The Effects of Multi-Level Group Identification on Intergroup Cooperation and Performance



We examine the effects of multi-level group identification on intergroup cooperation and performance. Using an experiment that manipulates individuals’ identification with a sub-group (immediate work-group) and a superordinate group (the organization in which that group is nested), we examine whether high or low identification affects individuals’ propensity to cooperate with another group and their subsequent task performance. Using theory from psychology, we predict and find that both high sub-group identifiers and high superordinate group identifiers cooperate more frequently than their low counterparts. Consistent with expectations, we find that these effects are driven by individuals’ perceived threats to group identity and also a greater concern for the larger collective. We find mixed evidence of a positive interactive effect of sub-group and superordinate group identification on individuals’ decisions to cooperate. Finally, we find that average performance on cooperative tasks is lower than average performance on non-cooperative tasks, suggesting a potential downside to cooperation. This effect is driven by the decision to cooperate and is exacerbated by high sub-group and/or high superordinate group identification, which further suggests that high levels of group identification may not always result in optimal outcomes. Results of our study highlight elements of intergroup dynamics that may impact the effectiveness of organizational design decisions. Our results also have implications for managers as they consider the need for performance evaluation, control, and incentive systems that measure and reward intergroup activity. Our results suggest that managers need to carefully consider the types of groups in the organization, as well as the likelihood that group members will identify with each group, as these factors can influence the effectiveness of controls and incentive systems.