On Ladders and Pyramids: Hierarchy's Shape Determines Relationships and Performance in Groups

On Ladders and Pyramids: Hierarchy's Shape Determines Relationships and Performance in Groups

By
Siyu Yu, Lindred Greer, Nir Halevy, Lisanne Van Bunderen
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (in press).
2019

Hierarchies take different forms, which individuals mentally represent using different geometric shapes. We propose and empirically demonstrate that individuals’ mental representations of the shape hierarchy takes affect its consequences. Five studies compared two common mental representations of hierarchy shapes—ladders and pyramids—to explore whether, why and how individuals’ perceptions of hierarchy’s shape undermine constructive relationships within groups and group performance. Study 1 demonstrated that individuals commonly mentally represent hierarchies as ladders and pyramids. In Studies 2 and 3, employees who perceived their workplace hierarchies to be shaped like ladders (as compared to pyramids) experienced worse intragroup relationships. Finally, Studies 4 and 5 experimentally manipulated groups’ hierarchical shape in the lab and found that ladder-shaped hierarchies undermined social relationships and group performance relative to pyramid-shaped hierarchies. Taken together, these findings enhance our understanding of hierarchies’ multifaceted consequences and help shed light on the (dis)utility of hierarchy for group functioning.