology

Multivariate statistical analysis – a large set of algorithms used to identify patterns of dependence existing between variables that share the same probability of distribution.

Static Dimensionality – the ordinary factorial representation of performance

Dynamic Dimensionality – temporal factors influencing the performance domain

Individual Dimensionality – variability in the type of performance across persons in the same job.

Recursive Relations – Recursion is the process of repeating items in a self-similar way.  In mathematics, a recurrence relation is an equation that recursively defines a sequence.

In Brief

Questions about the dynamic processes that drive behaviour at work have been the focus of increasing attention in recent years. Models describing behaviour at work and research on momentary behavior indicate that substantial variation exists within individuals.  Of central interest to applied psychologists is how to define job performance, both conceptually and operationally. Most validation research treats job performance as a monolithic and static construct. There is considerable empirical evidence that job performance is multidimensional and it is possible that job performance is not stable over time. In fact, job performance data can usually be classified by three modes: the individuals assessed, the variables measured, and the times of measurement providing systematic sources of variance in job performance data, that is, multidimensionality.   Organizational Science has advanced calls for job performance studies that include changes over time, referring to this approach as multivariate dynamic.

In order to validly measure the frequency and the patterning of mental processes in everyday-life situations procedures are needed that capture variations in self-reports of those processes. To this end, experience sampling methodology has been developed in which a participant at random or specific times has to report on his or her mental state or those activities in which he or she is involved at that moment.

If performance changes over time, it would useful to find predictors of the change itself. Personality measures have been used in addition to cognitive ability measures to predict individual growth curves for performance criteria. Research indicates that both cognitive ability and conscientiousness predict initial academic performance, but only conscientiousness predicts performance trajectories. This may happen because early performance is a transition phase of skill acquisition and later performance is a maintenance phase.

Workplace behaviour comes in two basic kinds: affect driven and judgment driven. Workplace events cause affective reactions, and these affective reactions directly influence affect-driven behavior. But these affective reactions also influence job attitudes that in turn directly influence judgment-driven behaviours.

Affective events theory hypothesizes that momentary affect should thus show stronger relationships with momentary behaviours such as work withdrawal (e.g., taking long coffee breaks or surfing the Web) and that job attitudes should have stronger relationships with more considered behaviours such as job withdrawal (e.g., job search, turnover intentions, quitting). Furthermore, it is expected that individual differences in personality will moderate both the link between events and affect and predict the affective reactions themselves.

The episodic process model suggests that there will be important momentary fluctuations in the affective and regulatory resources available for employees to apply to performance behaviours. This model articulates reasons performance behaviours should meaningfully vary within persons over short time periods. For example, if my supervisor yells at me, and I then need to interact with a client, I may have to regulate my emotional display to appear positive to the client. This act of emotion regulation uses up some of my regulatory resources and may therefore make it more difficult for me to focus my attention on a report I need to write later in the day.

Obtaining evidence requires research designs that are capable of untangling both within- and between-individual variability.

What does this mean for Organizational Development?

Dimensions in the individuals mode differentiate types of employees. For example, two salespersons may provide the same economic benefit to the organization, but one contributes by directly making sales, whereas the other contributes by cre- ating goodwill, encouraging customers to make purchases throughout the store. Such individual difference dimensions of performance could be important in a variety of situations. If the organization derives the same economic benefit from different employees in different ways, these differences should be reflected in selection and reward systems.

Static dimensionality refers to the latent structure of the variables measuring job performance. Historically, the study of job performance was characterized by a search for the “ultimate criterion,” a comprehensive index of performance. It has been pointed out that this is an inappropriate way to conceptualize performance.  There is evidence across many jobs that overall job performance can consist of as many as eight dimensions. At minimum, organizational development consultants researching job performance as part of an organisational diagnostic should consider both task performance, the technical core of the job, and contextual performance, the social and nontechnical contributions an individual makes at work.

These dimensions have been found to independently contribute to supervisors’ perceptions of their subordinates’ overall job performance. For instance, consider two salespeople who have equal sales. One is known to be a loner, whereas the other gives advice and assistance to coworkers. The latter will be viewed as the superior performer due to the social contributions this salesperson makes.

The dynamic nature of performance criteria is also important to consider for employee selection.

Experience sampling methods are ideally suited to explore dynamic models of work behaviour because measurements may be taken throughout the work day on several variables.  Experience sampling data are three-mode (Persons x Variables x Occasions) and are frequently analyzed with multilevel models with the occasions mode nested within persons.

The data been collected as part of an organizational diagnostic with the intent of examining structure and dynamics, requires that the performance variables would need to be systematically sampled from the repertoire of performance behaviours. Self-reported measures may not accurately represent what a worker is actually doing.

Diagnosis of the job performance domain and its three sources of variance should be examined across a sample from the population of jobs. This requires collecting experience sampling and other longitudinal data in many organizations with many different types of employees.

Data should be collected using multiple methods and examined using multiple analytic procedures. Such a strategy will allow for a scientific understanding of the dynamic interaction of individual and workplace attributes in the study of organizational behaviour.




Spain, Seth M. , Miner, Andrew G. , Kroonenberg, Pieter M. and Drasgow, Fritz(2010) ‘Job Performance as Multivariate Dynamic Criteria: Experience Sampling and Multiway Component Analysis’, Multivariate Behavioral Research, 45: 4, 599 — 626


Organizational Psychology – Uncovering Causality

Answers the Question

How do you remove problems to the validity of interpretations of cause and effect in organizational research?

How it Began

Research and statistics play a large role in the studies of organizational psychology. There are many methods of research and statistics used to determine information and answers to the many questions posed by organizational psychologists. When collecting data, researchers must be aware of several issues that can affect the validity of their research. Generalizing information across differing organizations can commonly lead to mistakes. Research methods vary and should be used to suit the questions at hand.

cause and effect

Research and statistics are a key component in organizational psychology, and they are used to determine and analyze data. These tools are used to greatly increase the effectiveness and success of an organization.  Since inferring causal relationships is one of the central tasks of science, it is a topic that has been heavily debated in the use of organizational development consultancy.

Cause and effect is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in science and is often misused in an attempt to add legitimacy to research.   The basic principle of causality is determining whether the results and trends observed are actually caused by the intervention or whether some other factor may underlie the process.

Business schools perpetuate the myth that the outcomes of changes in organizations can be managed using models that are rooted in the scientific-rational mode of enquiry. In essence, such models assume that all important variables that affect an outcome (i.e. causes) are known and that the relationship between these variables and the outcomes (i.e. effects) can be represented accurately by simple models. This is the nature of explanation in the hard sciences such as physics and is pretty much the official line adopted by mainstream management research and teaching

The first thing to remember with causality, especially in the non-physical sciences, is that it is impossible to establish complete causality.

Reliability and validity are extremely difficult to achieve in organisation studies. Unlike chemical and biological processes that can be controlled within laboratories, studying humans has the added complication that the humans can figure out they are being studied and shift results.

But even if a strong case can be made for reliability and validity, three conditions must be satisfied to demonstrate cause and effect (essentially to strengthen the case for it). These conditions are all necessary but no one of them is sufficient:

  • The cause has to occur in time before the effect.
  • Changes in the cause has to create a corresponding change in the effect.
  • No other explanation for the relationship can be present.

Key Terminology

Causality – Causality refers to the relationship between events where one set of events (the effects) is a direct consequence of another set of events (the causes).

Causal inference – the process by which one can use data to make claims about causal relationships.

Reliability – the study is replicable and can be conducted repeatedly in the same manner as before, preferably by other people to reduce bias.

Validity – the study is actually measuring what it is assuming it is measuring

In Brief

Cause and effect means establishing that one variable has caused a change in the other variable for example has an increase in stress levels caused employee turnover. It is important to establish cause and effect, so that an undesirable effect can be changed or eliminated i.e. reducing employee turnover by decreasing levels of stress.

To show that an outcome was directly caused by an intervention, there are three criteria we need to consider:

  1. Time-order effect: The intervention must precede the outcome. The introduction of the OD intervention occurred before the changes in the measured outcome occurred.
  2. Strength of association: There is a correlation between the desired outcome and the intervention. For instance, there should be trend between those who participated in the intervention, and the corresponding increase in a measured outcome.
  3. Exclusion of alternate explanations: There should be no other major explanation attributed to the outcome except for that of your intervention. For example, if significant change in work plans also took place during that period, which subsequently impacted the measured outcome, the causality of the OD intervention on the outcome could be cast in doubt.

Examples of Methods of Research

Simple observation, the most basic of research strategies, involves observing and systematically recording behaviour.  The purpose of observational studies in the Organization Development Diagnostic Phase is to produce data that demonstrates a strong cases for causation is obviously to create effective solutions to real problems. In the evaluation phase the Organization Development consultant will seek to provide data to demonstrate the changes that the intervention has delivered.

Archival data represent any form of data or records that are compiled for purposes that are independent of the research being conducted. By far the most widely used form of data collection in organizational diagnostic intervention is survey research. Survey research simply involves asking participants to report about their attitudes and/or behaviours, either in writing or verbally.

If the data is problematic, the treatment will be ineffective and sometimes harmful.

However, organizations have come to a stark conclusion that understanding the diverse dynamics of organization, group and individual behaviour in the work place is extremely important financially. Employees understanding of their role in a company and their particular enthusiasm and loyalty play pivotal roles. Many companies realize that keeping employees motivated and engaged is a financially sound business practice. High turnover of skilled employees is not a desired effect organizations are looking for. Organizational psychology and the effective employment of causality research design can be and are of tremendous benefit to organizations that realize the importance of the connection between people and performance.

What does this mean for Organization Development?

Research methodology and statistical analysis are crucial to the practice of organizational development. Research methodology and statistical analysis may be used to evaluate some intervention designed to enhance organizational effectiveness.  To date, there are people who still wonder if OD efforts are indeed effective in improving organisational performance. This is why there is a need to show how well OD interventions are working — and having a sound evaluation strategy is key to doing so.

Demonstrating causality can be challenging in organisations given its dynamism and the possible emergence of new factors— internal and external that can have an influence on the desired outcome. This is why it is important to clearly establish the leader’s expectations during the contracting meeting — the face-to-face meeting with the leader, where you get to ask probing questions to better understand his/her expectations on the desired outcome, as well as establish the expectation that the intervention can have a direct influence on the desired outcome. Securing agreement on these expectations can go a long way in ensuring that our efforts in outcome evaluation will be accepted by our leader. But even when agreement is secured, it is advisable that we continually check in with our leader throughout the duration of the intervention implementation to make sure that what we are doing is still on the right path.


Social Psychology – Helping in Emergencies

Answers the Question

The effect that the number of other people present in an emergency situation has on the willingness of an individual to respond to an emergency.

How it Began

On March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered in front of her home. She parked her car a number of feet from her apartment when all of a sudden, a man named Winston Moseley chased her down and stabbed her in the back twice. Due to the excruciating pain, Kitty screamed for help and a neighbour responded shouting at the criminal “Let that girl alone! “Immediately after getting the attention of the criminal, Winston fled the scene and left the girl crawling towards her apartment.


Several witnesses reported to have seen Winston flee the scene with his car and returned ten minutes after the response of one of the neighbours. After seeing his prey lying on the ground almost unconscious, he stabbed the already wounded Kitty Genovese several times more. After this, he stole the money of the victim and sexually assaulted Ms Genovese. A neighbour phoned the police and an ambulance arrived but was too late to help the assaulted Kitty Genovese.

Thirty-eight neighbours of Kitty Genovese were aware that the murder was taking place at the time of the attack and yet all of them chose to do nothing in rescue of the assaulted girl. Why were such apathy, indifference and lack of concern observed from all the neighbours of Kitty?

Two social psychologists, John Darley and Bibb Latané started asking questions as to why the witnesses demonstrated a lack of reaction towards the victim’s need for help.

Key Terminology

The bystander effect – the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress.

Diffusion of responsibility – a sociopsychological phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present.

In Brief

In a series of classic studies, researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley(1) found that the amount of time it takes the participant to take action and seek help varies depending on how many other observers are in the room. In one experiment, subjects were placed in one of three treatment conditions: alone in a room, with two other participants or with two confederates who pretended to be normal participants.

As the participants sat filling out questionnaires, smoke began to fill the room. When participants were alone, 75% reported the smoke to the experimenters. In contrast, just 38% of participants in a room with two other people reported the smoke. In the final group, the two confederates in the experiment noted the smoke and then ignored it, which resulted in only 10% of the participants reporting the smoke.

There are two major factors that contribute to the bystander effect. First, the presence of other people creates a diffusion of responsibility. Because there are other observers, individuals do not feel as much pressure to take action, since the responsibility to take action is thought to be shared among all of those present.

The second reason is the need to behave in correct and socially acceptable ways. When other observers fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate. Other researchers have found that onlookers are less likely to intervene if the situation is ambiguous.

Group psychology can also influence behaviour positively; in the event that one bystander takes responsibility for the situation and takes specific action, other bystanders are more likely to follow course. This is a positive example of the usually-pejorative herd mentality. Thus, the presence of bystanders affects individual helping behaviour by processes of social influence and diffusion of responsibility.

What does this mean for Organisation Development?

Individually, we have all been taught that taking responsibility for our actions is the right thing to do. However, in today’s business environment, it is often uncommon to work alone.  Being with a crowd can make it easy to avoid personal responsibility for taking action. Group inaction conveys the sense to all that the “definition of the situation” is do nothing and don’t get involved.

Group mentality can have a positive effect on team interactions when it comes to sharing success. When projects are successful, most individual team members are more than willing to claim their share of the responsibility. But the bystander effect happens when a group project has stalled or is not successful. The same individuals are less willing to take responsibility in this scenario.

Although it depends on the individual, when you start digging to identify the reasons behind a stalled or unsuccessful project, diffusion of responsibility often comes into play. If one person is asked why a task was not completed, you can often expect to hear, “I thought [so and so] was responsible for that task”.

As a leader, group member and/or an individual, it is important to learn techniques  to change this dynamic. One option is to by setting a positive example, other group members will follow suit, resulting in more progress and more shared success. As an OD consultant role modelling responsibility for your actions regardless of the scenario and highlighting areas of issue will help reduce the impact of the diffusion of responsibility on an OD project.

The good news that Bibb and Latane uncovered was that it takes very little to call bystanders to action. The simple act of asking, ‘What should we do about the smoke? was enough to get people on their feet, opening windows and calling for help. Everyone wanted to do something; they were just waiting for their cue.  The same is true when it comes to tackling issues that are highlighted by the diagnostic part of the OD cycle, simply by calling individuals and groups to action is enough to get people moving.


Social Psychology – Stereotyping and Prejudice

Answers the Question

How can the tendency to make faulty associations form negative stereotypes of minorities and affect behaviour?

How it Began

David Hamilton and Robert Gifford (1976) conducted a series of experiments that demonstrated how stereotypic beliefs regarding minorities could derive from illusory correlation processes. To test their hypothesis, Hamilton and Gifford had research participants read a series of sentences describing either desirable or undesirable behaviours, which were attributed to either Group A or Group B. Abstract groups were used so that no previously established stereotypes would influence results. Most of the sentences were associated with Group A, and the remaining few were associated with Group B


Each group had the same proportions of positive and negative behaviors, so there was no real association between behaviors and group membership. Results of the study show that positive, desirable behaviors were not seen as distinctive so people were accurate in their associations. On the other hand, when distinctive, undesirable behaviours were represented in the sentences, the participants overestimated how much the minority group exhibited the behaviours.

A parallel effect occurs when people judge whether two events, such as pain and bad weather, are correlated. They rely heavily on the relatively small number of cases where the two events occur together. People pay relatively little attention to the other kinds of observation (of no pain or good weather).

Therefore, stereotypes can lead to biases, distortion, generalization, and they can unconsciously affect our judgment and memory, which in turn can affect our behaviour.

Key Terminology

Stereotype – a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.

Illusory correlation is the phenomenon of seeing a relationship between variables (typically people, events, or behaviours) even when no such relationship exists.

Prejudice – unjustified negative attitude toward an individual based of the individual’s membership in a group.

Discrimination – putting group members at a disadvantage or treating them
unfairly as a result of their group membership.

Personal Discrimination – acts of discrimination committed by individuals

Institutional Discrimination – discriminatory policies or practices carried out by organizations and other institutions

In Brief

The use of stereotypes is a major way in which we simplify our social world; since they reduce the amount of processing (i.e. thinking) we have to do when we meet a new person.

By stereotyping we infer that a person has a whole range of characteristics and abilities that we assume all members of that group have. Stereotypes lead to social categorization, which is one of the reasons for prejudice attitudes (i.e. “them” and “us” mentality) which leads to in-groups and out-groups.

Most explanations for illusory correlation involve psychological heuristics: information processing short-cuts that underlie many human judgments. One of these is availability: the ease with which an idea comes to mind. Availability is often used to estimate how likely an event is or how often it occurs.  This can result in illusory correlation, because some pairings can come easily and vividly to mind even though they are not especially frequent.

What does this mean for Organisation Development?

The formation of illusory correlations usually starts with memorable events that are easy for the person’s brain to access. For instance, a salesman might wear his underwear backwards by mistake one day and then do well in a negotiation. This event sticks in his mind and he decides that wearing his underwear backwards is lucky, even though he performed well in sales negotiations before. Readily available memories tend to rise to the top of a person’s memory, and they will become evidence to support an illusory correlation even though there may be plenty of evidence that contradicts the apparent connection.

Illusory correlations can spread through society. As people hear stereotypes and urban legends, they absorb them and look for confirming information around them. Many people believe, for example, that eating sugar makes children hyperactive, although studies do not support this. When someone who believes this sees a child being active after consuming candy, it confirms the illusory correlation. Incidents where children ate candy and behaved normally afterward are not as readily available to the person’s memory.

Being aware of the existence of illusory correlations is important. People who believe two things are linked can try seeking out evidence to disprove the claim to see if the correlation is real. Scientific studies sometimes provide useful information, and people may also find it helpful to do things like keeping a log. The detailed records will help people identify whether a correlation exists, and how strong it is. It is also important to be aware that correlation is not causation, and a link between two things may not be causal in nature.

OD Interventions to Remove Stereotypes

  1. Remove Cues That Trigger Worries About Stereotypes – remove physical cues that make it seem that an organisation setting is defined by the majority group
  2. Convey That Diversity is Valued – For instance, communicate a multicultural ideology that explicitly values diversity
  3. Create a Critical Mass – Increase the visibility and representation of people from minority groups in key decision making and project lead positions
  4. Create Fair Tests, Present Them as Fair and as Serving a Learning Purpose – Use gender- and race-fair tests, communicate their fairness, convey that they are being used to facilitate learning, not to measure innate ability or reify stereotypes
  5. Value Employees’ Individuality – Remind employees of aspects of their individual identity
  6. Improve Cross-Group Interactions – Foster better intergroup relations, remind employees of similarities among groups, undo stereotypical associations through cognitive retraining, promote cooperative project teams
  7. Present and Recruit Positive Role Models from Diverse Groups – Expose employees to successful role models from their group who refute negative stereotypes
  8. Help Employees Manage Feelings of Stress and Threat – Teach employees about stereotype threat so that they attribute anxiety to stereotype threat rather than to the risk of failure, teach employees to reappraise arousal as a potential facilitator of strong performance rather than barrier to it
  9. Support employees’ Sense of Belonging – Teach employees that worries about belonging to a social group/organization are normal, not unique to them or their group, and are transient rather than fixed
  10. Convey High Standards and Assure Employees of Their Ability to Meet These Standards – Frame critical feedback as reflective of high standards and one’s confidence in employees’ ability to meet those standards, more generally, teach students to view critical feedback as reflective of feedback-givers’ high standards and confidence in their ability to meet the standards
  11. Promote a Growth Mindset About Intelligence – Teach employees that intelligence is like a muscle—that it is not fixed, but grows with effort, Promote this conception of intelligence or ability as a norm.
  12. Value-Affirmations to Reduce Stress and Threat – Have employees write about , reflect on, and perhaps discuss core personal values




Social Psychology – Discrimination

Answers the Question

At what point does conflict and discrimination occur?

How it began

Henri Tajfel’s interest in identity and group prejudice was sparked by his own experiences as a Polish Jew during the Second World War. As Professor of Social Psychology at Bristol university he developed a series of experiments known as the Minimal Group Studies, the purpose of which was to establish the minimum basis on which people could be made to identify with their own group and show bias against another.

red apple between green apples

Tajfel wanted to test the idea that prejudice and discrimination can occur between groups even when there is no history between the groups and no competition. Having found prejudice and discrimination between such minimal groups, Tajfel’s team wanted to investigate the possible causes. In order to study discrimination as well as prejudice, it was important to have an experimental situation that involved real behaviour. Therefore, they aimed to generate a situation in which members of a group had to act in some way in relation to another group.

Tajfel carried out two experiments. The first (1970) created groups from judgements about how many dots were in an image and the second (1971) created groups from an apparent preference for the artists Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.

Tajfel and his collaborators got boys at a comprehensive school to view abstract paintings and then assigned them to the ‘Klee’ group or the ‘Kandinsky’ group, apparently because of the preferences they declared, but in fact entirely at random. The boys had the chance to reward each other by giving them money, or punish them by taking money  away from them, even though they didn’t win or lose anything themselves in making the decision, in-group favouritism soon became apparent as the boys gave more to their own group members and punished others.  Even though the boys didn’t know who else was allocated to their group, they consistently awarded more points to their own group than to the other. So even though who belonged to which group was meaningless, they always tended to favour their own.

This proved to be the first step towards Social Identity Theory, as developed by Henri Tajfel and John Turner, which stressed that our identification with groups varies according to how significant that group is at the time: if we’re at war our national identity is important, at a football match it’s our team identity that’s to the fore.

Key Terminology

  • Prejudice – the judgements made by other people based on their membership to a particular group, rather than their individual nature.
  • Discrimination – treating others differently according to their group membership due to prejudice.
  • Social categorisation – the process of deciding which group you belong to: you see yourself as part of that group, where any group will do and you see no need for conflict between yours and other groups
  • Social identification – identifying yourself with the in-group more overtly, this is when you begin to take on the norms and attitudes of other group members within of the group
  • Social comparison – one’s self-concept becomes wrapped up with the in-group that self-esteem is enhanced by the perception that the in-group is better than the out-group

In Brief

Social identity theory is one of a number of theories that suggest prejudice can be explained by our tendency to see ourselves as part of a group. We therefore view others as either part or not part of the same group as us. Thus people are judged as being “us” and “them”. It is seen as part of human nature to view oneself as part of one or more groups, there are our in-groups – this leads us to discriminate against out-groups for no logical reason, i.e. there does not have to be any conflict or competition for ill feelings to develop.

Prejudice consists of three elements:

  1. The cognitive element involved the beliefs held about a certain group. These beliefs come in the form of stereotypes, common but over-simple views of what a particular group of people are like. Such views may come from something heard or read, rather than first-hand experience.
  2. The affective element involves the feelings experienced in response to another group. Stereotyping leads us to develop a prejudice (a particular attitude towards the group)If we are prejudiced against a group, we may experience anger, fear, hate or disgust when we encounter a member belonging to that group.
  3. The behavioural element consists of our actions towards the object of prejudice. Behaving differently towards people based on their membership to a group is discrimination. Our actions towards members of a group against which we hold prejudice can range from avoidance and verbal criticism to mass extermination.

Just to reiterate, in social identity theory the group membership is not something foreign or artificial which is attached onto the person, it is a real, true and vital part of the person.  Again, it is crucial to remember in-groups are groups you identify with, and out-groups are ones that we don’t identify with, and may discriminate against.

A range of studies have shown support of the idea that people are willing to see their group as better in some way than other groups. The theory helps to explain a wide range of social phenomena.  However, social identity theory doesn’t take into account other factors which might be influencing behaviour and doesn’t explain why there are individual differences in the level of prejudices shown. There are also other possible explanations of prejudice which might offer a fuller account of prejudice, for example the realistic conflict theory which sees social identity theory as only part of the explanation. It suggests that it is not just the creation of two groups that leads to prejudice, but that they need to have a goal in sight for conflict/prejudice to develop.

What does this mean for Organization Development?

The extent to which individuals define themselves as individuals or as group members depends heavily on the politics inherent within their organisational culture.  An individual’s behaviour and teamwork cannot be predicted solely from their idiosyncratic characteristics but is also dependant on the social context which determines the belief structures they utilise.

Social Identity Theory can be a useful tool in understanding organizational behaviour as well as to boost self-confidence and improve attitudes of employees.  Studies suggest individual employees may exert increased effort and experience greater motivation if working on tasks for their collective group rather than in working for his or herself.  In addition, because of the tendency to form groups in the workplace, employers are able to choose rival organizations to use as a comparison in order to set “benchmarks” for their own employees.  This rival organization will be seen as an out-group, which “threatens the group’s prestige” and motivates the in-group to become more competitive.

Awareness of Social Identity Theory can be beneficial for any organization. Social Identity theory posits that individuals identify themselves based on characteristics like age, gender, or race. They identify more with similar people (in-group) than with those who are less similar (out-group). Due to things like in-group favoritism and negative stereotyping, minorities are often excluded from group membership and decision-making activities. This, in turn, reduces opportunities for career advancement and results in a perception of unfair treatment, resulting in a negative work environment for everyone. An understanding Social Identity Theory by key management personnel can ensure that minority groups are included in functional groups and the decision-making process, providing a better work environment for all employees.

Workplace interventions can also be useful to reduce conflict between rival groups within the same organization.  When employers have people from two different out-groups work together, this interaction between the two can lead to “attitude and stereotype change that is extended from the particular interaction partner to other members of his or her group”.

In a situation where an organization is merging with another company, each organization has a strong identity. The leadership within the organization will put up some resistance to the merger as neither organization will give up their social identity. To make the merger easier, the organizations will make the merger slower and create a shared identity before the official merger occurs.  In many situations, the organization will also change their name to create a new combined organization.

Through understanding the Social Identity Theory, interventions such as this can play a vital role in organizations to limit harmful stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination in the workplace as well as to ensure employees feel connected to their respective groups as “organizations can suffer from individual members who are psychologically alienated”.