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The Theory of In-groups and Out-groups and Effective Leadership


Human society always divides on different groups. People treat those who is the member of the same group as in-group member, and those who is not a member of the group, as out-group. The effective leader has to know specific features of this division and use then for the best performance of organization.


Usually the concept of in-groups and out-groups is considered as sociological, though it could be successfully implemented in different social sciences. Ingroup-outgroup discrimination in organization could be the source of problems; however the reliable and educated management can turn it for the best performance of organization. In this work the concept of such groups is discussed. The work contains some ideas of how the leader could use this division.

The concepts of In and Out groups.

The concept of in-groups and out-groups is rather simple and can be used almost in every sector of human activity. “Ingroup” are people “like us” and “outgroup” people are “them”. This simple definition can be implemented in biology, anthropology and evolutionary psychology. People in-group believe to be of the same race, culture, social group, etc. People out-group are not entitled to be treated according to the same rule. Scientists consider the aspiration of society to from ingroup-outgroup discrimination as the mechanism of evolution, which guarantees the survival of the group.

Michael Maccalion gives the following scholar definition of in-groups and out-groups:
“An in-group is a social unit an individual belongs to, interacts with, and shares a sense of “we-ness” with. An out-group, on the other hand, is a social unit or group of people that an individual neither belongs to nor identifies with.” (Maccalion, 2007)

He describes the social markers that symbolize the identity of the group: rituals, stereotyped behavior, social practices, rituals, narratives, etc. The identity is very important for every group of people; this achievement allows determination of insiders and outsiders, creates the rituals of group member entry and exit processes, and so on. Sometimes in-groups and out-groups demonstrate negative attitude to each other.

It is important to mentioning that belonging to in-group or out-group often is not obvious, it is often subjective and depends on point of view. Thus, Larry Sabbato in his article asked the question about the position of top journalists. From the on hand, these people have to be in-group (especially for their readership), from the other hand, their way of presentation of facts sometimes looks like outsiders. (Sabato, 2009)

My personal or familiar experience of being in-group and out-group

I’d prefer discuss the experience of my friends or well-known people rather them my own. The surrounding world is full of subdivision on such groups. Young people urge to find their identity, thus they usually create some groups with complicated rituals. Perhaps first experience of such subdivision every person can find in the school. In some prestigious schools, in which future career is the prerogative objective, the students with insufficient level of knowledge can become outsider. In this case high score in studying is the mark of belonging to the in-group. As it known, school outsiders often create their own groups if they find strong leader. The problem of outside leadership will be discussed below. From the other hand, opposite situation is widely spread: in some schools clever students are outsiders, and so was I.

Analyze and explain the major differences between the two situations

Membership of a group guarantees the feeling of security (that often is false), friends are around you and you feel safe and cared for. However, most of the groups have their requirements to its members. For example, infamous Californian doomsday cult ‘Heaven’s Gate’ demanded from its members to sell their worldly belongings, to severe contacts with their families, commit themselves to celibate live and at last to commit the suicide. Psychologists explain the behavior of cult member:

“Cult bonds are often created through such factors as the emotional attachment to the group and fear of powerful leaders is making people feel dependent on the group (Singer, 1995).”

The absence of membership in any social groups is impossible: person always has a gender, an age, a country of origin, and other characteristics that make him individual.

However, the division on in-groups and out-groups is important for the individual only if it concerns something personally important. For example, I am not a sport fan, and I am indifferent to fan-clubs of basketball teams, but one of my friends loves this game, and somebody’s membership in the fan-club of proper team is the main characteristic of the newcomer for him.

Some people try to avoid the membership on the groups to stay free of its requirements, but sometimes it is rather hard. As was stated above, the membership in the group gives the feeling of safety, and sometimes this is not the feeling only. For example, in some poor regions adolescent can hardly avoid the membership in young gangs. Nevertheless, some people are ready to become outsiders to keep their individuality.

Explain how having an in-group and an out-group affected the groups and the organization

The division on in-group and out-group is the fertile soul of management in different spheres. For example, Michelle Williams analyzes the usage of this theory in politics:

“Fear is a political tool employed by many radical right-wing parties to mobilize support. Using immigration as an omnibus issue has allowed many of these parties to translate popular concerns of the day into problems caused by foreigners in their societies. This gave them the dynamism in the 1980s and 1990s to establish themselves as a viable voice of opposition, standing against the ineptness of governments across Western Europe that were failing to solve pressing problems (Williams, 2003)”.

So, this division creates the competition within the organization, which could be the great advantage under the reasonable management. However, such groups have some disadvantages, for example, poor motivation of outsiders to work. This issue seems to be not so important, but it makes the strategic planning more hard and creates other difficulties. So, the issue requires the studying by the leaders of organization to turn it to the good cause.

To what extent was membership in either the in-group or the out-group based on task related performance factors? What non-task related factors entered into the decision?

Every leader of organization has to decide some problems related to the membership in in-groups and out-groups. For example, when hiring new top-manager leader often has to choose between skilled professional from outside an organization and competent member of the existing group from inside. The study by Yan Zhang of Rice University and Nandini Rajagopalan of the University of Southern California, says “relative to outside managers, inside manager will tend to have a more ‘even’ performance across various levels of strategic change.” (Zhang, ) Undoubtedly, there are some non-task related factors that leader has to take in attention, for example, personal characteristics of future manager, his working experience, his readiness to move and sometimes even marital status or hobby. However, the issue of group membership is important, too.

Describe the implications for leadership and a leader’s relationship with followers

The relationship of leader and its followers are always driven with two isolated factors. In simple words, they are criticism and trust. Susan Weizband writes about the relationship within the team: “Early studies showed that leaders high on initiating structure and consideration were viewed as more effective.” (Weizband, 411) Sure, the ability to critic poor work, emphasize the importance of meeting terms, maintain and enforce standards of performance are very important to leader, but they should be overweighed with the ability to signal trust, respect, and interest in supporting open communication and participation.
“Effective leaders must also be able to monitor the progress of others and maintain an connections with, and awareness of, who is doing their part in order to anticipate problems and integrate members’ contributions (Hackman & Morris, 1975).”


The division on in-groups and out-groups is natural for human society in any level, because it was proved to be the mechanism of evolution. Effective leader should know about this mechanism and to be able to use it for the best performance of organization.


Hackman, J. & Morris, C. (1975). Group tasks, group interaction process, and group performance effectiveness: A review and proposed integration. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.),
Advances in experimental social psychology, (Vol. 8, pp.45-99). New York: AcademicPress.
McCallion, Michael J. (2007) In-Groups and Out-Groups. In Blackwood Encyclopedia of Sociology. Ed. Ritxer. Doi: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x
Sabato, L. (2009) Are top journalists insiders or outsider? July 30, 2009.
Singer, M. T. (1995) Cults in our Midst, San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Williams, M. H. , 2003-08-27 “Insiders and Outsiders in Western Democracy: How Right-Wing Radical Parties Mobilize Fear of the Immigrant Other” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia Marriott Hotel, Philadelphia, PA Online <.PDF>. 2009-05-26

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