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Essay structure

1. Introduction

2. Definition and description of ‘social categorization’ linked to case study

2.1 criteria of categorization (culture, geographical location, nationality, functions etc.)

2.2 intergroup behavior

3. How social categorization create enduring divisions across nationality

4. How social categorization generate polarization of subgroups in global teams

5. Conclusion

No man is an island, all of us live in society. Since childhood people are involved in cognitive process. Some scientists claimed that categorization is an essential part of cognitive process (Bruner, 1957; Doise, 1978; Eiser&stroebe, 1972). People create stereotypes to clarify the system of the world. Sometimes, categorization plays an important role in organization, especially when it operates on international level. Perception people out of group as “others” can lead to misunderstanding and even intergroup antagonism. Besides, division into groups can cause such problems as conflicts in intergroup behavior, enduring divisions and even polarization. In this essay the influence of social categorization on international business will be considered.

Usually all people tend to belong to any social group. It is caused by such factor as self-esteem or self-enhancement. Self-identification to any social group by highlighting the main distinctions and by emphasizing similarities with other members of the group leads to self-categorization. Self-categorization strengthen by comparison of group members with people our of group. Besides self-categorization there is a social identity, which also leads to social categorization. It works in the following way: people categorize others to reduce the uncertainty of social world.

Social categorizations divides people into categories. These categories based on intergroup differences and intragroup similarities of different characteristics. These differences also can be called criteria of social categorization. According to Aschforth B., and Mael F., and the theory of social identification (SIT), organizational identification can be considered as a form of social identification. In case of Sun Microsystems categorizes were mostly based on nationality differences and geographical location. To match the need of globalization, it was necessary For Greg James to create a global team to operate in different parts of the world. Subteams of Sun Global teams were distinguished by countries. Hence, occur cultural inequalities between subteams and intragroup cultural resemblance within each subgroup (stereotypical dimension). It is clear from the case, that there was comparison between subteams, and each of them consider other to be “different” and “another”. Besides, according to company coordination, each subteam had particular field of activity, so they had also differences based on functions. For instance Indian team was responsible for customer maintenance, whereas US and France teams could participate in decision-making process and their activities were also related to innovations. The fact that Indian and UAE teams couldn’t take part in the process of decision-making made them feel to be a second-level workers.

Social categorization eventually has a strong impact on intergroup behavior. According to H. Tajfel, M.G. Billing, R.P. Bundy and Cl. Flament, “Intergroup behavior as a function of variables deriving from conflict, competition, co-operation, the nature of personal interaction within and between groups, ingroup and outgroup structure, the position of individuals in groups, their personalities, etc.”

Using James’ team as an example, his 45-person team has been divided into different groups and their interrelations: the action of members of one group (their intergroup) towards or in relation to the members of other groups. Each group has their specific works and the conflicts, tensions, antipathies in a team related to group membership.

Social identity theory argued that intergroup relations given the relational and comparative nature of social identifications, social identities are maintained primarily by intergroup comparisons and given the desire to enhance self-esteem; groups seek positive differences between themselves and reference groups. (Tajfel, 1978, 1981: Smith, 1983) From James’ team we can find that each group believed it should have more authority than the other groups willing to allow, and they tended to rate their own group as contributing the most to the whole team. For example, Indian team felt if they were low- status group among the lager team. Because they had fewer agenda items, their concerns were always reviewed last, and they feel always interrupted. And Indian team are unhappy about the fact that they are often to do customer maintenance work. French team feels displeasure about the lower salary than American team. American team feels it’s unfair that French workers enjoyed job security in a way they could not, etc.

Then intergroup attitudes became extremely partisan and led to deadlocks in negotiations between the groups. Where the groups were provided with opportunities to discuss their respective solutions, they tended not to exchange objective information but to attack and attempt to don’t like receive each other’s views.

Theory takes for granted that real intergroup relations presuppose shared social

Social categorization and social identification may lead to generate permanent divisions across nationality. According to Sherif & sherif (1969), it has been suggested that the forming process, the contained norms and the members’ characters of one group can all affect the attitude toward another group. As it can be seen in the case, the Open Work program divided 45-person team into four subgroups which are structured that each manager had 11 direct reports and direct supervise approximately 11 employees.



Recruitment (forming process)



Mumbai human resources team hired employees by impressive resumes of graduates from the India Institutes of University.



Same as the Indian team



Engineers were brought in for an unrelated short-term project



Employees came from an acquisition of a start-up company

The individual’s self-esteem may be affected by the positive and negative intergroup comparisons accordingly. (Oakes & Turner, 1980) In the case, when problem with HS holdings happened, Praveen Devilal (Support Engineer, Mumbai Team) didn’t call Nick Elliott (Application Support Engineer, Santa Clara Team) because in the past he’d felt insulted by Nick who said Indian team wasn’t competent.

Also, in-group identification could stem from the competition between subgroups. (Friedkin & Simpson, 1985) Social identification affects the outcomes of subgroups, including intragroup cohesion, cooperation and positive evaluation of the group. (Turner, 1982) As we can see from the case, due to the closeness between James Greg (Global manager at Sun Microsystem) and the US team, it appealed that they made most decisions already. So, members of the three non- US teams felt that they were perceived only as an afterthought. Therefore, when the HS holding problem occurred, the Indian team accused of the US team about its difficulty to contact rather than blame itself.

One central and consistent issue in studying intergroup relationship is the difficulty to manage interdependence. (Sherif, 1966; Sumner, 1906) The Indian team had strained relations with the UAE team because Ahmed Ashok (Customer Service Manager, UAE Team) is from Pakistan. In reality, the different religions and nations in workforce are unavoidable.

The process of social categorization might lead to group polarization among multinational team. Hog, Turner and Davidson (1990) defined the term polarization as “The tendency for group discussion to produce a group decision or consensual group position that is more extreme than the mean of the individual group members' pre-discussion attitudes and opinions in the direction already favored by the group”. Kogan and Carlson (1969), cited by Wetherell, highlighted that a sense of common fate and intragroup similarity (Moscovici and Zaleska (1978), cited by Wetherell) tend to promote polarization. Similarity, ingroup norm and identification within the group will create a convergent attitude in the team (Hog, Turner and Davidson, 1990). Regarding to the Sun Microsystem case, the global team are divided into subgroup by based on the cultural and geography difference, as a result, it is likely to generate a group polarization among different cultural team. The Indian and French teams have shared similar norms in terms of power distance cultures, Hofstede (1991), cited by Gibbs explained that these countries have related to high power distance cultures which are highly concerned about status distinction and hierarchy, while the USA team is regarded as low power distance cultural country so they tend to minimize the hierarchy. As a result, it is likely to generate the coordination problem among these teams. What’s more, there is a cultural conflict between UAE and Indian group since the leader of the UAE team, Admed Nazr, who is originally from Pakistan, does not feel comfortable with the Indian People like Rahul. Consequently, these contextual differences among team members may lead to different expectations and sets of behavior in the team and therefore might create polarization in the organization (Maznevski 1994, cited by Gibbs).

From polarization, each subteam is likely to show competitive behaviors towards each other automatically instead of collaboration (Hogg and Abrams, 2003). Mintzberg, 1983, Cited by Mael explained this situation as social categorization leads to Symbolic interactionism which in-group members tend to perceive out-group with the bias perspective, while experience other members in their own group with the real perception resulting in a conflict in the organization since each subteam regards themselves into the different polar and acting against each other. In addition, people who are categorized into the same team also favor their ingroup members and have a sense of belonging to their groups, but tend to discriminate other group (Hogg and Abrams, 2003). As we can see from the case study that the American team perceived Indian team as an incompetent team as a result, it generated a conflict among global team as when the problem occurred, the Indian staff tried to solve the problem by himself to proving that he has enough ability to deal with this issue instead of collaborating with the USA team (Neeley and Delong, 2009).

Apart from that, social categorization also induces the stereotype and prejudiced attitudes among different team members (Hogg and Vauhan, 2005). It is illustrated in the case that Greg James might consider Indian team members as a low ability team, so he distributed a customer maintenance work to them, on the other hand, he allocated a more interesting work to the USA team as a customer technology customization and innovation (Neeley and Delong, 2009).


To sum up, due to people may be classified in various categories and different individuals may use different categorization, in a same team the different categorizations will produces the various intergroup behavior. Such as: induces the stereotype and prejudiced attitudes among different team members.

In addition, this essay showed that the enduring divisions across nationalities caused by distant co-workers is comprised of three main problems which are the individual’s self-esteem may be affected by the positive and negative intergroup comparisons accordingly. Moreover, in-group identification could stem from the competition between subgroups. In addition, one central and consistent issue in studying intergroup relationship is the difficulty to manage interdependence.

Moreover, those events were described above which reflected the different social categorizations may generates the polarization of subgroups in global teams. One of challenges for James’s team is about that a sense of common fate and intragroup similarity (Moscovici and Zaleska (1978), cited by Wetherell) tend to promote polarization and ingroup norm and identification within the group will create a convergent attitude in the team. Another critical aspect of James’s group is the various social categorizations may lead to intergroup competitive behaviors instead of collaboration.

In light of observations, this essay strongly recommends that James’ team have to increase the intergroup cooperation, cohesiveness and loyalty in his team. There are several methods to help James solve these problems. Firstly, Turner (1982) suggested that set up more salient common identifications between conflicting subgroups should tend to create cohesiveness and the perception of cooperative interests between members of the previous subgroups. Secondly, he also suggested that developing the system of status and role relationships, social norms and share values enable the structure of team become more stabilized, organized and prescribed. Finally, James have to produces the motivational interdependence for the satisfaction of intergroup needs, achievement of intergroup goals, or consensual validation of attitudes and values with distant co-workers leads to their social and psychological interdependence. (Turner, J. C. & Giles, H., 1981)

Turner, J. C. & Giles, H. (1981) intergroup behavior. Oxford, Basil Blackwell. pp.66-99

Blake E. A. &Fred M. (1989) Social identity theory and the organization. Academy of Management pp.20-39


1 Friedkin, N. E., & Simpson, M.J. (1985) Effects of competition on members’ identification with their subunits. Administrative Science Quarterly, 30, pp 377-394.

2 Sherif, M., & Sherif, C. W. (1969). Social psychology. New York: Harper & Row.

3 Oakes, P. J., & Turner, J. C. (1980) Social categorization and intergroup behavior: Does minimal intergroup discrimination make social identity more positive? European Journal of Social Psychology, 10, pp 295-301.

4 Sherif, M. (1966). Group conflict and co-operation: their social psychology.

London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

5 Sumner, W. G. (1906). Folkways. New York: Ginn.

6 Turner, J. C. (1982) Towards a congnitive redefinition of the social group. In H, Taifel (Eds.), intergroup behavior, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press pp15-40.

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