To Compete or Collaborate – Status in group

Spataro, S. E., Pettit, N. C., Sauer, S. J., & Lount, R. B. (2014). Interactions Among Same-Status Peers: Effects of Behavioral Style and Status Level. Small Group Research, 45(3), 314–336. doi:10.1177/1046496414532532



Looking at group development and collaboration it is important understand how titles, status, and implied hierarchy of organizations have an effect on the desired outcomes set forth by the group.  Spataro, Pettit, Sauer, & Lount (2014) set out to determine what the effects are on group dynamics and willingness to collaborate in and within status groups.

Through the research Spataro et al., took a group of 61 university students, had them complete a general knowledge quiz, and a NASA survival quiz.  Once finished, participants were given a status of “high”, “middle”, or “low”.  These status’ were not based on any results of their test, but rather as an imposed control to make sure that at least one member of each status was represented in a small group.  They were then given “feedback” on their quizzes from other members; the feedback was manipulated so that it was either seen as competitive, or collaborative in nature, and from what “status”.  For this test the competitive feedback was more direct and accusatory of why answers were chosen, and the collaborative was more exploratory and asking how answers were chosen and that a discussion of rationale would be sought after.

After the feedback was given, participants were asked to how likely they would be to work with each member based on the feedback given. The researchers found that there was a higher level of willingness to work together in a collaborative manor among the “high” status members.  The “low” and “middle” status members were willing to work in a collaborative manor at higher rates than competitive.  However, those in “low” status were just as likely to work in a competitive group.

Overall, Spataro et al., state that the perceptions of status and the implied hierarchy that comes with titles have an effect on members willingness to collaborate over compete, as the lower statuses have a desire to stand out as an individual to gain higher status.  Where as those in a higher status find greater benefits from learning from others and sharing with those in similar titles.  They did state that the lower and middle status will work with higher status in collaborative levels.

Personal Application:

Looking at the results and background of this study, I see this play out in my own work.  Competition being set forth by the structure of title and rank, as it relates to advancement of position, rather than knowledge base and skills brought forward.  When thinking about areas of intervention I would like to implement, I have to wonder if having a group representing multiple departments, with individuals of varying “status” at the same table, will there be a natural divide in the group when goals and initiatives are set forth to accomplish.

Even though we should all be working on the same goal of student retention, regardless of college affiliation, as that is the common charge of departments.  I still have concerns that there may be some that the connection to individual departmental goals will supersede the desire to work as a collective. Furthermore I am worried that status of individuals in the group will overshadow or deter some from working in a collaborative group effort to assist all students.

Limitations in my practice:

I see the limitations coming out in who will be the participants, and I also have to consider that this study was done with a group of relative strangers.  The group that I will be working with has preexisting working relationships in other areas, or have personal relationships outside of their titled positions.

As stated in the report, this does not take into consideration “control over resources” (Spataro et al., 2014,  p. 328), as I know some of the more established colleges have more financial, and personnel resources.  I need to get an understanding of what personal characteristics someone might be looking for in those one collaborates with.

Final thoughts:

I found this article helpful in framing out a reason as to why or why not groups working together are successful or not, more so if they are as successful as they could be due to individuals perception of status in the group, where they stand, and what can be obtained from standing out or working together.   If through working with groups I can identify if someone is being more competitive and intentional holding back, or stunting somebody else’s opportunity to contribute perhaps I can get help that individual see the benefits of a more collaborative approach, as in what can be learned from the group and the ease at which outcomes can be achieved.


Spataro, S. E., Pettit, N. C., Sauer, S. J., & Lount, R. B. (2014). Interactions Among Same-Status Peers: Effects of Behavioral Style and Status Level. Small Group Research, 45(3), 314–336. doi:10.1177/1046496414532532

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