Understanding Group Dynamics

To understand Organizational Behavior and Management, we must study three different levels. The first is the individual level, because every individual has its own unique perception of the world and what surrounds him. Individuals behave following how they interpret this and their environment. Each individual is different from the next one, because of its personality and characteristics. However, it’s possible to organize them by categorizing their perceptions. Categories such as Appearance, Social behavior and Status are often considered. Individual’s motivations must be analyzed to understand the next level : the Group.

A Group is composed by 2 or more individuals, who come together to accomplish a particular task or goal, which is why their behavior is very important and has to be studied first. A manager leading a group will have to take into account each of the individual characteristics in order for it to work.

As individuals join and create a group, shall it be a formal or informal one, we slowly change focus.

The individual needs, perceptions and motivations get absorbed and the Group creates its own norms of acceptable behavior for all the individuals to follow for as long as they are part of the Group. They don’t, however, chance the individual itself when he is by himself. As Groups develop its own norms and statuses, its behavior evolves. The third level, is Organizations. That level is different from the Group one because it involves systematic efforts and organizations are engaged in the production of goods and services.

It’s also different from the sum of the individuals perceptions because it can impact how individuals behave with each other, thus influencing their perception. An organization though, is comparable to an individual because each is unique and has its own culture. Moreover, if the values of the organization match the values of the individuals, they will enjoy being part of it more than if it’s not the case. The second level, Group Dynamics, is the one that will be focused on in this report.

There are different kind of groups, but they can mostly be split into two categories : Formal and Informal. Formal groups are groups officially planned and created by the organization to do a specific task. At ESSEC, we could compare them to the individuals who, in groups, did the OB presentations. They were officially planned in the course to do a presentation. In an organization, a formal group could be the Marketing (or any other) Department. In a formal group, there is a structure. Often, individuals are given specific tasks to complete within the main final task. Sometimes, there is a hierarchy and written rules.

Informal groups are not official per say. They are natural social formations established by individuals rather than organizations, and unplanned. In a workplace, it could be a group of employees meeting once a month for dinner to discuss their Fishing hobby. At ESSEC, it could be an unofficial football team made especially for a tournament within the school. The purpose of an informal group can be pursuing a special interest, be social, or even just have fun.

Group dynamics concern how groups form, their structure and process, and how they function. Some groups are more successful than others. Why ? A common mistake would be to say that if your group members or employees are hard working, happy, competitive or smart, the group only can function well. But as a matter of fact, that doesn’t mean they are honest, productive, loyal or creative. However, teamwork and communication between members is capital. Managers can help increasing a work group’s performance when they create it by taking into consideration the characteristics of members they assign to particular groups. The members should have tasks assigned to them according to their domain of expertise and appropriate interpersonal skills to facilitate interaction and communication with others.

Moreover, a degree of diversity among group members has shown to usually add to performance. If members are attracted to the group because they like members of the group, or the group activities/goals or just because it fills a need for affiliation, they are more likely to be productive. The size of the group also has an influence on the group’s performance. According to recent research, medium sized groups of 5 to 7 people seem to have the higher performance in organizations. If the group is smaller, there’s a chance it can highlight the individual differences and harm the group cohesiveness. If group are too large, people tend to work more by themselves (“Free riding”) rather than with the whole group, or create smaller teams within the group.

Norms are acceptable standards of behavior within a group that are shared by the members of the group. Norms define the limits of what is acceptable and what is not in terms of behavior. They are typically imagined in order to facilitate group survival, make behavior more predictable, avoid embarrassing situations, and express the values of the group. Each group will establish its own set of norms that may determine anything from the appropriate clothes to wear at a dinner to how many comments to make in a meeting. Groups pressure members to force them to conform to the group’s standards. The norms often reflect the level of commitment, motivation, and performance of the group.

The majority of the members of the group must agree that the norms are appropriate in order for the behavior to be accepted. There must also be a shared understanding that the group supports the norms. However it may happen that the norms are broken from time to time by some members. If the majority of members do not adhere to the norms anymore, then there is a chance they will eventually change and will no longer serve as a standard to study the group’s behavior. From there, group members who do not conform to the norms risk being excluded, ignored, or asked to leave the group.

Having a diversity of skills and ideas within a group often enriches the group process and can improve the final product. It can, however, also be seen as a challenge to work with people different from ourselves and avoid exacerbating individual characteristics. One way to structure group functioning and benefit from each other’s expertise is to assign roles to each member of the group based on individual’s strengths. It can also be a good idea to switch roles between members periodically so every member understands why those roles are important. I have found that four roles that have the potential to maximize group performance and help understanding group’s dynamics and behavior in the workplace. A group should not be composed of just those 4 people, but the others would only have tasks assigned to them. They are as follow : The first is the Leader, also called Facilitator. He’s the one who clarifies the aims of the group and helps the members set smaller tasks for themselves to work on.

Leaders also make sure that all group members understand the concepts of the project and that the group’s conclusions make sense. If the group has meetings, he is the one who introduces the agenda of tasks to complete until the next meeting, mind oriented towards the final goals. Then, the Monitor, also called Arbitrator. Its key role would be to monitor carefully if the group is functioning well. Regularly, he will initiate discussions on group climate and process, especially if he senses tension or sees there could be a conflict between two or more members. During disagreements or conflicts, he will explain each sides arguments and suggests solutions to resolve the conflict. He makes sure that all group members have a chance to participate and learn from the process. There’s also the Note/Time Keeper.

Note and Time Keeping are two different things, but the role could be taken by just one person. He keeps a record of what has been decided, shall it be tasks that are assigned to who or other any other information by taking notes when the group meets or when talking to group members. He makes a summary of previous discussions/decisions and makes it available for all the members to see. He also presents the group progress to the supervisor regularly to make sure the group is headed in the right direction. The Time Keeper keeps track of time during meetings to avoid spending excessive time on one topic.

This is best handled by deciding how much time will be allocated to each issue in the agenda, and letting everyone know when this time is up. It is also useful to point out when time is almost up so that issues can be wrapped up appropriately. Finally, there’s the Devil’s Advocate. It’s someone who takes a position he does not necessarily agree with, for the sake of argument. In taking such position, the individual taking on the devil’s advocate role seeks to engage others in an argumentative discussion process. The purpose of such process is typically to test the quality of the original argument and identify weaknesses in its structure, and to use such information to either improve or abandon the original, opposing position. He must keep his or her mind open to problems, possibilities, and opposing ideas at all times.

We could say a group is just a collection of people whereas a team is that same collection of people who are working together on a common goal. Example: A group of people get in an elevator. They all have different goals and agendas for being on the elevator, they don’t even know each other, or maybe they do, it’s irrelevant. The group becomes a team when the elevator breaks down. Now they all have the same goal : figure out how to get out of the elevator. The difference between Group work and Team work can be resumed as follow. A group will focus on individual goals. Each member will produce individual work products. Individual tasks, roles and responsibilities will be assigned. Also, in a group, the manager is the one who sets up the purpose, goals, approach to work. A team is slightly different. The focus is on team goals. It also defines roles, responsibilities, and tasks but will often share and rotate them to help team do its work. The goals and approach to work will be shaped by the team members together.