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Joining together: Group theory and group skills
Te gebruiken bij
Auteur(s): G.W. Johnson & F.P. Johnson
Druk/Jaar van uitgave: 11th edition
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Dynamics in groups
Introduction: individuals and groups
Every human being functions within a group. People are born into a family group. Later in life, humans form other groups with friends and coworkers. Group membership is a dominate characteristic of human interaction. Humans are social creatures from birth until death. Survival is dependent on our ability to function in groups. Our identity is determined by how we are perceived and treated by our peers. An area of social science called group dynamics is the scientific study of the nature of group life, how people behave in groups, how groups develop, and how group members interrelate with each other and with the group as a whole. The aim of this book is to explain group theory and research as well as to help the reader improve their small-group skills.
It is important to clarify what the term “group” means. Many social scientists disagree with each other in this regard. Here, we’ll discuss seven of the most common definitions. Pay close attention to how and where the definitions are alike or different. One way to define a group is as a number of individuals who join together to achieve a goal. People join groups to achieve goals that they would not be able to achieve alone. Social scientists, Freeman (as early as 1936), Mills, and Deutsch argue that groups would not exist unless there is a common goal that the members are all trying to achieve.
A second way to define a group is as a collection of individuals who are interdependent in some way. By this definition, individuals are a group when an event that affects one member of the group affects all members of a group. Cartwright, Zander, Fiedler, and Lewin are social scientists that adhere to this definition.
A third definition defines a group as a number of individuals who interact with one another. By this definition, a group cannot exist unless its members interact. Social scientists who adhere to the interpersonal interaction definition of group are Hare, Bonner, Stodgill, and Homans.
A fourth way to define group is as a social unit, which consists of two or more persons who perceive themselves as a part of a group. Bales and M. Smith adhere to this definition based on perception of membership.
A fifth way to define group is as a collection of individuals whose interactions are structured by a set of roles and norms. McDavid and Harari, and Sherif and Sherif subscribe to this definition based in structured relationships. A group can also be defined as a collection of individuals who influence each other. By this definition, individuals are a group only if they affect and are affected by each other. The main characteristic of a group in this definition is interpersonal influence or mutual influence. Shaw is a social scientist who champions this definition.
The last common definition we will discuss defines group as a collection of individuals who are aiming to fulfill a personal need through joint association. By this definition, individuals are in a group because they have a personal reason to be a part of the group and a group may not exist if the members’ needs are not satisfied. Bass and Cattell define group this way, based on member motivation.
Some of the above definitions are too specific while others are very vague. The common element is that not every collection of people is necessarily a group. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the definition of group as a number of persons or things regarded as forming a unit on account of mutual or common relation or classified together on account of a common degree of similarity.
If we consider and combine all the definitions we have discussed, a small group can be defined as a collection of two or more individuals in person-to-person interaction who are positively interdependent, aim to achieve common goals, and are aware of their own membership in the group as well as the membership of others in the group. While not all groups will fulfill this very specific definition, the most common examples of small groups do. There is a difference between small and large groups. While small groups can be defined in terms of member interaction, a group can also include members who share characteristics without having actually met each other. Examples would be a community or people who share the same ethnic background.
In contrast to a group, an aggregate is a collection of individuals who while present at the same time and place, are not similar and do not form a unit. Examples include people standing on a street corner and students attending a lecture. Additionally, some people do not believe that groups exist. Such people are supporters of the individualist orientation, which focuses on the individual since without individuals a group cannot exist. These social scientists study the individual group members. An early supporter of an individualist orientation, Floyd Allport felt that groups do not feel, act, or think. These are attributes of individuals, thus individuals should be studied rather than groups. Allport saw groups as nothing more than a shared set of values or habits of each individual member or the sum of the actions of each individual member.
On the other hand, those that support group orientation study the group as a whole, independent of the individual members. Social scientists who support group orientation focus on the influences of the group and the larger social system. Emile Durkheim was such a supporter and believed groups were different from individuals. He felt that small primary groups such as families and close friends were the building blocks of society. Another supporter of group orientation, Le Bon, felt that the mind of a group exists separately from the minds of each group member. Cartwright and Zander felt that a group mind could be healthy or harmful. Cattell felt that groups had different personalities. Lewin felt that groups could not be understood through individuals because once the individuals came together in a group, a new entity was formed. Solomon Asch advocated both individualist and group orientation explaining that groups are like water. Each of the elements, hydrogen and oxygen needed to be studied separately, but the combination of hydrogen and oxygen is a new element that should also be examined. It is important to note that evidence has shown that group behavior produces stronger reactions than individual behavior. Additionally, when individuals are viewed as belonging to a particular group, they may be susceptible to stereotypical judgments or assumptions.
Importance of groups
Historically, humans function in small groups. Early humans lived in small hunting and gathering groups; later humans lived in small farming communities. More recently, humans live in large cities. All of these situations require teamwork among people. Some see this ability to work well in groups as the reason humans still exist today.
Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons are two recent branches of the human species. Modern humankind developed from Cro-Magnons. Cro-Magnons were physically inferior to the Neanderthals however through working together were able to out survive them. Cro-Magnons cooperated through group hunting, experimenting with new materials and sharing knowledge. Thus they were able to develop new technologies and tools. Ultimately, humans developed a higher standard of living and improved the quality of life through cooperation.
Almost every part of modern life is affected by how individuals work in groups. By understanding group dynamics, we can improve our lives through building more effective groups in all areas of life: family, business/industry, education, and psychological health. Anthropologist Margaret Mead saw the family as the toughest human institution.
In the last one hundred years, family structure has changed as the extended family disappeared and the number of single parent homes increased. Understanding group theory and having small-group skills is necessary in order to have constructive families in light of these new challenges. In terms of business and industry, more and more businesses rely on the high productivity of small groups. This is in contrast to the mass production and large scale manufacturing that dominated the first half of the twentieth century. Today, employees work in teams to create new products, conduct research, and more. Additionally, new technologies allow teams of employees across multiple continents to work together.
Today’s successful organizations need to be continuously learning, innovative, and adaptable. Essentially, people need to work well in small groups to produce positive results. In terms of education, the structure has changed from a lecture format to cooperative learning. Rather than listening to a lecture and taking notes, students work in groups. This leads to higher achievement, greater mental health, and better relationships. In terms of psychological health, support groups such as a strong network of friends and family can help prevent depression and other psychological problems that are becoming increasingly prevalent. When a person feels more connected to the world and their environment they tend to be less depressed and anxious. In addition to the knowledge of group dynamics, it is also necessary to develop social skills so that you can create an effective group. One needs to understand how a group is structured, how group structure and group productivity are related, how group dynamics affect effectiveness and how groups develop over time.
Structures of groups
When trying to identify how a group is structured it is necessary to look for patterns. While there are many different types of groups, there are basic elements that all groups feature. This can be a common purpose, a pattern of communication, the different roles members play, what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior within the group, and how the group is adapted to the larger society. Group structure develops when members work together to achieve a goal. There are two aspects of group interaction that are essential in order to understand the underlying structure of a group: differentiated roles and integrating norms. Differentiated roles are the different responsibilities of each group members and integrating norms are what unite the group as a whole.
Roles are expectations regarding appropriate behavior of a specific position such as president, vice-president, or secretary. These positions can be assigned in a formal way, such as through an election. Other times, individuals naturally take on a role based on their skills or interests. Once an individual assumes a certain role, they are expected to carry out the responsibilities of that position. Roles function to help a group achieve goals. Group members’ tasks are interrelated and complementary since one cannot be performed without the other, such as in teacher/student roles. Expectations of a role include obligations as well as rights. For example a teacher has an obligation to structure a learning situation, while a student has the right to learn in a situation structured by their teacher. Sometimes the expected obligations of a role can conflict in a situation called role conflict. For example, a principal and a student may expect very different things from the same teacher. This type of contradictory expectation is one example of how role conflicts can occur. Another way role conflict can occur is if the demands of one role do not match the demands of another role. Roles can affect our actions and make us behave in ways that differ from our own feelings or interests since everyone has multiple roles to play and everyone belongs to more than one group. In 1974, Stanley Milgram’s conducted a study where adult subjects in the role of teachers were paid to give students electric shocks if they remembered an item incorrectly. Milgram expected that the teachers would refuse to administer shocks since it contradicted their personal beliefs. However, Milgram’s study showed that over sixty percent of the subjects administered the maximum shock of 450 volts. His study suggests that people can commit harmful and immoral actions if subjected to enough pressure.
Different social roles suggest different degrees of social status. Status is determined by how crucial an individual person’s contribution is to the success of the group, how much power an individual has on the outcome, and the extent to which he or she has desirable traits such as physical attractiveness. In some cases, status is decided by physical dominance, in others it is determined by wealth, or level of education or anything else the group finds to be important. Status and power do not always occur together. In 1972, Johnson and Allen conducted a series of experiments where they separated the two. They found that if someone had high status and high power, they behaved kindly but had disdain for the worker. However if a person has high status and low power in a situation that rewards high power, they behaved selfishly but respected the worker. Regardless of what determines status in a group, the differences in status affect group processes. People of high status are more tolerated by the group and valued.
As a result, high status people tend to be less influenced by peer pressure and group norms than lower-status people of the group. This is partially because high status people are not as likely to expect punishment if they behave incorrectly. High status members have more influence over group decisions while low status people are more often ignored even if they have something insightful to contribute.
Norms are common beliefs within a group of what is appropriate behavior such as being punctual, courteous, and responsible. Unlike roles, which differentiate member from each other, norms bring the actions of all group members together. Norms are the rules determined by the group to control how members act. These rules not only guide group behavior but specify what is expected and acceptable behavior in specific situations. Every group has a set of norms that can be formal or informal. A group of friends may have an informal set of norms while students in a class have formal norms regarding assignments, absences, etc. Some norms apply to every individual in a group while others apply only to specific roles. For example, some norms exist for both students and teachers but others exist only for the teacher or only for the students. Some norms are more important than other norms. Norms that have a lower effect on the goals of a group will usually allow for a wider range of behavior.
Most groups ask individual members to adhere to the norms as a requirement for membership. Individuals who do not respect the norms may become excluded. In order for a norm to affect an individual’s behavior, a person must first be aware that it exists, see that other group members adhere to the norm, and adhere to the norm themselves. Norms cannot be forced on a group. Members adhere to norms because they assume there are rewards or punishment depending on if they follow the norm. Norms come out of group member interaction. Muzafer Sherif demonstrated this in 1936 using the autokinetic effect, which is a perceptual phenomenon that happens when a fixed point of light is viewed in complete darkness and it looks like it moves spontaneously. Sherif led participants (first one by one, then in groups) into a room with such a light. Participants were asked to estimate how much the light moved. Sherif found that when asked individually, participants still used the group estimates as a point of reference for their own estimate. This shows that the judgements that appear to belong to an individual are actually shaped by the judgements of their peers. Theodore Newcomb did another well-known study in 1943. He studied how the college experience affects students. His most famous study was conducted at an all female school called Bennington College. While the majority of the students came from wealthy and conservative families, the faculty and older students were liberal. Over the course of their education, many students become more liberal. Newcomb’s study found that this could be determined based on if the student identified herself more closely with her family or the campus community. Newcomb’s study began the study of reference groups, or a group that people identify with, compares their attitudes to, and use as a way to evaluate those attitudes.
How to create a productive group
Some groups are highly effective while others are not. Johnson and Johnson developed a group performance curve to show how ineffective and effective groups differ. There are four types of groups in their curve: pseudo groups, traditional work groups, effective groups, and high-performance groups. The aim of the curve is to depict how the structure of a group determines its effectiveness.
A pseudogroup’s members are assigned to work together but have no other reason for doing so. Members of a pseudogroup think they will be evaluated through being ranked from the highest performer to the lowest performer. While members of a pseudogroup interact with one another, they are in reality competing against each other. They may sabotage each other. Thus, the group is ineffective compared to the individual members. This means that members would be more productive if they were not working in a group. Additionally, the group does not grow because the members are not invested in each other or the future of the group.
In a traditional work group members are assigned to work together and accept that they have to work together. The individual members think they will be evaluated and rewarded as individuals. Members of the group interact to discuss how the work will be accomplished. The work is structured so that there is minimal interaction. Some members do not work very hard and expect others to contribute more. Thus the sum of the whole is more than the potential of some of the members but the harder working members would do better if they worked alone.
In an effective group, members work together to be successful. They are assigned to work together, but are happy to work since they believe that they will be evaluated and rewarded as a group so everyone needs to contribute. In an effective group, members depend on each other in a positive way, there is two-way communication, more than one leader, and power is determined based on skill. Effective groups make decisions in a way that allows individuals to voice their opinions. Effective groups must achieve its goals, its members must have good working relationships, and it must adapt to outside changes.
Keep the following guidelines in mind in order to build effective groups. The first guideline is to specify clear goals. This helps members to depend on each other and commit to the group goals. Groups exist because people want to achieve goals they cannot accomplish alone. If a group is to be effective, all members must understand the goals. Additionally, the goals must relate to members’ needs so they are committed to the realization of the group’s goals. The second guideline is to establish strong two-way communication so that each member of the group is able to express their thoughts and feelings. Communication is essential for all human interaction and is especially important when working in groups. If group members can communicate effectively, they will minimize misunderstanding and competition. The third guideline is to make sure that leadership and participation are shared among all the group members so that each member is invested in the work of the group. Through sharing leadership, the group can make use of the resources of each individual member and be a more cohesive group. The fourth guideline is to distribute power among group members.
In effective groups the power of members is based on expertise and ability rather than personality. If a group has power struggles, this becomes a distraction from the group’s goals. Power struggles can be avoided if every member of the group shares some power or influence. As the group changes, the power distribution should change as well. The fifth guideline is to match how decisions are made with the needs of the situation. When a group makes a decision there needs to be a balance between the time and resources available to the group and the decision making methods they employ. This depends on how important a decision is and how much commitment is needed to put it into practice. The most effective method is through consensus, which means unanimous agreement. This method promotes fair participation, equal power, and commitment. The sixth guideline is to have constructive debates, which leads to creative problem solving and decision-making. To be effective decision makers, group members should present and consider a variety of options. Debates over opposing ideas benefit the group by encouraging participation. This also allows minority and dissenting opinions to be considered seriously. The seventh guideline is to face conflicts and resolve them constructively. Group members should face their conflicts and try to negotiate to resolve them. Sometimes it is necessary to use mediation. When problems are resolved in a constructive way they can increase a group’s effectiveness.
A high-performance group is an effective group that has especially committed members. In such groups, members demonstrate mutual concern that allows them to out perform expectations. These groups are very rare and most groups never reach this level.
Theories on group formation
The changes that occur in most groups are discussed in over a hundred theories. These theories tend to have two possible approaches. One approach is called recurring-phase theories and the other is called sequential-stage theories. Recurring-phase theories focus on the issues that happen repeatedly in a group interaction. Robert Freed Bales theorized that there has to be balance between task-oriented work and emotion-based connections to strengthen relationships between group members. Wilfred Bion theorized that groups focus on three things: dependency on the group leader, pairing of members for emotional support, and fight-flight reactions to threats to the group. William Schultz suggested that groups develop when members focus on affection, inclusion, and control. Sequential-stage theories discuss the usual order that phases of group development occur in.
Moreland and Levine theorized that group members experience predictable stages of membership. The stages are: prospective member, new member, full member, marginal member, and ex-member. Warchel, Coutant-Sassic, and Grossman theorized that there are six stages of group development. They called the first stage discontent. This occurs when a person feels their current group is not meeting their needs. In the second stage is an event that connects members. In stage three, members start to identify with the group. In stage four, group members focus on group productivity. In stage five, individual group members negotiate with the larger group to meet their personal needs. In stage six, which is also the final stage, the group begins to break down. Bruce Tuckman put forth the most famous sequential-stage theory. He theorized five stages: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. In the forming stage, members are uncertain of their place within the group. Conflicts occur during the storming stage as members rebel. This stage focuses on conflict management. In the norming stage, the group sets the roles and norms of the group. In the performing stage, group members work together to achieve goals. In the adjourning stage, the group dissolves. Johnson and Johnson applied Tuckman’s theory to groups that have a coordinator or leader (as Tuckman focused on groups with passive leaders) to develop seven stages, which we will now discuss in further detail.
The first stage of development is where the group procedures are structured and defined. At this stage, members concern themselves with the group’s expectations and goals. Members want to know if they will be accepted, if they will influential within the group, how the group is going to work, who the other members are, and if they will be liked by the other members. In this stage the coordinator needs to describe what procedures are to be used, determine the goals of the group, organize the group, and establish interdependence among the group members.
The second stage of group development is where individual members familiarize themselves with group procedures and with each other. At this stage, members realize the strong points and weak points of themselves and other members. In stage two, the coordinator must give clear direction and clarify the goals and procedures of the group and stress key norms.
These norms are that each member must be responsible for their own performance and the performance of others, members should help each other, members should be accepting and supportive of each other and be trustworthy, the group should make decisions as a team, and the group should confront and resolve problems and conflicts. In this stage, the coordinator is in control of the group’s goals and procedures. While the group members conform to the coordinator’s norms, they are not personally committed to each other or the group’s goals.
In the third stage of group development, members realize that they are dependent on one another and begin to build trust in each other. They come together for a common goal as they realize that they either succeed together or fail together. Through discussions where all members express their opinions and other members respond in a supportive way, the group builds trust.
In the fourth stage of group development, the group matures and individual members attempt to differentiate themselves from the coordinator and from other group members through conflict and rebellion. This is a period where the members of the group challenge the authority of the coordinator. This can be short lived or a longer process. In contrast to stage two where members become more dependent on each other, in stage four members become more independent of each other. By rebelling against procedures and group norms, individual members establish boundaries and autonomy. This is a natural part of group development and should be expected. Coordinators should be accepting and not try to tighten control and force members to conform. Instead, coordinators should reason and negotiate. Coordinators will need to confront any issues that occur and resolve them. In some cases, coordinators will need to act as a mediator between members who are in conflict. The coordinator’s goal should be to help members take ownership of the group’s procedures and try to help each other attain success.
In the fifth stage of group development, members depend on each other rather than the coordinator. Rather than conforming to the standard procedures, members are personally vested in collaboration. At this stage, the group belongs to the members and not to the coordinator. Individual members internalize the group’s goals and are intrinsically motivated to achieve them. Members encourage each other and support and help each other.
In the sixth stage of group development, the group is mature and functions in a productive and autonomous way. The group has an identity and members work together to achieve goals and maintain their interpersonal relationships. In this stage, the group meets all the criteria for effective groups. The coordinator becomes more of a consultant than a leader, and all relationships continue to improve. Many groups do not reach this sixth stage of group development.
The seventh and final stage of group development is where the group disbands. If the group achieved the sixth stage of development and are emotionally connected to each other, this can be a difficult experience. However, once goals are met and projects are finished, it is necessary that individual members move on to other experiences.
There is no set timeframe for the stages of group development. Not every stage lasts the same amount of time. Some groups never move past the fourth stage, others move through all stages quickly. This figure shows the average amount of time groups spend in each stage.
Dynamics in groups
In order to understand the field of group dynamics, one needs to be familiar with Kurt Lewin (the main founder of the field of group dynamics) and the field’s foundation in theory, research, and practice. These three categories are closely interrelated. Theory identifies what makes a group effective and guides the research. Research validates or disproves the theory and will lead to refining or modifying the theory.
If the theory is validated, practical procedures test the theory in the real world, which may lead to further refinement or new research studies. As the term group dynamics suggests, what happens amongst members of a group is dynamic and not static. Social Scientists use theories and conduct research in order to analyze the dynamics of groups.
History of group dynamics
Group dynamics is a fairly new field of study of about 110 years old. While early philosophers had great insight into the nature of groups, and building blocks of group dynamics were discussed from the sixteenth century through the nineteenth century, group dynamics did not really develop as a field until the twentieth-century. It developed in North America. The roots of group dynamics go back to the late 1800s, but did not gain prominence until the early 1940s in response to concerns about democracy that arose out of World War II. People felt that by making groups like families, communities, etc. stronger, the overall democratic society would be healthier. This aim led to two connected movements in psychology: the scientific study of group dynamics and the application of research results to train leaders and members to function better in democratic groups. A new group of specialists called social psychologists studied group discussion, group productivity, changes in attitude within a group, and group leadership.
Later in the nineteenth century, researchers posed the question, “how does an individual’s behavior change when other people are present?” Norman Triplett analyzed this question through conducting a study on cyclists. He observed that their racing times where faster if they were racing against another cyclist than if they were racing against a clock. He hypothesized that people performed better in the presence of others. He tested this hypothesis by conducting a study where he asked children to wind fishing reels and compared their performance when they were alone to their performance when another child was present. He found that children did perform better in the presence of others. Triplett’s studies led to Zajonc’s 1965 study on social facilitation-impairment, Johnson’s 1989 study on social interdependence, and Harkins & Szymanski’s 1987 study on social loafing.
Researchers of social facilitation wondered if the influence of the presence of other people differed if the task was simple or complex. Allport’s 1924 study, and Moede’s 1920 study showed that audience presence increased an individual’s speed in simple tasks, like running the mile, and decreased an individual’s speed in complex tasks, like putting together a complicated machine. A different line of researchers wondered if individuals or groups where more productive problem solvers and decision makers. Researchers such as Gordon (1924), Shaw (1932), and Watson (1928) found that on average groups are more productive than individuals. Researchers like Deutsch (1962) and Johnson & Johnson (1989) studied social interdependence. Keer and his colleagues (1976) studied jury decision-making, Moscovici (1985) studied minority influence in groups. Asch (1951) studied conformity. D. Myers (1978) studied group polarization.
Muzafer Sherif, Theodore Newcomb, W.F. Whyte, and Kurt Lewin rapidly advanced the field of group dynamics by the end of the 1930s. Sherif found that the judgments of individuals were influenced by the judgments of their peers. Newcomb conducted the Bennington field study, which we discussed previously. Whyte studied the Norton Street gang and the Italian Community Club and the large influence groups have over individuals and society as a whole. Whyte found that performance expectations in an activity were stabilized in line with the status of the members even though low-status members sometimes showed a high skill level.
While Sherif, Newcomb, and Whyte made important findings in the field of group dynamics, Kurt Lewin made the largest contributions. His studies of 1943 and 1948 showed that individual behavior should be studied based on the groups to which the individuals belonged. In the most influential study, conducted in 1939 by Lewin, Lippitt, and White, the researchers studied how leadership patterns affected member behavior. In their study, groups of ten to eleven year-old children met at regular intervals for several weeks under the supervision of an adult who was democratic, autocratic, or laissez-faire. The study found that in the autocratic groups, children tended to scapegoat each other and even destroy what they had built. This study showed that the laboratory could be used to experiment with and study important social concerns. Lewin was famous for three achievements, the theory he developed, his advocacy for using experimental methods, and his dedication to using theory and research practically. Lewin was foremost a theorist who focused on building conceptual systems to explain observations, and creating a field theory analysis of group dynamics. In terms of the practical applications of group dynamic theory, Lewin felt that research should not only advance knowledge, but also form guidelines for action. He coined the phrase action research to describe using the scientific method to solve social problems.
Lewin and his colleagues went on to further develop group dynamic theory by studying how fear and frustration affected organized and unorganized groups, how training affected leaders of youth groups, how group decision-making could improve industrial production, and how group decision-making could be used to change eating habits during wartime food shortages. Through the mid 1950s, group dynamic research was popular and used to try to solve many issues.
However in the 1950s, researchers like Festinger who studied cognitive dissonance, Heider who studied attribution theory, and Hovland, Janis, & Kelley who studied persuasion, focused social psychology on the individual rather than the group. These researchers studied how the attitudes, values, and personality of an individual affected social behavior. Additionally, in the 1960s and 1970s, social psychologists felt that individuals were easier to study than groups because they were smaller segments than groups that needed to be connected to the larger social structure. Studies on groups were thought to be both expensive and difficult. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, researchers overcame many of the previous challenges to studying groups. Researchers like Deutsch (1985), Tjosvold (1991), Tjosvold & Johnson (1982), studied group issues of cooperation, conflict resolution, cross-cultural interaction and more. Researchers like Hackman & Oldman (1977) focused on work-group productivity in industrial psychology. Clinical psychologists like Johnson & Matross (1977), and Wolman & Stricker (1983) studied client-therapist relationships and dysfunctional families. In the twenty-first century, group dynamics has continued to be a popular field of study and research.
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