Humans have worked in groups since the beginnings of civilisation however it is only in the last century that research has focused on the dynamics that occur in group encounters and a deeper understanding of the way individuals behave in a group setting has emerged.
The term group dynamics implies that individual behaviours may differ depending on an individuals current prospective connections to a sociological group (wikipedia.org, 2006). The effect of group dynamics on task performance can vary in either a positive or a negative manner depending upon the disparity of group members, the cohesion towards mutual objectives and the control exercised by the group leader and accepted by individual members. Cunningham, (2000) contends that the greater the in-group identity the greater the satisfaction experienced by group members, whilst Valacich, Jung and Looney (2006) found that a group with higher cognitive abilities performed better with a high stimuli task.
A task focussed group can achieve positive results by utilising the collective abilities of the individual group members Doing CL (2006)., Menon, (2004)., Group Dynamics (2006). However as Janis (1972, cited in Groupthink 2006) points out there is also a danger that ?group think? can result in counterintuitive decisions being made because of psychological pressures resulting from close group cohesion.
Tuckman (1965, cited in George Mason University, 2006) identified a number of stages in the formation and dissolution of a group;
Forming: members become orientated to the tasks as well as to each other. A group leader may be appointed or elected. Storming: At this stage power plays operate to help formulate rules and establish the personal resources each member brings to the group. It is possible that the group may disintegrate if power plays get out of hand. Norming: Conflicts are resolved and group cohesion increased. Members start to work as a team and focus on the task. Performing: Some groups never reach this stage but those that do experience shared ideas, personal satisfaction and feel that they are part of the group and performing worthwhile and productive tasks. Adjourning: Even a successful group will most likely eventually break up. Some members may feel significant loss at no longer belonging to a successful and productive unit. The role of the formal or informal group leader can be critical to task achievement. The leader must facilitate all members? participation, involving quieter members and preventing other individuals from ?hogging the airtime?. In a learning situation competent individuals may feel ?held back? by the slower pace of a group situation. Facilitators must involve these individuals, harnessing their abilities to help develop less able group members.
Blair (2006) advises that whilst groups can achieve positive results the group leader or facilitator must ensure that task focus is maintained and that the group does not venture down time wasting side tracks. An emerging factor is the tendency to focus on ?:political correctness? where significant effort is spent on ensuring that individuals are protected from being disempowered or suffering possible psychological harm because of gender, physiological or social factors Group Dynamics, (2006). This can stifle the positive competitive aspects that can result in ?out of the square? ideas and productive brainstorming from groups.
The importance of the group leader role has been recognised by educators and consultants, a huge industry being built around training in group dynamics. Many of the over 750,000 web entries are from consulting groups.
Working in groups comprises a significant part of human activity. Understanding group dynamics and being able to facilitate group productivity is a key skill for both managers and educators. In addition individuals can benefit from knowledge of group dynamics by becoming more productive group members.
Blair, G.M., (2006). Retrieved from the World Wide Web 21/7/2006. http://www.see.ed.ac.uk/~gerard/Management/ol? http://oldseee.see.ed.uk/~gerard
Cunningham, (Dec, 2000). The importance of a common In-group identity in ethnically diverse groups. Group Dynamics Theory and Research 9, (4), 251 ? 260. Retrieved from the World Wide Web 21/7/2006. http://www.content.apa.org/journals./gdn
Doing CL (2006). Retrieved from the World Wide Web 21/7/2006. http://www.wcer.edu/archive/cll/CL/doingcl/grpdynam
Group Dynamics 2006. Retrieved from the World Wide Web 24/7/2006. http://www.personal.edu/student/1/a/laz131/group_dynamicsl
Group Dynamics 2006. Retrieved from the World Wide Web 24/7/2006. http://www.studentsforbhopal.org/GroupDynamicsl
Janis, I.L (1972, cited in Groupthink 2006). Retrieved from the World Wide Web 24/7/2006. http://www.psysr.org/groupthink% 20overviewl
Menon (2004) Retrieved from the World Wide Web 21/7/2006. http://usefularticles.blogspot.com/2004/10/group-dynamics-and-team- buildingl
Tuckman, B., (1965, cited in George Mason University, 2006). Retrieved from the World Wide Web 21/7/2006. http://www.gmu.edu/student/csl/5stagesl
Wikipedia.org Retrieved from the World Wide Web 21/7/2006. http://www.en.wikipedia.org./wiki/groupdynamics
Author: Peter Jackson
Date of post: 2006-08-25