Social Categorization and Intergroup Dynamics
Catherine H. Tinsley
Imagine that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) suspects a Pakistani national living in Canada is planning a terrorist attack against the United States. The CIA has been working with Canadian authorities to track the man’s movements and analyze his future intentions. Border patrol has been alerted because the suspect appears to be part of a Canadian-based terrorist cell that may soon try to enter the United States. The National Security Agency (NSA) has been contacted to monitor the suspect’s telecommunications. Last week, the suspect phoned a U.S. citizen and resident, which triggered the involvement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
As this scenario illustrates, current threats to U.S. security can be global, can come from varied nonstate actors (including isolated individuals), and can require extensive coordination across intelligence community (IC) agencies. Indeed, the IC has recognized a need to integrate information and analysis, as captured in various agencies’ strategic plans. The Director of National Intelligence writes that “information sharing is a top priority” and that we must move from a mentality of “need to know” to a mentality of “responsibility to provide” (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2008). The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Strategic Plan lists “support[ing] unification of effort across the IC to promote horizontal integration fostering access to data and sharing information” as one of its five major strategic actions (Defense Intelligence Agency, 2007). This coordination goes beyond simply the need to share information with each other. Instead, it requires analysts to understand and appreciate the experience and knowledge that each different agency brings to the table. This deeper
understanding will help attenuate communication problems (Fischhoff, this volume, Chapter 10), such as agents talking past each other or dismissing each other’s analysis.
Unfortunately, cross-agency collaboration can be thwarted by the familiar pathologies found in all intergroup endeavors. These include misaligned organizational incentives, ossified bureaucratic policies, and conflicting political pressures. For example, agencies within the IC are “mission specific” (Sims, 2005), meaning they serve different customers who may be asking different analytic questions about the same target or event. Each agency in the IC naturally has “its own terminology, routines, and expectations about what people can ask for” (Simon, 2005, p. 150). Moreover, interagency “turf wars,” which appear to arise from historical inertia and budgetary conflicts (Sims and Gerber, 2005), provide inherent challenges to interagency collaboration.
Discussing any particular bureaucratic, political, and budgetary conflicts is beyond the scope of this chapter, which instead focuses on how the pluralistic structure of the IC can engender cognitive and motivational biases that hinder effective cross-agency collaboration. Special attention is paid to the agency grouping and how social categorization processes can influence individual behavior. Social categorization is the process by which we make judgments about individuals (and who they are in relation to ourselves) based on their group membership. When we encounter other people, we tend to encode not only individual information about that person, but also social information—in particular, whether he or she is a member of one of our “in-groups”—the groups to which we belong—or is an “out-group” member, or outsider. In the context of the IC, where a salient group boundary is agency (or subagency) affiliation, social categorization suggests that analysts register whether other analysts are members of the same or different IC agency.1 This encoding can produce mental roadblocks to coordination by eliciting well-documented intergroup dynamics, including differentiation, ethnocentrism, and integration neglect (explained below). These roadblocks are not unique to the IC, but rather are fundamental
This agency grouping does not mean that other social groups are irrelevant. Indeed, within some agencies there are large distinctions between analysts and collectors (e.g., the CIA). Groups are people’s subjective representations of others vis-à-vis the self. These groups may exist because people interact regularly and share a common fate (Campbell, 1958), such as with workgroups, or groups may be large collectives where individuals are connected by virtue of common symbolic attachments (Geertz, 1973). The motivational and cognitive biases discussed in this chapter would pertain to any social group distinction that is relevant for the actors involved. For simplicity of presentation, however, I choose the agency level as the focal social group because this follows both the formal organizational structure and other work describing agency affiliation as a dominant social category in the IC (see Sims and Gerber, 2005, or Fingar, this volume, Chapter 1).
aspects of organizational life, unless deliberate efforts are made to overcome them. More relevant to the IC is how these dynamics play out and how they might be managed.
Before describing the usual pathologies that can arise from an intergroup environment, I briefly detail research in organizational behavior to explain why these pluralistic structures evolve. In most organizations, and particularly for the mission-diverse IC, social groups function to simplify tasks and create high-quality (i.e., well-grounded and solidly analytic) products. The idea is not to restructure the IC to rid it of multiple social groups (which is likely to be impossible anyway), but rather to attenuate negative externalities that this intergroup environment can produce.
INTERGROUP DYNAMICS AS A FACT OF ORGANIZATIONAL LIFE
Social groups exist in all organizations and often create cognitive and motivational roadblocks to cooperation and collaboration. Despite their pernicious consequences, organizations cannot eradicate groups. For organizations, groups are necessary for efficient coordinated action. For individual employees, groups are necessary for constructing identity and making sense of their workplace.
The Organization’s Need to Form Groups
All organizations differentiate—meaning they split their employees into different groups (Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967). Differentiation allows for specialization, production efficiency, and accountability. Imagine if every employee was responsible for the same job tasks—no one would master any special skills, and failure to accomplish job tasks would rest with everyone and hence with no one. The IC can be modeled as a decentralized conglomerate organization (Chandler, 1962). In one organizational chart2 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is at the top. One level below it are the program agencies (CIA, DIA, FBI, NSA, etc.). On the next level are the “departmental agencies” or those that primarily report directly to a Cabinet member (Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), Department of the Treasury, etc.). On the final level are the “service agencies” (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Intelligence). Of course, the IC can be grouped in other ways (e.g., on the basis of whether the agencies’ primary function is collection
or analysis, or whether their primary concern is foreign intelligence or law enforcement). Yet, alternative ways of grouping personnel does not threaten the central thesis that the multiorganizational character of the IC creates groups that differentiate themselves from one another and engender cultural barriers to collaboration.
The important point is that the IC is structured, and the basic structural unit is the agency. In the IC, the first order differentiation of analysts is based on agency affiliation. The structure allows each agency to produce intelligence products tailored to the needs of its primary customer base. For example, in April 2001, when a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft collided in mid-air with a Chinese fighter plane and the EP-3 landed on the Chinese island of Hainan, different IC agencies produced intelligence assessments that answered very different types of questions reflecting the interests and responsibilities of their different customers. Thus, the INR, whose primary customer is the Department of State, produced intelligence to answer questions such as: What are the diplomatic implications of the collision? What signals has the Chinese government sent that might help to resolve the crisis? What is the government telling its own people about the incident? The DIA, whose primary customers are in the Department of Defense, addressed different questions: Are the Chinese moving any military assets? Are there any signs that units have increased readiness levels? What are Japanese and South Korean media saying about the incident and U.S. forces based in those countries?
The NSA and National Geospatial Agency (NGA) addressed more technical questions about the types of equipment on board and what the implications would be of some or all of it falling into the hands of the Chinese government. The CIA, reflecting its broad customer base and responsibilities, provided a second take on many of the questions posed and answered by other agencies. These illustrations make clear that specialization is necessary, appropriate, and essential to address specific customer concerns. Only by being close to customers can analysts know what they require and produce truly useful intelligence products.
Throughout the differentiation process, organizations make trade-offs about where and how much to differentiate, with the aim of maximizing goals such as: (1) resource efficiency, (2) time efficiency, (3) employee accountability, (4) responsiveness to the environment, and (5) adaptability over time (Nohria, 1991). For the IC, resource efficiency would be the ability to produce quality intelligence with economy of labor and capital; time efficiency would be the ability to do so rapidly. Employee accountability describes the ability to hold employees responsible for required activities. Responsiveness to the environment means satisfying the requirements of U.S. policy makers as well as the need to protect sources and methods. Finally, adaptability refers to the ability to innovate to meet changing
security threats and policy decisions. To maximize this portfolio of issues, the organization decides how much to differentiate and where to draw the distinctions.
Naturally, this differentiation process creates groups (e.g., agencies) that have their own unique intelligence priorities and routines. Although agencies may share common rules for evaluating source reliability or explicating underlying assumptions, the agencies develop different decision rules on what topics to cover and different standard operating procedures on which streams of data are the most reliable to use. For example, the INR may rely more heavily on diplomatic and open-source information; the DIA may rely more heavily on military channels; the CIA may focus primarily on clandestine human intelligence collection; and the FBI may use other human informants with information relevant to law enforcement. These decision rules and procedures are likely to align with the agency’s mission, but they will in some sense dictate how data are collected, fused, used or discarded, interpreted, and presented. Thus it is not surprising that differentiated agencies can produce intelligence that is not completely uniform, even if each is a well-researched product reflecting solid evidence and analysis. Some systemic tension is natural; the idea is to understand and manage it rather than try to eliminate it.
Individuals’ Need to Group
Differentiation benefits organizations through efficiency gains and specialization. This specialization can also benefit individuals because it encourages employees’ skill development. Yet skill specialization can also make the employee more dependent on the organization because high-asset specificity cuts both ways (Williamson, 2002). Do individuals benefit from the presence of multiple social groups in their environment?
Some have argued that social categorization processes (constructing social groups) is a natural human process. As social creatures, we tend to carve up our social landscape into groups (see social categorization theory, Deschamps and Doise, 1978; Vanbeselaere, 1991), in part to construct our own identities (Tajfel, 1969; Tajfel and Turner, 1979). Generally, we come to understand who we are by virtue of the groups to which we do and do not belong (Smith and Berg, 1987). In fact, we tend to view other people, first and foremost, as members of a particular social category (in-group or out-group) (Brewer and Feinstein, 1999; Fiske et al., 1999). This social categorization happens relatively effortlessly (Fiske, 1998) and is often based on visually prominent and culturally relevant features, such as age, race, and (here) agency affiliation (Brewer and Feinstein, 1999; Fiske, 1998). Of course, people have multiple in-group identities (Stryker and Statham, 1985; Tajfel, 1978), but when these categories compete for
attention, one usually dominates, depending on contextual cues (Brewer and Pierce, 2005). For example, a female professional may think of herself as an analyst at work and as a mother at home. Moreover, an analyst might think of herself as an analyst when talking to collectors and as a CIA employee when talking to a DIA analyst.
This type of automatic characterization not only helps us self-identify, but also allows us to form a basic understanding of a socially different “other” (Bodenhausen et al., 1999). Social groups can be thought of as social categories, and people tend to form prototypic representations of these categories in the form of exemplary members (actual members who best embody group features) or ideal members (an amalgamated abstraction of group characteristics) (Kahneman and Miller, 1986). As individuals self-categorize, they represent themselves less as unique individuals and more as embodiments of the relevant prototypic features (Hogg and Terry, 2000). That is, self-categorization cognitively assimilates the self with the in-group prototype. Therefore, this social grouping process gives an individual direction or guidance because group prototypes “describe and prescribe perceptions, attitudes, feelings, and behavior” (Hogg and Terry, 2000, p. 124). People tend to conform to their groups (Asch, 1955) for both cognitive and motivational reasons. Cognitively, conformity reduces uncertainty—when confronted with a situation, individuals know how to react based on prototypical group norms. Social norms carry both a descriptive and injunctive/prescriptive function (Cialdini and Trost, 1998). Motivationally, conformity increases that member’s attractiveness in the eyes of other in-group members (Mowday and Sutton, 1993).
Thus social categorization processes give people a sense of identity at work (who they are) and provide them with guidance on how to behave. Yet, these processes function like any other heuristic in constraining people’s thoughts (e.g., expectations and attitudes about people and situations, and attributions for events) (Salancik and Pfeffer, 1978) and behavioral repertoire. Social categorization may be natural, effortless, and in some ways beneficial, but is not without the ethnocentric consequences discussed next.
HOW SOCIAL CATEGORIZATION INFLUENCES INDIVIDUALS
As noted above, individual thought and behavior is influenced by the social environment, such as how employees are split into groups, what behavior is rewarded, and what institutional routines develop. Interestingly, people are often unaware of the extent to which their thought and behavior have been shaped by their social context. We often believe that we think and act as unconstrained free agents, when in fact, our “rational” thoughts and behavior, including our awareness and imagination, are bounded by
our own frames of reference. In particular, we underestimate the extent to which our thoughts and behaviors are shaped by subjective construal rather than direct perceptions of an objective reality (Griffin and Ross, 1991).
“Culture” is one term that is often used to label a shared frame of reference or a shared social context. Culture can be defined as a constellation of values, assumptions, beliefs, behavioral norms, and routines that define a group of people united by ethnic or organizational membership (Benedict, 1934). It is what makes a collection of people a “group” (or as Tylor, 1871, first described it—culture is a “superorganic” entity). Culture offers members a social blueprint that interprets stimuli and guides group members (Boas, 1940). Groups can differ according to how tight or how loose their culture is, meaning how much “deviance” group members are allowed before being sanctioned (Triandis, 2002).3 Most groups have complex cultures, meaning one type of behavior (e.g., competition) is rewarded in some contexts and a different behavior (e.g., cooperation) is rewarded in another context.4 Yet, all cultures outline expected beliefs and behaviors (although they may be context dependent) and reward conformity to these ideals. In this way, cultures shape individual thought and behavior.
Decades of research supports the idea that culture influences group members’ thought and behavior by showing that people of different cultures respond to the same stimuli with different attitudes, beliefs, and activities (Berry, 1980; De Vos, 1975; Erez, 1986; Leung and Bond, 1984; Triandis, 1989; Wagner, 1995). Dearborn and Simon (1958), for example, showed that socialization through organizational training systems produces “managerial mindsets” that limit how people conceptualize problems and solutions. In their study, they asked groups of executives from a manufacturing firm to study a particular company, and asked the executives to identify the company’s most pressing problem. The study had three groups from three functional cultures—sales executives, production executives, and human and public relations executives. Each cultural group viewed the same company data through a different lens, and thus offered three entirely different proposals about the company’s most pressing problem (sales, operations, and human relations, respectively).
Similarly, Tinsley and Pillutla (1998) found that socialization into different national cultures led people to interpret the same negotiation task in different ways. One cultural group assumed the goal of the negotiation was to maximize joint gain, whereas the other cultural group assumed the goal was to minimize the difference between each party’s outcomes. This goal discrepancy corresponded with the groups’ actual outcomes and with parties’ satisfaction with those outcomes.
In sum, cultural profiles offer members a roadmap for interpreting stimuli and guiding behavioral reactions. At the same time, by focusing attention and behavior, these roadmaps also constrain thought and action. By institutionalizing an optimal way to think and behave, these roadmaps can suggest that other thoughts and behaviors are suboptimal or even wrong. Accordingly, interactions among members of different cultural groups that have different missions, approaches, and routines can be strained.
INTERGROUP DYNAMICS FROM SOCIAL CATEGORIZATION PROCESSES
One of the most robust findings from cultural research is that of ethnocentrism, which literally means putting one’s own group at the center of the universe. Anthropologists (Boas, 1940; Mead, 1964; Kroeber and Kluckhohn, 1952; Lowie, 1966; Malinowski, 1944) find that people learn to be ethnocentric through socialization in a particular social system, which rewards appropriate thought and behavior while sanctioning inappropriate thought and behavior. Hence, members come to believe that their group’s values, beliefs, behaviors, and organizing principles are superior to those of any other group. In the IC, this might be reflected in the CIA believing its practices to be “the gold standard” (Goss, 2005) or in the INR being promoted as “the biggest little intelligence shop in town” (Aspin quoted in Ignatius, 2004). Evolutionary psychology considers ethnocentrism to be an innate outgrowth of nepotism (van de Berghe, 1981), meaning ethnocentrism has a natural survival value for the group.
Psychologists tend to focus on the costs of ethnocentrism, including “in-group bias” or the tendency to see members of one’s own group in a more positive light relative to members of other groups (Tajfel, 1970). For example, in the IC, this might be reflected in a predisposition to favor types of information (e.g., clandestine human intelligence) produced by the agency in which the analyst is embedded. Across a variety of studies outside the IC, people have judged members of their in-groups to be smarter, more attractive, more
cooperative, fairer, more trustworthy, and more hard working than members of out-groups (cf., Brewer, 1979; Tajfel, 1970, 1982). This prejudice generally seems to entail withholding positive traits from the out-group rather than actively assigning negative traits to them (Fiske et al., 1999), and it is found to enhance the status of the in-group rather than degrade the out-group (Tajfel, 1982). Strikingly, this in-group bias occurs not only across real-life groups, but also can be activated with groups created in the laboratory based on minimal or random criteria, such as having the same birthday or similar final digits in Social Security numbers (Brewer, 1979; Brewer and Kramer, 1982). Moreover, in-group bias can occur with or without direct interaction (e.g., attitudinal biases that arise simply through observation or awareness of an out-group member), and without any prior personal history between the parties involved (Kahn and Zald, 1990).
From a practical standpoint, in-group favoritism is problematic in social landscapes with more than one group. First, it leads to discrimination, with in-group members being treated better than out-group members. People award higher monetary payouts and emotional payouts, such as helping behavior, to in-group members than to out-group members. Second, the bias leads to perhaps the most common problem in intergroup relations, “reciprocal antipathy,” or the difficulty of getting groups to cooperate with each other. As Kramer notes (2005, p. 407):
The problem of securing cooperation between interdependent groups has been a central and recurring theme in the study of intergroup relations from its inception (Sherif, 1966a; Sumner, 1906). Whether they are minimal groups created in laboratory settings (Tajfel, 1970), groups of boys at summer camp (Sherif et al., 1961), groups within organizations (Mouton and Blake, 1986), or even nation-states (Kahn and Zald, 1990), reciprocal antipathy between groups seems to develop with surprising frequency and alacrity.
In the IC, for example, this might create problems with respect to information sharing and create various “security regulations” that make it difficult for analysts to access information not collected or disseminated to their agency, or rules that limit access to certain databases (see Fingar, this volume, Chapter 1).
In-group bias impairs actors from different groups from cooperating with each other, even to achieve a mutually desired end state. Often simply associating oneself with an in-group leads to biases favoring one’s group over others (Cadinu and Rothbart, 1996; Smith and Henry, 1996; Turner, 1987). Homophily, or the tendency to be attracted to those who are similar to oneself (Blau, 1977; Berscheid and Reis, 1998), suggests that the simple categorization of others into a different group can produce bias and decrease cooperation.
Therefore, in-group favoritism does not necessarily stem from faulty incentive structures. Actors from two different groups can be given incentives to solve a particular problem or to share mutually needed information, yet still suffer coordination difficulties. Rather, in-group favoritism is rooted in the sociocognitive categorization mechanism, which primes a sense of difference that eschews cognitive and motivational roadblocks to cooperation. Recall that self-categorization is a process where someone cognitively assimilates his or her self-concept to the in-group prototype. A critical feature of group prototypes is that of meta-contrast, meaning prototypes maximize similarities within each group and differences across social groups (Hogg and Terry, 2000). For example, Ledgerwood and Chaiken (2007) find that people tend to radicalize their attitudes to assimilate to those of the in-group and contrast from those of the out-group. This might play out in the IC, for example, in predispositions to dismiss alternative judgments and hypotheses that originate outside of one’s agency (the “not invented here” problem).
A second outgrowth of ethnocentrism is the “out-group homogeneity effect,” or the tendency to see members of one’s own group as differentiated, but to perceive out-group members as similar and unvaried (Quattrone and Jones, 1980). Seeing in-group members as more varied cannot be attributed to knowledge and exposure, as this effect is found between groups, such as “men” and “women,” who interact frequently (Mullen and Hu, 1989).
The problem that arises from out-group homogeneity is stereotyping. A stereotype is a mental model that an actor has of another person based on the target’s social category membership (Lippman, 1922; Fiske and Taylor, 1991), so that the actor ascribes personality traits to the whole social category and subsequently confers these personality traits onto any member of that social group (Spencer-Rogers et al., 2007). Holding stereotypes about another social group is useful to the extent that members of the group behave in stereotype-consistent ways. Unfortunately, research shows that actors tend to discount stereotype-inconsistent behavior from targets. For example, actors tend to follow stereotypic information about an interdependent work partner, even when this information is fictitious and assigned on a random basis (Tinsley et al., 2002; O’Connor and Tinsley, 2009).
Although stereotypes are technically a cognitive phenomenon, they elicit an emotional concomitant that can be negative.5 The IC, like other
organizations, has many stereotypes that affect the way analysts in one agency think of and deal with their counterparts in other agencies. Common stereotypes include the perception that INR analysts are predisposed to believe what foreign officials claim to be the case and attach greater weight to diplomatic reporting than other forms of intelligence; that CIA analysts give greater credence to clandestinely acquired human intelligence; and that DIA analysts are prone to exaggerate military threats and to favor worst case possibilities.
Whether these stereotypes are true or not (or are based on truth but exaggerated, or were true but no longer are so) is irrelevant. Any stereotypes that analysts hold of each other will influence their expectations of each other and their decisions about whether or not to reach out and ask one another for help. Stereotypes can cause collaboration problems because the actor is conferring group-level information on an individual, who may or may not “fit the profile.” Thus, analysts can misunderstand each other’s needs and abilities. Moreover, because we tend to discount situational explanations for others’ behavior (Ross, 1977; Jones and Harris, 1967), and these attribution errors are more pernicious for out-group members (Allison and Messick, 1985), an actor could easily misperceive a target’s intent and ascribe a more sinister motive, making any interaction more emotionally trying than it needs to be.
Do these intergroup problems pervade every organizational interaction? Of course not, but social categorization and intergroup dynamics represent the backdrop against which everyday organizational activities occur. Like background music that sometimes fades out of awareness and at other times becomes an annoying distraction, intergroup issues can remain quiet or create a disconcerting amount of static. The next sections describe research on when intergroup dynamics are relatively dormant versus when they come forward as a powerful force shaping the interaction.
WHEN MIGHT INTERGROUP DYNAMICS BE MORE ACUTE?
In certain circumstances intergroup biases have an especially acute influence on members’ cognitions and behaviors. Generally, the degree of
entitativity of the social landscape, meaning the salience and perceived permanence of the group boundaries (because of simple, distinct, and consensual group prototypes), correlates to the amount of intergroup static. One context that tends to elicit intergroup categorizations and bias is a threatening situation. Realistic group conflict theory (Campbell, 1965; Sherif, 1966a) argues that resource threat leads to intergroup salience, and thus to ethnocentrism and intergroup conflict. This theory has received strong empirical support (Sherif, 1966b; Tajfel, 1970; Alexander et al., 1999). Similarly, Derks et al. (2008) delineate several types of social identity threat, such as the threat that one’s group might be devalued or lacks distinctiveness, and show that social identity threat also leads to “compensatory in-group bias.” In other words, not only can resource threat trigger differentiation and ethnocentrism, but also identity threat can trigger differentiation and prejudice against the out-group. In general, threats tend to activate a competitive mindset, which triggers ethnocentrism (Mussweiler and Bodenhausen, 2002; Stapel and Koomen, 2005).
A second context that evokes intergroup categories is when decision making requires speed or unusual cognitive effort. Recall that social categorizations can be automatic processes that offer a heuristic for how to approach and manage interactions with a target “other.” Such automatic processes tend to be activated when the mind is focused elsewhere. Time constraints, deadlines, or “high cognitive load” (complex tasks that require much thoughtful effort) tend to increase the use of cognitive short-cuts such as social categorization processes. For IC analysts this might mean that analyses that are particularly complex and/or time sensitive (that put stress on the analyst) will activate their intergroup categories. In these situations of tight deadlines and problem complexity, analysts are more likely to look to those within their own agency for help, rather than solicit the assistance of those in other agencies.
A final context in which group categorization and intergroup bias may be particularly acute is when individuals have a strong attachment to their own cultural group. Individuals generally become attached to strong cultures (Triandis, 2002), which create a high cohesion among group members, increasing group entitativity (Hogg, 1992, 1993). Cultures are strong when member consensus and intensity exists (O’Reilly, 1989). Specifically, members agree on the attitudes and beliefs they value and on normative behaviors; they also feel strongly about the importance of these values, beliefs, and norms. In this way, an individual’s in-group category is particularly accessible because it is valued or important (Hogg and Terry, 2000).
In industry, a strong culture is positively regarded. Management scholars point to successful companies (as measured by long-term stock performance) and argue that the organization’s strong culture contributed to its success (e.g., Walmart, Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom) (O’Reilly
and Pfeffer, 1995). The belief is that a strong culture represents a unique competitive advantage because it is an enduring and inimitable resource (unlike capital, which is easy to raise, or technology, which is often either shared or stolen).
A strong culture can improve employees’ commitment by giving them identity and meaning (Schein, 1988), and it can boost performance by serving as an informal control system. Formal control systems exist through appraisal and reward systems, yet such metrics can be imperfect, and at times, neither behavior nor outcomes can be adequately monitored (Dornbusch and Scott, 1975). Thus, culture can serve as a social control system that regulates behavior, particularly in the face of unusual or unpredictable situations that require initiative, flexibility, and innovation. In fact, many culture researchers argue that the less formal direction employees receive, the more ownership they take over their actions and performance. For example, at Nordstrom, associates are simply told to “use their good judgment in all situations” (Goodall, 1992). At Southwest Airlines, employees are instructed to do what it takes to make the customer happy.6 At the Ritz Carlton, associates learn to think of themselves as “ladies and gentlemen assisting other ladies and gentlemen” and are given large discretionary budgets to address customer complaints (Fisher, 2009).
Although many industry corporations strive for strong cultures, an important difference to note is that these organizations are building (or trying to build) one uniform culture throughout the organization rather than several different strong cultures unique to any division. Within the IC, building and maintaining a strong agency culture may be beneficial. However, the costs of these strong agency cultures can be salient intergroup boundaries.
HOW HAVE NEGATIVE INTERGROUP EFFECTS BEEN ATTENUATED?
Contexts in which groups show less bias against each other are mirror images of those above—that is, when there is little situational threat, low stress, few time constraints for problem solving, or weak group boundaries. Imagining the IC having many problems that are not complex, time sensitive, and potentially threatening is difficult, so the most useful approach may be to focus on situations that weaken the salience of the group borders. Two types of interventions seem to weaken the salience of the group category. The first is when attention is directed “up a level” to focus on a
See the Southwest Airlines customer service commitment at http://www.southwest.com/about_swa/customer_service_commitment/csc.pdf [accessed October 2010].
broader, more inclusive in-group with which all important actors can be members. The second is when attention is directed “down a level” to highlight that each analyst is his or her own unique, individual actor (a process called “individuation”).
Focusing Upward: Creating Larger In-Groups
Allport’s (1954) contact hypothesis argues that intergroup prejudice will decrease when the intergroup contact is structured so that: (1) groups have equal status, (2) groups share a common goal, (3) groups experience some initial cooperation with each other, and (4) group integration is supported by authority figures. A recent meta-analysis of this hypothesis (analyzing 515 independent studies over seven decades) finds good empirical support that intergroup contact eases intergroup prejudice, particularly when Allport’s conditions are followed (Pettigrew and Tropp, 2006).
To increase the chance that Allport’s conditions are met, many organizations try to construct a strong, companywide culture, whereby groups share a common status and goals and are encouraged to cooperate by organizational leaders. In the context of the IC, this might mean focusing on the IC as a whole or on the analytic slice of the IC, and creating a strong group identification for all IC analysts. Some evidence shows that when different groups are given a common, superordinate goal, their group identities merge and their collaboration increases. The common goal decreases the tendency to “free-ride” or simply abdicate any responsibility (Olson, 1965), and increases identification-based trust (Lewicki and Bunker, 1996).
Yet building a strong culture goes beyond sharing a common, superordinate goal. Generally senior managers (those with status and legitimacy) focus on three levers for building and maintaining a strong culture. The first is selection, or how new members are chosen. Organizations are advised to select new members based on “values fit” rather than on specific skills (Schneider, 1987). For example, General Electric looks for candidates who “stimulate and relish change and are not frightened or paralyzed by it” and “have a passion for excellence, hating bureaucracy and all the nonsense that comes with it” (Chatman and Cha, 2003). Cisco Systems recruits candidates who are frugal, enthusiastic about the Internet, and not obsessed with status (O’Reilly, 1989). The second lever is the socialization process, or how members learn the ropes. Two key aspects of socialization are the acquisition of knowledge (of formal and informal processes) and bonding with other members of one’s group. Socialization includes learning stories about the organization’s history, myths about heroic acts by past employees, behavioral rituals, and sacred symbols (Blumer, 1962). Socialization also includes participation in the organization (O’Reilly, 1989) because people’s attitudes often adjust to their behaviors rather than vice versa (Festinger,
1957). The final lever for managing culture is a system of punishment-and-reward mechanisms that cause members to experience the consequences of their actions. These mechanisms are often not financial. For example, at computer retailer CompUSA, regional sales meetings occur around a U-shaped table; those whose quarterly sales are lowest are assigned to sit “front and center” because they are presumed to need to pay closest attention. Similarly, CompUSA name badges also include their store’s “shrink number”—the amount of inventory lost to theft (Puffer, 1999, p. 29).
According to Heath and Staudenmayer (2000), most organizations suffer from “partition focus” and “integration neglect.” That is, organizations focus the majority of their resources on how to differentiate (divide their employees into groups) and neglect the question of how to bring them back together to coordinate action. This emphasis on partitioning may stem from how we are taught to solve complex problems—by breaking a seemingly intractable issue into its component parts and trying to isolate and solve each part individually. Yet, integration neglect is an unfortunate byproduct.7
Aside from strong organizational cultures, how do companies integrate and shift employee focus to the larger organization level? The most common choice is through managerial hierarchy. Differentiated units all report to a centralized “superior” unit that is responsible for synthesizing information from subordinate units. This type of integration is called “pooled integration” (Thompson, 1967) because the subordinate units pool information in the common superior unit. This process requires no interaction among subordinate units for routine tasks that can be parsed and delegated. By contrast, “linked interdependence” occurs when work flows from one unit to another, as in an assembly line, and “reciprocal interdependence” describes the flow of work back and forth between two or more units, as might be the case with intelligence analysis (Thompson, 1967).
These latter types of integration can also be managed through a superior unit, though this may not be the most efficient way of coordinating. More typically, the superior unit uses its authority to instruct the subordinate units to coordinate with each other. Some evidence shows that this “instruction to cooperate” works in laboratory settings. In controlled research experiments, “units” were more likely to cooperate with each other on a
mixed-motive task when they were told by an authority figure to cooperate with each other, as compared to when they were given no such instruction and were left to make their own choices (Sally, 1995). Moreover, Gaertner and various sets of colleagues (1994, 1996, 1999) found that when groups were instructed to cooperate with each other and experienced nonhostile interaction with each other, group members started to see themselves as two groups within a larger group. This happened both in the laboratory and in naturally occurring workgroups. Yet such cooperation may be short lived; once the authority figure is no longer monitoring behavior, cooperation may decrease. Moreover, cooperation under these circumstances may be nominal because it is externally rather than internally motivated.
Aside from simple instructions to collaborate, authority figures can reconfigure the inter-group landscape, forming new groups that cut across old group boundaries. In the IC, these cross-cutting groups might be special task forces formed to investigate a particular topic (human trafficking in Asia, drug smuggling across the Mexican–U.S. border). The salience of the new group may degrade the perceived strength of the old group boundary. Recall that individuals are members of multiple in-groups and that context cues which identity is elicited. When investigating this special topic, then, the new salient group might be the task force, increasing interagency collaboration.
One unanswered question from the literature is the extent to which individuals can hold loyalties to multiple, competing, and complementary in-groups. For example, can an analyst simultaneously have a strong identity with her agency, her particular topical task force, and the IC as a whole?
Marilyn Brewer’s work (Brewer and Pierce, 2005; Roccas and Brewer, 2002) suggests that some people may be able to multiple identify better than others. She and her colleagues note that people differ as to their “social identity complexity,” whereby people who are high on social identity complexity can see that they have divergent in-groups with different types of members, which tends to make them more open and tolerant of others. On the other hand, people who are low on social identity complexity perceive that their in-groups are highly convergent, making them less open and tolerant of others. That is, it does not matter how many different groups to which one is a member, per se, but rather how they are subjectively represented and combined that determines one’s level of inclusiveness for the in-group. Those individuals with high social identity complexity tend to construct an in-group as the union of all the various groups to which they belong, whereas those individuals with low social identity complexity tend to construct an in-group as the intersection of all the various groups to which they belong. Thus, IC analysts who are high on social identity complexity might respond much better to being regrouped into special task
forces than those low on social identity complexity. Being a member of a special task force might induce the former to construct a more inclusive and broader in-group, expanding the community of other analysts with whom they cooperate. Yet, this type of intervention might prompt the latter type of analysts to construct an even more exclusive and smaller “in-group,” further restricting the unit for which they might naturally cooperate.
Integration Through Individuation and Social Networks
Aside from focusing “up a level” on how all agents are members of the larger IC or on forming broader and more expansive “in-groups,” intergroup dynamics diminish when attention is focused down a level—when others are seen as individual agents more than as members of a social group. There are two processes: individuation and connecting these individual agents together through agent-to-agent networks.
Individuation is the opposite of self-categorization. Individuation is the process of coming to see oneself and others as individuals rather than merely as members of a social group (Jung, 1971). The more personalized an actor’s contact with someone, the less the actor stereotypes that individual (Brewer, 1996). Unfortunately, this individuation process requires mental energy (Neuberg and Fiske, 1987; Wegner and Wenzlaff, 1996). Thus, ironically, some research shows that intentional suppression of stereotypic thought can produce the very thoughts one is trying to suppress (Macrae et al., 1994; Wegner, 1994). Moreover, suppression can function as a repetitive prime that actually increases a stereotype’s accessibility (Macrae et al., 1994; Higgins, 1989). Thus, intentionally trying to ignore someone’s different group membership is not likely to produce favorable results.
By contrast, perspective taking, a process in which one attempts to merge the self with the other (Davis et al., 1996), may be one mechanism that can be used to induce individuation. Perspective taking means to imagine one’s self in another person’s position. When a person engages in perspective taking, his or her self-concept is activated, and because only one mental category seems to dominate at a certain time (Macrae et al., 1995), the self-concept is then applied to the target. Perspective taking is a conscious mental process that appears to elicit a subconscious recategorization of the target. Thus, perspective taking increases an actor’s empathy for and assistance to a target (Bateson, 1991) and tendency to attribute target behaviors to the situation rather than to target dispositions (Regan and Totten, 1975). Galinsky and Moskowitz (2000) found that asking people
to imagine a day in the life of an out-group target decreased stereotype activation and in-group favoritism.
Similarly, decreasing group distinctiveness by having out-group members disclose personal information or by removing cues of social dissimilarity likewise decreases intergroup bias (Bettencourt et al., 1992; Brewer and Miller, 1984; Gollwitzer et al., 1999). All these interventions are likely to reduce in-group favoritism because they function subconsciously on the actor. The actor is not aware of the social categorization processes or, more specifically, that the target’s categorical distinction from the self has evaporated.
Once actors are individuated, integration still requires a way for them to connect. Network scholars insist that every organization has a complex web of informal ties among individual employees (Krackhardt, 1990; Granovetter, 1985). Many kinds of social networks exist, such as advice networks, trust networks, and communication networks. These networks can literally be mapped by asking employees whom they go to for advice, whom they trust, whom they talk to every day, whose job they could assume with only 1 day of training, or whom they would recruit to support a proposal that might be unpopular. Generally a tie is said to exist between two people only if both individuals claim it does (Wellman and Berkowitz, 1988).
Network scholars also advance the idea that these social ties grow organically during the natural course of task accomplishment and that they can either be functional or dysfunctional to the organization (Krackhardt, 1990). Because managerial perceptions of social networks are usually inaccurate, upper managers are exhorted to uncover these networks through objective mapping. One configuration that is particularly problematic is an “imploded relationship,” in which a group of actors tightly linked within a group have no (or few) links outside the group. Also problematic is the “bow tie,” in which two imploded groups are linked to each other by only one (or a few) connections (Krackhardt, 1990).
Most prescriptive research in this area focuses on how individuals can build more personally useful social networks. Granovetter (1985) discusses the “strength of weak ties,” or the notion that the most useful people in your network may be those who are one tie removed from you, as they are likely to have access to novel information and opportunities; by contrast, people to whom you are immediately linked tend to have the same information you have. Thus, Uzzi and Dunlap (2005) caution us to beware of networking only with people we like or with those who are geographically convenient because they are not likely to offer new information or perspectives.
Because most scholars look at networks within firms, where they appear
to flourish without encouragement, only scant research is available on how to promote the organic growth of networks. Gulati’s work (1995; Gulati and Nickerson, 2008) that looks at network ties across firms discusses the importance of trust in alliance formation. Generally, alliances grow from the motivation and instigation of individual actors. Actors must feel they need something the target has (e.g., another type of intelligence) and must trust that if they ask for it, the target will be responsive. When someone allows himself or herself to be vulnerable and the other person does not violate that vulnerability, trust grows.
In the context of the IC, collaboration across agencies both requires trust and can engender trust. Collaboration requires trust because the initiating analyst will identify and admit to a need (making the initiating analyst vulnerable) and responding analysts will share sensitive information to meet these needs (making responding analysts vulnerable). Trust helps bridge this chasm of risk. When initial acts of faith result in fulfilled promises, reciprocal disclosures, and non-opportunistic behavior, then trust builds.
Unfortunately, the process of building trust can take some time. Building trust among analysts of different agencies can be difficult to engineer from above. “Bonding” experiences, such as Outward Bound trips that are not task relevant, risk becoming trite. However, creating a work-related task in which analysts from different agencies must cooperate with each other should build trust, assuming the agents perform well together. Allowing these agents space to cooperate in a task-focused manner, and giving them a little extra time to get to know each other, might foster mutual trust.
One intriguing idea is that analysts may be able to develop “swift trust” (Myerson et al., 1996), which is the collective perception that vulnerability that may exist in temporary systems will not be exploited. Swift trust seems to occur for people whose personalities predispose them to trusting others. Highly trusting people look for confirmation in other’s behavior, in particular whether those others have been helpful and enthusiastic (Popa, 2007). Therefore, some (e.g., high trusting) analysts who might be able to achieve a high rate of production collaborate rather quickly, despite the temporary nature of this interaction.
Online tools such as A-Space, Intellipedia, and the Analysts Resource Catalogue offer resources for analysts wishing to network with each other in real-time to solve discrete tasks and find answers to less well-defined research questions. In these new communication spaces, people may feel less vulnerable, and this “swift trust” might develop more readily. The burgeoning research on social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, might be useful to investigate because many of these social networking sites are now being used for transactional purposes (e.g., online marketing and product promotion). Traditional communication literature makes a great distinction between the types of messages that can be effectively
communicated online versus face to face. For example, Media Richness Theory (Daft and Lengel, 1984; Daft et al., 1987) contends that the more ambiguous and uncertain a task is or the more equivocal the communication needs, the richer8 the communication medium should be. However, whether this is still true for the generation bred on virtual communications and connections is unclear.
Casciaro and Lobo (2005) instruct upper managers to leverage the power of likable people to initiate connections among various unconnected individuals. They find that most people would rather interact with a “lovable fool” than a “competent jerk” in an interdependent work task. Thus, they argue that likable people (those who are empathetic, generous, and socially skilled) can reach out to others and even serve as brokers among different groups. Although the idea that people will respond to likable others makes sense (even if they are relative strangers asking for resources), whether any of these connections would flourish once the “likables” are no longer involved is uncertain.
The emphasis on likability calls to mind Cialdini’s extensive work on persuasion—how to get people to do something for you that they otherwise might not do. His six “weapons of influence” (Cialdini, 2008) include (1) likability—we are more likely to say yes to someone we like than to someone we do not like; (2) authority—we are more likely to say yes if we’ve been instructed by an authority figure to do so (see above section on integration through managerial hierarchy); (3) commitment and consistency—we are more likely to commit to larger favors after having already done a smaller favor (the “foot-in-the-door” technique); (4) social proof—we are more likely to do something if we see others doing it (see above section on culture and conformity); (5) reciprocity—we are more likely to do something for someone who has done something for us; and (6) scarcity—we are more likely to do something if we will get something scarce in return. Future research might look at whether these principles can be applied by analysts to encourage others to collaborate with them. Moreover, do analytic networks grow organically, emanating from pockets of likability, commitment, and scarcity?
CONCLUSION: WHY INTERAGENCY COLLABORATION IS VITAL
Hazards flourish in areas where no one is directly responsible. In the IC’s current environment of complex interconnected systems, risks are difficult to monitor, and uncertainty is inescapable. Unfortunately, because of this complex interconnectivity, even minor hazards can escalate to have large consequences (Perrow, 1984). This uncertainty is not all bad. New situations can bring new opportunities for process of innovation. At the same time, meeting new challenges can eschew unintended negative results that can be disastrous. Thus, integration processes should be undertaken mindfully. Intelligence needs to be as interconnected as the system of potential hazards might be. This interconnectivity means integrating intelligence analysis across agencies to help IC members “work the spaces between the cases” (Hayden, 2009).
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