team technology

In/Out Groups

Team Islands

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):

  1. Removing boundaries - eg: removing cupboards that separate one part of the team from another; locating all the project team in one office
  2. Removing markers - eg: management status symbols; local team logos/badges
  3. Building individual relationships (to overcome residual boundaries/markers) - eg: cross site visits, social events, temporary cross-team working parties
  4. Establishing ‘common’ areas or markers that are shared between the team islands (eg: project team logo/t-shirts)
  5. 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
Project Management Training: Soft Skills Tools

Project Management Training



Trust and Rapport


Winning Commitment


Using Power



Small Teams

Group Conflicts

Team Development

Managing Difference


Team Islands

In/Out Groups

Building the wider team

Large Projects

Project Culture

Putting it all together

Take the test
Discover a better future

©2013 Team Technology. Further articles/resources that may be of interest include: Personality Test, Personality Type Descriptions, Myers Briggs overview, The Basics of Team Building, What Career is Right for Me?, and Career ideas.