There is a psychological phenomenon called "in/out groups" whereby as soon as you separate one group of people from another, you get some kind of negative feelings between those two groups.
In a mild form these negative feelings might be expressed in terms of distrust, or a feeling that the other group aren't working as hard as you are. Extreme examples of the in/out group effect are racism and prejudice.
In the workplace, the In/Out Group effect is often seen as 'team islands'. These are teams that within themselves work well, but difficulties arise in the relationship between the two teams.
The Origins of Team Islands
Team Islands arise from things that separate one group of people from another. These things fall into two categories: boundaries and markers.
Boundaries are things in the environment that separate groups. Examples of boundaries include:
- Geographical location
- Separate offices
- Walls of cupboards dividing a room into two
- Opposite sites of a meeting table
Markers are things on or associated with the individuals that distinguish them. Examples of markers include:
- Clothing (suit vs overalls)
- Title ("manager" vs "staff")
- Accent/language (French vs British)
- Pay band
Team Islands can become a particular problem when lots of boundaries/markers coincide. Eg: managers sit in their own offices, staff sit in an open plan area.
Team Islands interfere with the project because they can inhibit cooperation between project members and teams/organisations who support the project.
Mitigating the effect of IN/OUT Groups
The effect of in/out groups, or team islands, can be mitigated by (wherever possible):
- Removing boundaries - eg: removing cupboards that separate one part of the team from another; locating all the project team in one office
- Removing markers - eg: management status symbols; local team logos/badges
- Building individual relationships (to overcome residual boundaries/markers) - eg: cross site visits, social events, temporary cross-team working parties
- Establishing ‘common’ areas or markers that are shared between the team islands (eg: project team logo/t-shirts)
- Educating project team members to counter the in/out effect, and particularly to recognise and value the contribution of people of different markers/situations.
The next article in this online course is: Project Management Training:
Soft Skills Part 14: Building the 'wider' team