What Are the Causes of Intergroup Conflict?

Intra group conflict can contribute to the conflict between groups as well.
Intra group conflict can contribute to the conflict between groups as well. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Intergroup conflict is disagreement and conflict that arises between two or more groups withing an organization. Generally regarded as a bad thing, intergroup conflict has a number of causes and can prevent departments and functional teams within an organization from working together effectively to deliver the best solution to the client or customer.


Tony Belak, Executive Director of the International Center for Collaborative Solutions at Sullivan University in Louisville believes the most prominent cause of intergroup conflict is the nature of the groups. What he means is that differences in backgrounds and experiences give employees different perspectives when discussing ideas or working through problems. More diverse workforces often produce a broader range of ideas and solutions, but employees need culture awareness and acceptance of their differences. Diversity impacts conflict both within groups and between them.

Incompatible Goals

One of the most common and easy to understand causes of intergroup conflict is simply incompatible goals, according to Belak as well as Miles Hewstone and Katy Greenland in their 2000 International Journal of Psychology article on the topic. Just as conflict arises among group members with different goals, groups competing against each other for shared resources often disagree on how to use those resources based on their competing objectives.

Poor Communication

Little or no communication is another major cause of intergroup conflict. Belak notes that isolation from other contributes to feelings of superiority and limits the ability of groups to interact. When groups that are intended to work together toward organizational goals fail to communicate about their respective pursuits, confusion, misalignment and feelings of discontent are more prevalent. Groups need the ability to interact and communicate to work toward common goals.

Unequal Reward Structures

Tangible systems of rewards and consequences as well as distribution of public praise and criticism toward groups within a workplace also lead to conflict. When one group feels that another is unfairly evaluated or rewarded based on different standards, that group can become biased or envious of the preferred group. Hewstone and Greenland indicate that this informal evolution of social identity within the workplace strongly impacts feelings of groups about one another.

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