How Concentration of Power Affects the Workplace

Topic(s): conflict, leadership
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2010)
Article: Equality versus Differentiation: The Effects of Power Dispersion on Group Interaction
Authors: L.L. Greer, G.A. van Kleef
Reviewed by: Holly Engler

Power refers to an individual’s capacity to modify others’ emotions or behavior. Not surprisingly, in organizational settings, power is most common among top management employees. For jobs such as factory line workers or retail associates, employees generally experience low power, as they are not as likely to be able to influence individual and organizational decisions. Dispersion of power, on the other hand, refers to differences in the concentration of power among group members. Where there is high dispersion, one person is likely to influence the group; where there is low dispersion, power is equal among group members.


The current research (Greer & van Kleef, 2010) found that groups with high power (management teams) also need high dispersion to ensure more effective group facilitation. If shared leadership is lacking among management members, individuals are likely to feel threatened. On the other hand, groups with low group power (factory line workers) may need one person to take charge. After all, they are more likely to accept hierarchy and need a superior to clarify roles and responsibilities. When power is optimally concentrated or dispersed, power struggles among group members are minimized and conflict is resolved, allowing teams to practice effective conflict resolution.


By utilizing this research, organizations can help create appropriate power structures in the workplace. This may allow organizations to foster input and creativity from peers as well as minimize unresolved conflict. This is important because when conflict cannot be resolved, employees are likely to be dissatisfied, frustrated, and experience disharmony. By being able to predict an increase in conflict resolution, organizations can ensure that there is order and stability in the workplace.


Greer, L. L., & van Kleef, G. A. (2010). Equality versus differentiation: The effects of power dispersion on group interaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(6), 1032–1044.