Crossing the Divide: Intergroup Leadership in a World of Difference (Harvard Business Press, 2009) edited by Todd L. Pittinsky and reviewed by Steve Gladis, Ph.D., September 2011.
Overview: If you’ve ever attended high school or worked with any group of people in your life, you’ve experienced intergroup leadership or the lack thereof. Most of us know what it’s like to be on the A-Team (the in-group) or the B-Team (the out-group) at work; in fact, some of us have experienced both in the same year, especially during a transition. Harvard Kennedy School professor and researcher Todd Pittinsky has edited an important set of articles to coalesce the best minds on what he calls the in-group/out-group trade-off—the dilemma that leaders have who want internal team devotion but risk losing big-picture cohesion by doing so. He notes that in a world of rapid change and uncertainty, power shifts create in- and out-groups. Just as presidents and world leaders have used the occurrence of war to coalesce countries against a common enemy, leaders within organizations both unwittingly and consciously do the same thing. They build strong loyalty out of a sense of survival by pitting their “team” against the rest of the organization, thus creating fractures that often become the organization’s demise. Pittinsky calls for intergroup leadership as an alternative to in-group/out-group trade-off. Such intergroup leadership brings different groups together “by lessening the ill will between them and by creating good will—two separate tasks….”(Introduction, p. xiv). Indeed, merely reducing negative relations between two groups is insufficient to have strong intergroup allegiance and collaboration. Rather, it also takes a strong increase in positive interactions and attitudes. The book is not for the faint of heart. It’s an academic research product, but so important that it should be taken seriously by CEOs and the senior corporate leaders. Pittinsky has grouped the articles into three sections: ‘Insights and Concepts’ is a theoretical/research perspective establishing the in-group/out-group phenomenon as worthy of leadership study. ‘Tools and Pathways’ offers leaders guidance toward crossing the divide in their own organizations. ‘Cases in Context’ provides case examples in politics, women’s movements, corporate America, and even interfaith issues. I must admit that HB Press sent this book to me several years ago to review, but I just recently read it because a client was facing this important issue. I only wish I had read it when it was published.