Refocusing the Focus Group: AIRing as a Basis for Effective Workplace Planning


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Organizations commonly make use of focus groups for planning purposes while giving little thought to the dimensions on which those groups are formed. This paper argues that the dimensions of group formation have a significant effect on the ultimate success of any planning exercise. This is because in all organizations people necessarily self-categorize as members of groups that shape the way they think and act at work. However, there is often a lack of fit between the way organizations categorize employees and the way those employees categorize themselves. To the extent that there is a lack of fit between imposed and self-identified categories, we argue that organizations will fail to effectively harness group resources. Any planning strategy that makes use of groups should organize people in terms of identities that are most relevant to their work in order (a) to have an impact on the way people think and act and (b) to ensure that people have (and feel that they have) the opportunity to provide input that is relevant, useful and important for the organization. The paper discusses a technique, AIRing, that allows organizations to address this issue effectively. This is the first stage of the ASPIRe negotiation-based planning model (Eggins et al., Social Identity at Work: Developing Theory for Organizational Practice, pp. 241–260, Philadelphia, PA: Taylor & Francis, 2003; Haslam et al., British Journal of Management, 14 (2003), pp. 357–369).