Research Presents the Benefits of Intergroup Relational Identity for Organizations - Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

Summary of:

Li, Z. (2021). Intergroup leadership: Two paths to encourage positive intergroup behaviours [Master’s thesis, Western University]. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository.

Background & Theory:

Social identity theory posits that people encompass a social identity, an awareness that we belong to specific groups. Nestled within the constructs of social identity theory is the concept of intergroup relational identity. Opposed to collective identity which requests group members ignore their group identity in favor of a collective identity, intergroup relational identity allows group members to retain the individual distinctiveness of their group identity while working together as a shared group.

This study examines the effect of intergroup relational identity when suggested by a group leader on inergroup behavior.


Research was conducted by Zhou Li to answer the following questions:

    1. Will a leader’s promotion of intergroup relational identity increase psychological safety and trust in the leader?
    2. Does promoting intergroup relational identity indirectly affect organizational citizenship behavior both individually and towards the organization?


274 undergraduate students at a Canadian University participated in an experimental design. After completing a demographics questionnaire, the participants were asked to imagine that they had to work with students of a competing university. The participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups, one with a vignette focused on collective identity and the other focused on intergroup relational identity. The leader in the collective identity group asked participants to ignore their differences and think of themselves as a collective team. The leader in the intergroup relational identity group asked participants to work together while retaining their distinctiveness.

In response to these vignettes, the students were tasked with producing a report on each school’s advantages and disadvantages which was to guide recent high school graduates. After this, the participants were asked to fill out questionnaires on variables such as intergroup relational identity, psychological safety, trust in their leader, organizational citizenship behavior, knowledge sharing intention, and conflict level.


After analyzing the data, the author found that intergroup relational identity was positively associated with organizational citizenship behavior. Additionally, results showed that when an intergroup relational identity was promoted, participants showed stronger intentions of behaving in ways that would benefit the whole group. However, the rhetorical approach of the leader (collective identity vs. intergroup relational identity) did not influence the hypothesized mediators of psychological safety and trust in leader.

Even so, a path analyses suggested trust played a central role. While the results showed that leader trust was not significantly increased by the experimental manipulation, the participants did indicate higher trust when they perceived the leader trying to form an intergroup relational identity. Additionally, the perceptions of leader’s efforts to form an intergroup relational identity led to positive intergroup behaviors, which seemed to result at least partly due to trust in the leader. This suggests that upon hearing the leader make an effort to establish an intergroup relational identity, the participants desired to reciprocate such behavior and engage in positive intergroup behavior.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insights:

  • Intergroup relational identity is positively associated with organizational citizenship behavior, both individually and collectively.
  • Employees who perceive leaders’ efforts at creating an intergroup relational identity will likely reciprocate by acting in ways that benefit the collective group.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: In situations where tensions between two groups are high, promoting an intergroup relational identity may be a helpful avenue for positive intergroup behavior.

For Everyone: It is possible to hold the distinctiveness of your group identity in one hand and hold a shared identity with other groups in another. Thinking about intergroup relational identity in this way can lead to greater collaboration among different groups.

Noah Shaw

Noah is the Peace Operations Coordinator at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems and holds a Master's in Dispute Resolution from the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law.

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