Scholars have assumed that social hierarchies, the rank ordering of individuals with respect to a valued social dimension within a team, are stable over time. However, hierarchies change and the more changeable they are, the more likely they are to lead to conflicts and have other negative interpersonal consequences. In this dissertation, I examine both the ups and the downs of hierarchy.
Focusing on how and why people go up the hierarchy, I conducted a qualitative study of Dutch politicians to explore what drives them to engage in hierarchy struggles, or competitions for more influence within their teams. Contrary to previous research, which has focused on two forms of hierarchy struggles, my results suggest that three distinct forms of hierarchy struggles exist – power, status, and leadership struggles. Power struggles are about increasing control over valued resources, while status struggles are about increasing one’s respect and admiration in the eyes of others. Leadership struggles are about increasing one’s influence to better advance collective goals. In subsequent studies I develop scales to measure these constructs and to replicate the tri-partite structure of hierarchy struggles distinguishing them from other types of conflict. I then leverage these studies to build a conceptual model focused on how, why, and when team members engage in a hierarchy struggle with other team members to climb the hierarchy and how other team members likely respond to these.
Finally, in examining the downs of hierarchy, I focus on the different nature of losing power versus losing status. I argue and demonstrate that losing status is more painful and has greater intra- and interpersonal consequences than losing power. Together, the studies and model presented in this dissertation offer an in-depth exploration of the changeable nature of hierarchy and suggest that the changing nature of social hierarchies can be a source of contention and has significant implications for within-team dynamics.

D.L. van Knippenberg (Daan) , L.L. Greer (Lindred)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
ERIM Ph.D. Series Research in Management
Erasmus Research Institute of Management

Schouten, M. (2016, June 2). The Ups and Downs of Hierarchy: the causes and consequences of hierarchy struggles and positional loss (No. EPS-2016- 386 - ORG). ERIM Ph.D. Series Research in Management. Retrieved from