Types of Groups: Formal and Informal
What is a group? A group is a collection of individuals who interact with each other such that one person’s actions have an impact on the others. In organizations, most work is done within groups.
How groups function has important implications for organizational productivity. Groups where people get along, feel the desire to contribute to the team, and are capable of coordinating their efforts may have high-performance levels, whereas teams characterized by extreme levels of conflict or hostility may demoralize members of the workforce.
You may encounter different types of groups. Informal work groups are made up of two or more individuals who are associated with one another in ways not prescribed by the formal organization. For example, a few people in the company who get together to play tennis on the weekend would be considered an informal group. A formal workgroup is made up of managers, subordinates, or both with close associations among group members that influence the behavior of individuals in the group. We will discuss many different types of formal work groups later on in this chapter.
Stages of Group Development
In the forming stage, the group comes together for the first time. The members may already know each other or they may be total strangers. In either case, there is a level of formality, some anxiety, and a degree of guardedness as group members are not sure what is going to happen next.
Once group members feel sufficiently safe and included, they tend to enter the storming phase. Participants focus less on keeping their guard up as they shed social facades, becoming more authentic and more argumentative.
“We survived!” is the common sentiment at the norming stage. Group members often feel elated at this point, and they are much more committed to each other and the group’s goal. Feeling energized by knowing they can handle the “tough stuff,” group members are now ready to get to work.
Finding themselves more cohesive and cooperative, participants find it easy to establish their own ground rules (or norms) and define their operating procedures and goals.
Galvanized by a sense of shared vision and a feeling of unity, the group is ready to go into high gear. Members are more interdependent, individuality and differences are respected, and group members feel themselves to be part of a greater entity. At the performing stage, participants are not only getting the work done, but they also pay greater attention to how they are doing it.
Just as groups form, so do they end. For example, many groups or teams formed in a business context are project-oriented and therefore are temporary in nature. Alternatively, a working group may dissolve due to organizational restructuring.
Just as when we graduate from school or leave home for the first time, these endings can be bittersweet, with group members feeling a combination of victory, grief, and insecurity about what is coming next.
The Punctuated-Equilibrium Model
As you may have noted, the five-stage model we have just reviewed is a linear process. According to the model, a group progresses to the performing stage, at which point it finds itself in an ongoing, smooth-sailing situation until the group dissolves.
In reality, subsequent researchers, most notably Joy H. Karriker, have found that the life of a group is much more dynamic and cyclical in nature. For example, a group may operate in the performing stage for several months. Then, because of a disruption, such as a competing emerging technology that changes the rules of the game or the introduction of a new CEO, the group may move back into the storming phase before returning to performing.
Ideally, any regression in the linear group progression will ultimately result in a higher level of functioning. Proponents of this cyclical model draw from behavioral scientist Connie Gersick’s study of punctuated equilibrium.
Cohesion can be thought of as a kind of social glue. It refers to the degree of camaraderie within the group. Cohesive groups are those in which members are attached to each other and act as one unit.
Generally speaking, the more cohesive a group is, the more productive it will be and the more rewarding the experience will be for the group’s members
Members of cohesive groups tend to have the following characteristics: They have a collective identity; they experience a moral bond and a desire to remain part of the group; they share a sense of purpose, working together on a meaningful task or cause; and they establish a structured pattern of communication.
Factors affecting group Cohesion
The fundamental factors affecting group cohesion include the following:
Similarity. The more similar group members are in terms of age, sex, education, skills, attitudes, values, and beliefs, the more likely the group will bond.
Stability. The longer a group stays together, the more cohesive it becomes.
Size. Smaller groups tend to have higher levels of cohesion.
Support. When group members receive coaching and are encouraged to support their fellow team members, group identity strengthens.
Satisfaction. Cohesion is correlated with how pleased group members are with each other’s performance, behavior, and conformity to group norms.
Social loafing refers to the tendency of individuals to put in less effort when working in a group context. This phenomenon, also known as the Ringelmann effect, was first noted by French agricultural engineer Max Ringelmann in 1913. In one study, he had people pull on a rope individually and in groups.
He found that as the number of people pulling increased, the group’s total pulling force was less than the individual efforts had been when measured alone.Karau, S. J., & Williams, K. D. (1993). Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,65, 681–706.
Collective efficacy refers to a group’s perception of its ability to successfully perform well. Bandura, A. (1997).Self-efficacy: The exercise of control.
Research shows that a group’s collective efficacy is related to its performance. A meta-analysis of team-efficacy, potency, and performance: Interdependence and level of analysis as moderators of observed relationships. The development of collective efficacy in teams: A multilevel and longitudinal perspective.
In addition, this relationship is higher when task interdependence (the degree an individual’s task is linked to someone else’s work) is high rather than low.
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