The social psychology of organizations

T.C. de Gilder, N. Ellemers

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

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Organizations pervade our lives in several ways. Most people work for 40 to 50 years as an employee or leader in different organizations, as an entrepreneur, or perhaps as a volunteer. Many students are already working in an organization, to pay for their studies and to cover living expenses. Even if you are not, being a student still means you spend time interacting with representatives from organizations, for instance at your university. Students depend on employees at the information desk and the security department; on people working at the IT department for access to the electronic learning environment and university library. They benefit from the work performed by those who clean the lecture theatre and definitely from those working at the coffee stand or canteen who can provide what students desperately need. And when university employees do not perform well, students are hindered too.

Obviously, there are many types of organizations. Textbook definitions clarify what they have in common: “An organization is a social arrangement for achieving controlled performance in pursuit of collective goals” (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2007; p. 6; see Figure 14.1). Organizations place people together in a building, provide them with tools, computers, or other resources, define their tasks, and prescribe the rules and procedures they have to follow. All this is intended to make individuals coordinate their efforts and achieve the organization's goals, be it building a car together, selling flowers, or offering health care. Thus, one of the primary challenges for organizations is to motivate people to work together as a team to benefit the organization. We will show how the application of insights from social psychology can help understand when and why people are motivated to work in teams and organizations. This approach reveals that – despite their individual characteristics – workers may behave quite differently depending on the relationship with their colleagues, the encouragement they receive from their leaders, or the policy communicated by the organization.

We will illustrate the added value of this approach by focusing on three recent contributions from social psychology that can help meet the challenge organizations face: to facilitate the ability of different individuals to work together towards joint goals.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationApplied Social Psychology
Subtitle of host publicationUnderstanding and Managing Social Problems
EditorsLinda Steg, Kees Keizer, Abraham P. Buunk, Talib Rothengatter
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781107358430
ISBN (Print)9781107620292, 9781107044081
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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