Brown, J.L., Sprinkle, G.B., and Way, D. (2021). The effects of multi-level group identification on intergroup helping behavior. KNOWLEDGE – Journal of Management Accounting Research. https://doi.org/10.2308/JMAR-2019-506
Background & Theory:
Past research on workplace group identification has focused on how identifying with a group can lead to positive results for both the employee and the organization. This study extends this research by focusing specifically on how subgroup identification (i.e. a team) and superordinate identification (i.e. an organization) affects intergroup helping behavior.
Research was conducted by Jason L. Brown et al. to answer the following question:
- How do subgroup and superordinate group identities affect intergroup helping behavior?
192 participants were recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk for a ‘Human Intelligence Task.’ Participants were told that this task would involve completing tasks as a group of three people (which served as the subgroup). Additionally, participants were told that their group was one of three groups that comprised a company (which served as the superordinate group). Group identification was manipulated through narratives describing the participant’s subgroup and the company. Participants were assigned randomly to narratives that had either stronger superordinate group identification or weaker superordinate group identification, as well as either a stronger subgroup identification or weaker subgroup identification.
To begin, participants reviewed the instructions for the experiment, their given narratives, and the instructions for the first task. Participants then filled out a quiz testing their understanding of what was presented to them. Next, participants completed a decoding task intended to benefit themselves and their group. The participants received compensation based on the work both they and their group members correctly completed.
After this, the participants were then presented with a social dilemma: They were given 50 tokens to use (valued at 3 cents per token) and had to choose whether to benefit themselves individually or a different group within their company. Intergroup helping was measured here by the number of tokens used to benefit another group. Next, participants completed a questionnaire measuring identification with their group and their company. Finally, the participants were presented a second social dilemma, in which they could choose to allocate 25 tokens (valued at 3 cents per token) to benefit themselves or the other two members in their group. This was used by the authors to measure intragroup helping.
The authors found participants with stronger superordinate group identification were more likely to engage in intergroup helping behavior. Similarly, participants with stronger subgroup identification were more likely to engage in intergroup helping behavior. Combined, both stronger superordinate group identification and subgroup identification interactively led to increased intergroup helping behavior. Additionally, participants who had engaged in intergroup helping behavior were found more likely to help intragroup members.
The data also suggested that stronger identification with one’s superordinate group or subgroup led to increased positive affect, greater than those with weaker group identifications. These conditions are consistent with past research suggesting that identifying strongly with both one’s superordinate group and subgroup leads to greater consistency in their self-concept, greater well-being, and greater satisfaction, which is associated with less self-interested behavior.
In addition to positive affect, the authors suggest that the relationship between group identification and intergroup helping behavior is at least partially mediated by the understanding that helping other groups may indirectly benefit one’s own group as well as recognizing that other groups are a part of a larger collective in which the participant also belongs.
What We Can Learn:
Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insights:
- Strong identification with one’s group and their organization can stimulate positive intergroup helping behavior and intragroup helping behavior.
- This study also points out the benefit of greater congruence between lower and higher-level goals in an organization. The alignment between sub-group and organizational goals is likely to lead to greater identification with both groups, which could motivate positive intergroup behavior without having to formally stimulate it.
For Consultants: Utilizing group and organizational identity as a means of encouraging employees to cooperate can be a great tactic, especially if employees are at odds with each other.
For Everyone: If you are experiencing workplace conflict, consider whether you can collaborate with others through a common organizational identity and goal.