Business – Group Dynamics


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In the modern vocational environment, relatively few enterprises consist of sole individuals; even small businesses involve groups of individuals who must work together collaboratively. Group dynamics apply to all working groups and, depending on how well various elements of positive group dynamics manifest themselves operationally, they have the potential to greatly enhance or to substantially undermine the group’s objectives. In general, the group provides a much wider range of specific talents, abilities, and capabilities toward the accomplishment of objectives. However, the relative effectiveness of groups depends largely on variables that are particular to group dynamics Various theories of group dynamics, decision making, and motivational patterns outline the interrelationships of group members and describe methods of facilitating positive relations that are conducive to achieving group objectives. Competition in the workplace represents a potential source of positive motivation but also a potential obstacle to group performance, depending on the nature and source of competition.

In many respects, the elements of group dynamics are functions of deeply ingrained features of individual psychology; such as the concepts of individual needs first described by Maslow and the susceptibility of individuals to “groupthink.” In other respects, the elements of group dynamics pertain more to leadership styles and strategies of conflict recognition, prevention, and resolution by management.

Specifically, Adair’s Three Circles concept describes effective leadership from the perspective of the group; Blanchard and Hersey detailed the various management roles of directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating responsibilities; and Tuckman details the five stages of group evolution (forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning).

In the field of human motivation, McGregor postulated the Theory X/Theory Y formulation and Herzberg contributed the Hygiene theory of human motivation to complement the basic individual psychological concepts detailed by Maslow.

Group Dynamics and Individual Decision Making:

In the 1950s, Solomon Asch (and others) designed social psychology experiments that demonstrated the tremendous influence that groups have on individual decision making and judgment (Gerrig & Zimbardo 2005; Locker 2003). These series of experiments also illustrated the degree to which factors of biological arousal attributable to the presence of others changes the way individuals perform, increasing performance in areas of high skill and decreasing performance of less skilled individuals in ways that are not normally perceived by the individual (Myers & Spencer 2004).

Generally, Asch’s experiments consisted of situations in which subjects were placed into groups of experimental cohorts for the purpose of examining the degree to which group opinions influenced individual perception and subjective judgment. Asch purposely used subject matter whose correct analysis was not particularly challenging, such as lines of different lengths depicted in a visual field in which their relative lengths were rather easily distinguishable under ordinary circumstances without external influences (Gerrig & Zimbardo 2005). In approximately one-third of experimental cases, experimental subjects ignored their own accurate perceptions and supported the group consensus even though they knew that the group was wrong. That effect was most pronounced where no other group member expressed an opinion that differed from that of the group, but was also apparent anytime the perceptions of the group minority conflicted with that of the group majority (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert 2003).

The implications of these observations in the business environment include the tendency of groups to make bad decisions by virtue of groupthink, even where individual group members disagree with those bad decisions. In such situations, individuals either suspend their objective judgment or they refrain from voicing their concern even when they realize that the group is wrong because of perceived pressure to conform to the group consensus or their reluctance to suffer the social consequences of contradicting the direction in which the group has already indicated its preference (Locker 2003).

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs originally described the fundamental psychological needs of the individual, consisting of (1) basic physiological needs, (2) immediate physical security needs, (3) social needs, (4) self-respect, and (5) self-actualization (Blair 2003; Gerrig & Zimbardo 2005). In principle, Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is equally applicable to group behavior, except that the first two levels of basic survival and physical security are normally not applicable to most vocational environments.

More particularly, business managers must understand the degree to which individual employee performance, (and therefore, group performance as well), depends on fulfillment of the same social needs, desire for self-respect and appreciation, and vocational achievement or advancement that correspond closely to the last three stages of Maslow’s five hierarchical stages of individual psychological needs (Blair 2003).

The implications of applications of Maslow’s hierarchy in the vocational setting include specific management efforts to motivate superior performance by refraining from policies, practices, and procedures that detract unnecessarily from the individual self-respect of employees. Likewise, good industrial psychology practices suggest that providing fair opportunities for recognition, increased responsibility, and career advancement based on performance are essential to maintaining optimal employee performance (Blair 2003; Myers & Spencer 2004).

Theories, Concepts, and Practical Applications of Group Dynamics:

In the 1960s, Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey introduced the concept of situational leadership in which they broke down effective group leadership into four specific tasks of managers and group leaders: (1) directing, (2) coaching, (3) supporting, and (4) delegating (Blair 2003; Myers & Spencer 2004). According to Blanchard and Hersey, leaders vary in the relative proportion that their styles emphasize the four different functions of management and group leadership, but they tend to fall into one style or another, primarily

Generally, the directing function (or leadership style) encompasses defining the respective roles of individual group members, supervising their performance, and communicating managerial decisions to the group. Coaching emphasizes communication with individual group members and often includes a two-way exchange more than the directing leadership style. The supporting function of group leadership allocates operational decisions to the group members in which the leader plays only a component role. The delegating function of group leadership provides the greatest degree of control and decision-making to the group members, including the extent to which and manner in which the leader participates in operational decisions (Blair 2003).

Subsequently, Blanchard and Hersey expanded their theory of situational leadership to make it more applicable to specific situations by incorporating the talents, abilities, and skill levels of individual group members (Blair 2003). The variables suggested by Blanchard and Hersey consist of four different levels of competence and commitment ranging from high competence and high commitment (characterized by extreme technical competence, confidence, and very high motivation and commitment) at one extreme to low competence and low commitment, (characterized by absence of technical competence, very low levels of confidence, motivation, and commitment) at the other extreme (Blair 2003).

The practical implications of Blanchard and Hersey’s situational leadership concept is that effective group performance depends substantially on the degree to which group leaders tailor their leadership styles to the needs of the group. In particular, optimal group performance requires group leaders to understand the varying capabilities and attitudes of individual group members. This allows group leaders to apply different communication, supervision, and motivation strategies that correspond to the varying needs of different groups and to the different needs of individuals within groups.

Shortly after the prior work of Blanchard and Hersey, British psychologist John Adair introduced the concept of the three most basic needs of collaborative groups, which he represented in three partially-overlapping Venn diagrammatic circles labeled “task,” “team,” and “individual” (Blair 2003). Adair described task needs as those related to the operational objectives of the group; he described team needs primarily in terms of interpersonal interaction and communication within the group; he described individual needs as the varying personal needs of the individuals within the group. Adair emphasized the importance of managerial attention to all three types of needs for the purposes of maximizing group productivity. Nowadays, Adair’s formulation for representing the three different types of needs within groups is considered extremely basic to industrial psychology; nevertheless, in many ways, task, team, and individual needs effectively describes the range of considerations fundamental to contemporary theories of group dynamics (Blair 2003).

Roughly in between the respective contributions of Blanchard and Hersey and Adair, Bruce Tuckman introduced the theory of four stages of group evolution, which he subsequently augmented in 1977 to include a fifth stage suggested by Mary Ann Jenson.

According to the Tuckman model of group dynamics, all groups transition through the same general stages of development and understanding that process is essential to the effective management, administration, and leadership of groups (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert 2003).

Tuckman’s original four stages of group evolution consisted of: (1) forming, (2) storming, (3) norming, and (4) performing, and (5) adjourning, the stage later contributed by Jensen (Blair 2003). More particularly, the forming stage of group evolution is characterized by individual behavior and the desire of individual group members to be accepted by fellow group members. During the forming stage, group members focus on preliminary issues such as task allocation and administrative issues, but little actual work is accomplished, partly because individuals tend not to disclose opinions that could undermine their acceptance by the group (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert 2003; Blair 2003).

According to the Tuckman model of group dynamics, the initial conciliatory relationships that characterize the formation stage quickly give way to the storming stage in which individuals come into direct conflict with others over operational decisions or task delegations. In some cases, conflicts are resolved by the group but just as often they are merely dealt with superficially and persist at various levels below the surface. In addition to the expression of honest opinions and individual differences, the storming stage also represents the transition to operational tasks normally suspended during the formation stage (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert 2003; Blair 2003).

The third stage of group evolution described by Tuckman is norming, which he characterizes as the resolution of conflicts and the normalization of operational issues identified in the storming stage of group evolution. This stage includes the establishment of rules of engagement or standard operating procedures that incorporate the compromises and other mechanisms necessitated to resolve the conflicts that arise among individual group members in the storming stage (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert 2003; Blair 2003). The final stage described by Tuckman in his original formulation of the dynamics of group evolution is performing, during which the group begins to function smoothly and effectively after having successfully resolved all of the issues during the norming stage. Whereas all groups generally progress through the first three stages, not all groups successfully reach the performing stage, primarily because they fail to resolve the conflicts originating in the storming stage during the norming stage (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert 2003; Blair 2003). The fifth and final stage of group evolution contributed by Jensen in the Tuckman-Jensen model of group dynamics is the adjournment stage during which the group completes and evaluates its performance tasks and ultimately begins the disengagement process. The adjournment stage can be distinctly positive, such as where the group achieved sufficient harmony and efficiency to accomplish its tasks, or distinctly negative, such as where the group failed to reach the performance stage and failed to achieve major elements of its objectives (Aronson, Wilson, and Akert 2003; Blair 2003).. Motivation Patterns in Group Dynamics and Competition in the Workplace:

In 1960, Douglass McGregor introduced a new concept of business management and employee motivation, which he to distinguish it from traditional prevailing concepts, which he called Theory X According to McGregor, traditional management assumptions are that employees dislike their work, avoid responsibility, and contribute only the minimum effort to retain their jobs. Therefore, management must emphasize control and motivation through negative consequences (Blair 2003; Myers & Spencer 2004). McGregor’s Theory Y rejects those assumptions and suggests that management that emphasizes meaningful rewards, competition, appreciation, and the opportunity to use their full intellectual and creative potential is far more conducive to group success than the (Myers & Spencer 2004).

At almost the same time that McGregor proposed the Theory X/Theory Y model of vocational motivation, Frederick Herzberg introduced a similar model for understanding employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Specifically, Herzberg characterized negative factors whose absence correspond to low employee motivation.

Those factors include insufficient supervision, interpersonal relations, communication, and salary, which he described as hygiene factors (Myers & Spencer 2004). Herzberg characterized positive motivational factors whose presence corresponds to high employee motivation. Those factors include the opportunity for achievement, recognition, healthy competition, increased responsibility, and opportunity for advancement (Myers & (Spencer 2004). The most significant observation offered by Herzberg from the perspective of business management is that hygienic factors only relate to the causes of low motivation and motivational factors only relate to the cause of high motivation (Blair 2003). In principle, Herzberg’s definitions actually correspond very closely to Maslow’s hierarchical needs and further illustrate the connection between individual psychological needs and industrial psychology.


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