Peer Control in Organizations

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Publication Date


Publication Title

Organizational Control






Peer control occurs when workers who are at the same organizational level or in the same field exert lateral control over their peers. Peer control is widespread in organizations, yet is not well understood. This chapter discusses the scope of the peer control concept, including different types of formal and informal peer controls designed by managers and workers. The potential benefits and drawbacks of peer control are also discussed. Five theoretical perspectives that can be used to examine informal peer control are reviewed. The chapter concludes with suggestions for future research on peer control.

Peer control is widespread in organizations and impacts a variety of important individual and organizational outcomes, but relatively little management research examines peer control as compared to other forms of organizational control, such as supervision/leadership and incentive pay. Yet wider spans of control and greater use of teams and self-managed work groups have decreased organizations' use of direct supervision and increased the importance of interpersonal influence and lateral coordination to direct and motivate work in organizations (Ilgen and Pulakos,1999; Pfeffer, 1997). Furthermore, although competitive and economic conditions often leave little room for organizations to offer enough incentive pay to have a substantial influence on workers, the discretionary rewards and sanctions that coworkers give one another frequently do have very meaningful influences on workers.

The goals of this chapter are to show that peer control is an important, yet insufficiently understood, element of the organizational control system and to stimulate new research on peer control.