In today’s changing workplace, the rise of freelancing, remote working, and virtual teams means many organisations are grappling with how to generate a shared culture. This is no easy task, and here at the Hot Spots Movement, we’ve been looking for new sources of inspiration on how companies can address this challenge.
One particularly interesting insight comes from a field that few of us would associate with organisational culture: social movement theory. This was the focus of my PhD and, at first glance, the two may seem strange bedfellows. But on closer inspection, this field reveals important lessons for companies on how to build what is known as ‘collective identity’.
Collective identity describes a sense of self that goes beyond the individual, placing the desire of a group above your own.[i] Many sociologists have pointed to it as an explanation of why unstructured or informally organised social movements, like the LGBT liberation or anti-nuclear movements were created.[ii] In these movements, a strong, shared identity was compelling enough to bind diverse, disparate groups of people into achieving a shared goal.
Likewise, collective identity is powerful in the organisational context too. Research has shown that when a person starts to identify collectively, there is a shift in their goals, and that even ‘selfish’ individuals become cooperative when they identify with a group.[iii] In addition, when people in a work setting have a strong sense of group identity, morale and productivity rise.[iv]
So, how can you go about creating a collective identity in your team or organisation? Here are three steps to get you started:
- Create A Clear Narrative: Whether it be the women’s, LGBT or environmental movement, what binds individuals in social movements is the feeling that they are part of a broader ‘whole’. For organisations, describing what the company as a collective has achieved in the past, or common values and shared characteristics required to be ‘part’ of the collective can replicate this.[v] An example can be seen in John Lewis Partnership, which places the views of their founder on co-ownership as a core part of their organisational and brand identity, ensuring that their employees feel connected to a shared past and mutual beliefs.[vi]
- Create Common Goals: Social movements are bound together by a shared desire for change, and similarly, identifying a common goal across departments can be powerful in ensuring people feel a shared identity, and don’t revert to identity by function.[vii] We saw this in action in a recent crowdsourcing project we ran with an Irish bank. The Bank invited their 11,000 employees from across divisions and departments to collectively craft five brand values they could all identify with. This provided an opportunity for the employees to work on a shared goal, resulting in a feeling of communal achievement.
- Create Opportunities for Co–Creation: Collective identity in social movements is solidified through actions, whether that be attending meetings or organising protests. For companies, creating shared tasks, which require discussion across the group, can help ensure that employees feel a united identity. For example, our Jam platform allows organisations to build on the power of their teams through crowdsourcing, empowering employees to solve problems together, and creating a shared purpose and engagement in the process.
So, next time you feel your team is not clicking, perhaps draw inspiration from social movements, and focus on building collective identity.
To find out more about our work on identity and culture, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Flesher Fominaya, C. (2010). Collective Identity in Social Movements: Central Concepts and Debates. Sociology Compass 4/6, 393-404. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/64c8/328c26d1819142d8ea6348db1b61ce475a1f.pdf
[ii] Melucci, A. The Process of Collective Identity. Johnston, H. and Klandermans, B. Social Movements and Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1995).
[iii] Van Bavel J. and Packer, D. (December 27 2016). The Problem with Rewarding Individual Performers. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/12/the-problem-with-rewarding-individual-performers
[v] Seaman Jr., J.T and Smith, G.D. (December 2012). Your Company’s History as a Leadership Tool. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/12/your-companys-history-as-a-leadership-tool