Bring Your Workplace Together: How to Dissolve In-Groups and Out-Groups 

October 13, 2023

Bring Your Workplace Together

How to Dissolve In-Groups and Out-Groups 

In the workplace, the formation of “in-groups” and “out-groups” can significantly affect team dynamics and overall productivity. An “in-group” consists of employees who share common cultural traits, beliefs, or interests and because of this, feel a sense of belonging and even favoritism towards one another1. On the other side of the equation is the “out-group”, which refers to those who are viewed as different or separate from the in-group. This can lead to acts of exclusion or discrimination1. One way to bridge this gap is by introducing opportunities for compassionate synchrony, a concept that involves the mutual sharing and understanding of emotional and psychological states among team members.

What is Compassionate Synchrony?

Compassionate synchrony is a form of emotional attunement where individuals are aligned with each other’s emotional or psychological states in a way that is both caring and supportive. Though not a formally recognized psychological term, the concept draws upon elements of emotional contagion, empathy, compassionate care, and interpersonal synchrony2. Moments of compassionate synchrony allow for shared experiences of understanding, care, and support. These, in turn, transcend the boundaries that can form which limit empathy, like those between in-groups and out-groups.

The Problem of In-Groups and Out-Groups

Why They Exist

In-groups and out-groups are part of our natural social tendencies born from evolution. They exist due to our inclination to categorize and feel a sense of belonging which forms around commonalities such as ethnicity, culture, and shared beliefs1. Our brains are wired for grouping like this because it improved social cooperation and cohesion thousands of years ago when hunting, gathering, and defense was necessary for survival3. As well, by labeling another group as “other,” the in-group can more easily justify actions taken against the out-group for obtaining or holding on to resources or defending their territory. This could provide a competitive advantage when resources were short – especially before there were trade routes or complex societies that mandated more cooperation.4

Impact on Company Teams

The problem is that this formation of in groups and out groups is not just unnecessary in teams, it can actually be detrimental. These divisions can lead to a variety of issues, such as favoritism, exclusion, or even overt discrimination. The consequences are reduced productivity, increased conflict, and higher employee turnover5.

The Potential of Compassionate Synchrony

Promoting compassionate synchrony in the workplace can serve as an antidote to the divisive nature of in-groups and out-groups. Emotional and psychological attunement creates a sense of community and inclusion that weakens traditional boundaries. By integrating activities and programs designed to inspire compassionate synchrony, companies and organizations can promote a culture where all employees and members, regardless of their “group,” feel seen, heard, and valued. This, in turn, creates the sense of belonging that can see a company through very difficult times.

What does this antidote look like in real life?

  1. Team-building Activities

Interactive team-building activities that require collective problem-solving or creative input encourages members from in-groups and out-groups to collaborate. The focus on a common goal can spark emotional and psychological attunement.

  1. Open Dialogues

Facilitating open conversations about workplace experiences and challenges allows employees to understand a diversity of perspectives. This increases empathic connections and lessens in-group and out-group divisions.

  1. Peer Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs that pair individuals from different cultures or even different divisions can encourage the sharing of skills and foster emotional connection. The mentorship process is based on giving and receiving and can naturally break down social barriers and promote compassionate synchrony.

  1. Volunteering Together

Providing employees a day to volunteer together for a community project can be a superb way to create compassionate synchrony. Engaging in selfless activities together encourages emotional connection and a shared experience that can break down in-group and out-group barriers between employees. This is especially effective when the participants are all wearing special t-shirts or other wearables which create a sense of belonging during and after the event.

  1. Interdepartmental Projects

Purposefully involving team members from various departments in a project can also bridge the gap between different groups. Interdisciplinary teamwork can not only expand the skill set of the entire team (especially when adding mentoring between the departments), but also provide an opportunity for compassionate synchrony by working towards a common organizational goal.


By understanding the nature of in-groups and out-groups, their origins and their pitfalls, organizations can make moments of compassionate synchrony a priority to strengthen their teams. The implementation of exercises and activities designed to inspire connection not only enriches individual experiences but also unifies the team. Emotional attunement and a feeling of mutual support can serve as a powerful antidote to the conflict-ridden nature of in-groups and out-groups, fostering a more inclusive and effective work environment… which improves the bottom line.

  1. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33-47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

  1. Decety, J., & Jackson, P. L. (2004). The functional architecture of human empathy. Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 3(2), 71–100.

  1. Caporael, L. R. (1997). The evolution of truly social cognition: The core configurations model. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1(4), 276-298.

  1. Neuberg, S. L., Kenrick, D. T., & Schaller, M. (2011). Human threat management systems: Self-protection and disease avoidance. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(4), 1042-1051

  1. Ellemers, N., De Gilder, D., & Haslam, S. A. (2004). Motivating individuals and groups at work: A social identity perspective on leadership and group performance. Academy of Management Review, 29(3), 459-478.


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