Are You in the In-Group?
In-groups and out-groups
Companies don’t like admitting there are in-groups and out-groups—it conflicts with the one-big-happy-family thing they have going. They want to believe that everybody is equally valued and there are no first among equals. But, of course, organizations are set up exactly that way. There are in-groups at every level of a hierarchy, usually consisting of the boss and some of his immediate subordinates. So your boss is in more of an in-group than you by virtue of his position.
So, in-groups abound, most centered around the boss. (I’ll deal with peer-centered in-groups later). Being part of one can bring many benefits. So, my first question is:
Are you in the in-group?
This might seem a silly question but sometimes people don’t know. You are usually part of the in-group if:
- You’re the boss’ go-to guy. If you hear what’s coming down the pipe first and particularly if the boss asks your opinion of the new development, you’re probably in the in-group. But we need to distinguish between expert opinion and judgment opinion. Your boss might ask you something in your area of expertise. This is just fact-finding. When the boss asks your opinion on a grey area, or to throw around pros and cons—that is closer to in-group status.
- You get the cool assignments. There are often one-offs to try something new or fix a long-standing problem. Whether it’s a plum depends on if it’s seen as dog work you were unlucky enough to catch when the music stopped, or a glory assignment. Getting the latter may be a sign you’re in.
- Planning big announcements. Sometimes the boss needs to announce a disruptive change to your group. If you’re part of planning that announcement, you’re usually in the in-group.
- Peers ask your advice. Again, need to distinguish between expert and judgment advice. Advising how to get IT to action your ticket is not in-group stuff. But if you’re asked how the boss might view an action (asking for more holidays, changing the work distribution), you’re probably in the in-group or at least considered so by your colleagues.
The importance of being in
Having read this list, you might be inclined to dismiss this as just so much office politics. Well, you’re right—it is, but not unimportant for that reason. Think of the advantages you get from being in.
- You can increase your skill level on the cool assignments, making you more valuable to the company, and potentially more promotable.
- If you know what’s about to happen, you have more lead time to make smart career moves, whether it’s updating your resume or curbing your tongue when speaking of or to the dolt who’s in line for your boss’ job. It can help you thrive in your company if you can access the benefits of being in.
Aren’t we just talking about doing a good job?
But I wonder if there are some who are still having trouble with the whole concept. “Doing a good job—that’s how to get ahead.” I wish, wish, wish that were true. Certainly, if you are a consistent and spectacular screw-up, it’s tough to get in unless the position of court jester opens up. But hard work, lots of work, excellent work even, does not in any way smooth your way in. You’re competing with others who are also competent and hard working. That and $3.95 will get you a coffee at Starbucks.
 I am talking here about the more or less normal workplace. There are some work settings where the in-group are the people who are opposed to or contemptuous of the boss’ goals. I will address this type of in-group in a later post.