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This is a€?Small Group Communicationa€?, chapter 13 from the book A Primer on Communication Studies (v. This content was accessible as of December 29, 2012, and it was downloaded then by Andy Schmitz in an effort to preserve the availability of this book. PDF copies of this book were generated using Prince, a great tool for making PDFs out of HTML and CSS.
For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page.
DonorsChoose.org helps people like you help teachers fund their classroom projects, from art supplies to books to calculators. When you think of small groups, you probably think of the much dreaded a€?group assignmenta€? that youa€™ve endured in high school and college.
Most of the communication skills discussed in this book are directed toward dyadic communication, meaning that they are applied in two-person interactions. Different groups have different characteristics, serve different purposes, and can lead to positive, neutral, or negative experiences. A self-formed study group likely has a more flexible structure than a city council committee. Looking at the group structures, we can make some assumptions about the communication that takes place in them.
Small groups exhibit interdependenceA characteristic of small groups that refers to a shared purpose and fate, meaning that each group membera€™s actions affect every other group member., meaning they share a common purpose and a common fate. A key element of the formation of a shared identity within a group is the establishment of the in-group as opposed to the out-group. Groups have long served the instrumental needs of humans, helping with the most basic elements of survival since ancient humans first evolved. Group membership meets interpersonal needs by giving us access to inclusion, control, and support. Our affiliations are building blocks for our identities, because group membership allows us to use reference groups for social comparisona€”in short, identifying us with some groups and characteristics and separating us from others.
Group membership helps meet our interpersonal needs by providing an opportunity for affection and inclusion. The prestige of a group can initially attract us because we want that groupa€™s identity to a€?rub offa€? on our own identity. Relational-oriented groupsGroups formed to promote interpersonal connections and that are more focused on quality interactions that contribute to the well-being of group members.
To more specifically look at the types of small groups that exist, we can examine why groups form.
Groups formed based on shared interest include social groups and leisure groups such as a group of independent film buffs, science fiction fans, or bird watchers. Virtual groups are now common in academic, professional, and personal contexts, as classes meet entirely online, work teams interface using webinar or video-conferencing programs, and people connect around shared interests in a variety of online settings.
One disadvantage of virtual groups stems from the difficulties that technological mediation presents for the relational and social dimensions of group interactions.Joseph B. To help overcome these challenges, members of virtual groups should be prepared to put more time and effort into building the relational dimensions of their group. Get started interacting as a group as early as possible, since it takes longer to build social cohesion. Start working toward completing the task while initial communication about setup, organization, and procedures are taking place. Be explicit about your reactions and thoughts since typical nonverbal expressions may not be received as easily in virtual groups as they would be in colocated groups. Make a list of some virtual groups to which you currently belong or have belonged to in the past. What are some group tasks or purposes that you think lend themselves to being accomplished in a virtual setting? SynergyRefers to the potential for gains in performance or heightened quality of interactions when complementary members or member characteristics are added to existing ones. Participating in groups can also increase our exposure to diversity and broaden our perspectives. A social loafer is a dreaded group member who doesna€™t do his or her share of the work, expecting that others on the group wona€™t notice or will pick up the slack. Do you agree with the studenta€™s quote about group work that was included at the beginning?
What are some guidelines that you think youa€™d like to include in your contract with a future group?
Getting integrated: Small group communication refers to interactions among three or more people who are connected through a common purpose, mutual influence, and a shared identity.
Several characteristics influence small groups, including size, structure, interdependence, and shared identity.
In terms of size, small groups must consist of at least three people, but there is no set upper limit on the number of group members. Internal influences such as member characteristics and external factors such as the groupa€™s size, task, and access to resources affect a groupa€™s structure.
Groups are interdependent in that they have a shared purpose and a shared fate, meaning that each group membera€™s actions affect every other group member. Groups develop a shared identity based on their task or purpose, previous accomplishments, future goals, and an identity that sets their members apart from other groups.
Small groups serve several functions as they meet instrumental, interpersonal, and identity needs.
Groups meet instrumental needs, as they allow us to pool resources and provide access to information to better help us survive and succeed. Groups meet interpersonal needs, as they provide a sense of belonging (inclusion), an opportunity to participate in decision making and influence others (control), and emotional support.
Groups meet identity needs, as they offer us a chance to affiliate ourselves with others whom we perceive to be like us or whom we admire and would like to be associated with. There are various types of groups, including task-oriented, relational-oriented, primary, and secondary groups, as well as teams. Task-oriented groups are formed to solve a problem, promote a cause, or generate ideas or information, while relational-oriented groups are formed to promote interpersonal connections. Primary groups are long-lasting groups that are formed based on interpersonal relationships and include family and friendship groups, and secondary groups are characterized by less frequent interaction and less emotional and relational communication than in primary groups. Teams are similar to task-oriented groups, but they are characterized by a high degree of loyalty and dedication to the groupa€™s task and to other group members. Advantages of group communication include shared decision making, shared resources, synergy, and exposure to diversity. Getting integrated: For each of the follow examples of a small group context, indicate what you think would be the ideal size of the group and why. List some groups to which you have belonged that focused primarily on tasks and then list some that focused primarily on relationships. Given that interpersonal bonds are likely not yet formed and people are unfamiliar with the purpose of the group or task at hand, there are high levels of uncertainty. When a group receives an external charge, meaning that the goal or purpose of the group is decided by people outside the group, there may be less uncertainty related to the task dimensions of the group.
During the stormingThe stage of group development in which conflict emerges as people begin to perform their various roles, have their ideas heard, and negotiate where they fit in the groupa€™s structure. Although the word storming and the concept of conflict have negative connotations, conflict can be positive and productive. Although we often have negative connotations of storming and conflict, the group conflict that happens in this stage is necessary and productive.
During the normingThe stage of group development in which the practices and expectations of the group are solidified, which leads to more stability, productivity, and cohesion within the group. At this stage, there is a growing consensus among group members as to the roles that each person will play, the way group interactions will typically play out, and the direction of the group. During the performingThe stage of group development in which group members work relatively smoothly toward the completion of a task or achievement of a purpose. The adjourningThe stage of group development in which a group dissolves because it has completed its purpose or goal, membership is declining and support for the group no longer exists, or it is dissolved because of some other internal or external cause. To make the most out of the adjourning stage, it is important that there be some guided and purposeful reflection.
Small groups have to start somewhere, but their course of development varies after forming based on many factors. The five stages of group development include forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. During the forming stage, group members engage in socially polite exchanges to help reduce uncertainty and gain familiarity with new members.
During the storming stage, conflict emerges as group members begin to perform their various roles, have their ideas heard, and negotiate where they fit in the groupa€™s structure. During the norming stage, the practices and expectations (norms and rules) of the group are solidified, which leads to more stability, productivity, and cohesion within the group.
During the performing stage, group members work relatively smoothly toward the completion of a task or the achievement of their purpose, ideally capitalizing on the synergy that comes from the diverse experiences group members bring to the decision-making process. During the adjourning stage, a group dissolves because its purpose has been met, because membership has declined or the group has lost support, or due to some other internal or external cause. During the norming stage of group development, interaction patterns and group expectations solidify.
Any time a group of people come together, new dynamics are put into place that differ from the dynamics present in our typical dyadic interactions. When something is cohesive, it sticks together, and the cohesion within a group helps establish an overall group climate. Cohesion benefits a group in many ways and can be assessed through specific group behaviors and characteristics. Appropriate levels of group cohesion usually create a positive group climate, since group climate is affected by membersa€™ satisfaction with the group. Cohesion and shared identity help create symbolic convergence as group members develop a group identity and shared social reality. In any group, you can tell when symbolic convergence is occurring by observing how people share such fantasies and how group members react to them.
Although most college students hate working in groups, in the a€?real worlda€? working in teams has become a regular part of professional expectations.
Some challenges associated with working in teams include the potential for uncertainty or conflict due to the absence of traditional hierarchy, pressures that become overwhelming, lack of shared history since such teams are usually future oriented, and high expectations without resources necessary to complete the task.Elisa du Chatenier, Jos A. See the license for more details, but that basically means you can share this book as long as you credit the author (but see below), don't make money from it, and do make it available to everyone else under the same terms.
However, the publisher has asked for the customary Creative Commons attribution to the original publisher, authors, title, and book URI to be removed. You are less likely to think of the numerous other groups to which you belong that bring more positive experiences, such as your family and friendship groups or shared-interest groups. While many of these skills can be transferred to and used in small group contexts, the more complex nature of group interaction necessitates some adaptation and some additional skills.
While our interpersonal relationships primarily focus on relationship building, small groups usually focus on some sort of task completion or goal accomplishment. A small group requires a minimum of three people (because two people would be a pair or dyad), but the upper range of group size is contingent on the purpose of the group.
In terms of internal influences, member characteristics play a role in initial group formation.
In terms of formal networks, groups may have clearly defined roles and responsibilities or a hierarchy that shows how members are connected. If the actions of one or two group members lead to a group deviating from or not achieving their purpose, then all members of the group are affected.
Groups may have official charters or mission and vision statements that lay out the identity of a group. The degree to which members share in the in-group identity varies from person to person and group to group.
Even with the challenges of group membership that we have all faced, we still seek out and desire to be a part of numerous groups.
Groups helped humans survive by providing security and protection through increased numbers and access to resources.
In terms of inclusion, people have a fundamental drive to be a part of a group and to create and maintain social bonds. Groups also provide support for others in ways that supplement the support that we get from significant others in interpersonal relationships. Some people join groups to be affiliated with people who share similar or desirable characteristics in terms of beliefs, attitudes, values, or cultural identities. Likewise, the achievements we make as a group member can enhance our self-esteem, add to our reputation, and allow us to create or project certain identity characteristics to engage in impression management. Barker, a€?The Behavioral Analysis of Interpersonal Intimacy in Group Development,a€? Small Group Research 22, no. TeamsTask-oriented groups in which members are especially loyal and dedicated to the task and other group members. Virtual groupsGroups that take advantage of new technologies and meet exclusively or primarily online to achieve their purpose or goal. Virtual groups are popular in professional contexts because they can bring together people who are geographically dispersed.Manju K.
Walther and Ulla Bunz, a€?The Rules of Virtual Groups: Trust, Liking, and Performance in Computer-Mediated Communication,a€? Journal of Communication 55, no.
Members of virtual groups need to make the social cues that guide new membersa€™ socialization more explicit than they would in an offline group.Manju K. What are some differences between your experiences in virtual groups versus traditional colocated groups? What are some group tasks or purposes that you think would be best handled in a traditional colocated setting? Advantages of small groups include shared decision making, shared resources, synergy, and exposure to diversity. Although groups vary in the diversity of their members, we can strategically choose groups that expand our diversity, or we can unintentionally end up in a diverse group. A common problem is coordinating and planning group meetings due to busy and conflicting schedules. But then I took a course called a€?Small Group and Team Communicationa€? with an amazing teacher who later became one of my most influential mentors. I recommend that my students come up with a group name and create a contract of group guidelines during their first meeting (both of which I learned from my group communication teacher whom I referenced earlier). Acknowledging that schedules are difficult to coordinate and that that is not really going to change, what are some strategies that you could use to overcome that challenge in order to get time together as a group? Small groups are important communication units in academic, professional, civic, and personal contexts.
The ideal number of group members is the smallest number needed to competently complete the groupa€™s task or achieve the groupa€™s purpose.
A groupa€™s structure also affects how group members communicate, as some structures are more centralized and hierarchical and other structures are more decentralized and equal.
While there are elements of both in every group, the overall purpose of a group can usually be categorized as primarily task or relational oriented. Our communication in primary groups is more frequently other oriented than our communication in secondary groups, which is often self-oriented. Disadvantages of group communication include unnecessary group formation (when the task would be better performed by one person), difficulty coordinating schedules, and difficulty with accountability and social loafing. Even established groups go through changes as members come and go, as tasks are started and completed, and as relationships change. Early stages of role negotiation begin and members begin to determine goals for the group and establish rules and norms. The personalities of the individuals in the group, the skills that members bring, the resources available to the group, the groupa€™s size, and the groupa€™s charge all contribute to the creation of the early tone of and climate within a group.Donald G. Additionally, decisions about what roles people will play including group leaders and other decisions about the workings of the group may come from the outside, which reduces some of the uncertainty inherent in the forming stage. Just like storms can replenish water supplies and make crops grow, storming can lead to group growth.
Leaders that began to emerge have typically gained the support of other group members, and group identity begins to solidify. Rules are explicitly stated guidelines for members and may refer to things like expected performance levels or output, attitudes, or dress codes.
Some groups go through each stage of development in a progressive and linear fashion, while other groups may get stuck in a stage, skip a stage, or experience a stage multiple times.
Even though their early interactions may seem unproductive, they lay the groundwork for cohesion and other group dynamics that will play out more prominently in later stages.


Conflict is inevitable and important as a part of group development and can be productive if it is managed properly.
It is important that groups reflect on the life of the group to learn any relevant lessons and celebrate accomplishments.
What do you think is the best way to complete the adjourning stage for a group that was successful and cohesive? The impressions we form about other peoplea€™s likeability and the way we think about a groupa€™s purpose are affected by the climate within a group that is created by all members. Group climateThe relatively enduring tone and quality of group interaction that is experienced similarly by group members. Groups with an appropriate level of cohesivenessOwen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice, 5th ed.
Group members feel better when they feel included in discussion and a part of the functioning of the group.
Confirming messages help build relational dimensions within a group, and clear, organized, and relevant messages help build task dimensions within a group. Aside from individual participation, group members also like to feel as if participation is managed equally within the group and that appropriate turn taking is used. Member motivation is activated by perceived connection to and relevance of the groupa€™s goals or purpose.
Bormann, a€?Symbolic Convergence Theory: A Communication Formulation,a€? Journal of Communication, 35, no.
If group members react positively and agree with or appreciate the tellera€™s effort or other group members are triggered to tell their own related stories, then convergence is happening and cohesion and climate are being established.
Following Japana€™s lead, corporations in the United States began adopting a more team-based approach for project management decades ago.Anshu K.
The strategic pooling of people with diverse knowledge, experience, and skills can lead to synergistic collaborative thinking that produces new knowledge.Elisa du Chatenier, Jos A.
You may also download a PDF copy of this book (291 MB) or just this chapter (11 MB), suitable for printing or most e-readers, or a .zip file containing this book's HTML files (for use in a web browser offline). Group communication scholars are so aware of this common negative sentiment toward group communication that they coined the term grouphate to describe it.Susan M. Small group communicationInteractions among three or more people who are connected through a common purpose, mutual influence, and a shared identity. A college learning community focused on math and science, a campaign team for a state senator, and a group of local organic farmers are examples of small groups that would all have a different size, structure, identity, and interaction pattern. When groups grow beyond fifteen to twenty members, it becomes difficult to consider them a small group based on the previous definition.
The group itself may also be a part of an organizational hierarchy that networks the group into a larger organizational structure. Research has shown that centralized groups are better than decentralized groups in terms of speed and efficiency.Donald G. Conversely, if the actions of only a few of the group members lead to success, then all members of the group benefit. Even within a family, some members may not attend a reunion or get as excited about the matching t-shirts as others.
Today, groups are rarely such a matter of life and death, but they still serve important instrumental functions. Some groups, like therapy groups for survivors of sexual assault or support groups for people with cancer, exist primarily to provide emotional support.
For example, people may join the National Organization for Women because they want to affiliate with others who support womena€™s rights or a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) because they want to affiliate with African Americans, people concerned with civil rights, or a combination of the two. For example, a person may take numerous tests to become a part of Mensa, which is an organization for people with high IQs, for no material gain but for the recognition or sense of achievement that the affiliation may bring.
Task-oriented groupsGroups formed to solve a problem, promote a cause, or generate ideas or information. Decision making is directed at strengthening or repairing relationships rather than completing discrete tasks or debating specific ideas or courses of action. Our family and friends are considered primary groupsLong-lasting groups that are formed based on relationships and include significant others., or long-lasting groups that are formed based on relationships and include significant others.
Examples of groups that meet the needs of individuals include study groups or support groups like a weight loss group. It is within small groups that most of the decisions that guide our country, introduce local laws, and influence our family interactions are made. When we participate in small groups, we expand our social networks, which increase the possibility to interact with people who have different cultural identities than ourselves. Think about a situation in which a highly specialized skill or knowledge is needed to get something done. Some people also have difficulty with the other-centeredness and self-sacrifice that some groups require.
She emphasized the fact that we all needed to increase our knowledge about group communication and group dynamics in order to better our group communication experiencesa€”and she was right. Goodboy, a€?A Study of Grouphate in a Course on Small Group Communication,a€? Psychological Reports 97, no. The group name helps begin to establish a shared identity, which then contributes to interdependence and improves performance. In this section, we will learn about the stages of group development, which are forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.Bruce W. Groups return to the forming stage as group members come and go over the life span of a group.
Relational uncertainty can also be diminished when group members have preexisting relationships or familiarity with each other. The uncertainty present in the forming stage begins to give way as people begin to occupy specific roles and the purpose, rules, and norms of a group become clearer.
While conflict is inevitable and should be experienced by every group, a group that gets stuck at the storming stage will likely not have much success in completing its task or achieving its purpose. The group may now be recognizable by those on the outside, as slogans, branding, or patterns of interaction become associated with the group. Although interactions in the performing stage are task focused, the relational aspects of group interaction provide an underlying support for the group members.
Even groups that had negative experiences or failed to achieve their purpose can still learn something through reflection in the adjourning stage that may be beneficial for future group interactions. Groups also develop norms, and new group members are socialized into a groupa€™s climate and norms just as we are socialized into larger social and cultural norms in our everyday life. Following are some qualities that contribute to a positive group climate and morale:Peter J.
Knowing the roles isna€™t enough to lead to satisfaction, thougha€”members must also be comfortable with and accept those roles. Over time, these fantasies build a shared vision of the group and what it means to be a member that creates a shared group consciousness. Sorensen, a€?Group-Hate: A Negative Reaction to Group Worka€? (paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Minneapolis, MN, May, 1981). An analysis of the number of unique connections between members of small groups shows that they are deceptively complex. This type of formal network is especially important in groups that have to report to external stakeholders. This is a major contributor to many college studentsa€™ dislike of group assignments, because they feel a loss of control and independence that they have when they complete an assignment alone. The mission for this large organization influences the identities of the thousands of small groups called troops. Shared identity also emerges as groups become cohesive, meaning they identify with and like the groupa€™s task and other group members. Labor unions, for example, pool efforts and resources to attain material security in the form of pay increases and health benefits for their members, which protects them by providing a stable and dependable livelihood. Family and friendship groups, shared-interest groups, and activity groups all provide us with a sense of belonging and being included in an in-group.
While these groups may also meet instrumental needs through connections and referrals to resources, they fulfill the interpersonal need for belonging that is a central human need. Group memberships vary in terms of how much they affect our identity, as some are more prominent than others at various times in our lives. Likewise, people may join sports teams, professional organizations, and honor societies for the sense of achievement and affiliation. All groups include task and relational elements, so ita€™s best to think of these orientations as two ends of a continuum rather than as mutually exclusive. While we are more likely to participate in secondary groups based on self-interest, our primary-group interactions are often more reciprocal or other oriented. These groups are focused on individual needs, even though they meet as a group, and they are also often discussion oriented.
As we will learn later in this chapter, an important part of coming together as a group is the socialization of group members into the desired norms of the group. Because of synergy, the final group product can be better than what any individual could have produced alone. Since group members work together toward a common goal, shared identification with the task or group can give people with diverse backgrounds a sense of commonality that they might not have otherwise. In this situation, one very knowledgeable person is probably a better fit for the task than a group of less knowledgeable people. The interdependence of group members that we discussed earlier can also create some disadvantages. So the first piece of advice to help you start improving your group experiences is to closely study the group communication chapters in this textbook and to apply what you learn to your group interactions.
The contract of group guidelines helps make explicit the group norms that might have otherwise been left implicit.
Although there may not be as much uncertainty when one or two new people join a group as there is when a group first forms, groups spend some time in the forming stage every time group membership changes.
Group cohesionThe commitment of members to the purpose of the group and the degree of attraction among individuals within the group. Although the decreased uncertainty may be beneficial at this stage, too much imposed structure from the outside can create resentment or a feeling of powerlessness among group members.
Conflict develops when some group members arena€™t satisfied with the role that they or others are playing or the decisions regarding the purpose or procedures of the group. In short, group norms help set the tone for what group members ought to do and how they ought to behave.Donald G. Socialization outside of official group time can serve as a needed relief from the groupa€™s task. Other groups may experience so much conflict in the storming stage that they skip norming and performing and dissolve before they can complete their task. Often, group members leave a group experience with new or more developed skills that can be usefully applied in future group or individual contexts.
The pressure to conform to norms becomes more powerful in group situations, and some groups take advantage of these forces with positive and negative results.
To better understand cohesion and climate, we can examine two types of cohesion: task and social. Symbolic convergenceThe sense of community or group consciousness that develops in a group through non-task-related communication such as stories and jokes. By reviewing and applying the concepts in this section, you can hopefully identify potential difficulties with group cohesion and work to enhance cohesion when needed in order to create more positive group climates and enhance your future group interactions. Small groups, however, arena€™t just entities meant to torture students; they have served a central purpose in human history and evolution.
In this section, we will learn about the characteristics, functions, and types of small groups. These external stakeholders may influence the groupa€™s formal network, leaving the group little or no control over its structure. In terms of size, the more people in a group, the more issues with scheduling and coordination of communication. This concern is valid in that their grades might suffer because of the negative actions of someone else or their hard work may go to benefit the group member who just skated by. The presence of cohesion and a shared identity leads to a building of trust, which can also positively influence productivity and membersa€™ satisfaction. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our identities and self-concepts are built on the groups with which we identify.
Individual group members must also work to secure the instrumental needs of the group, creating a reciprocal relationship.
People also join groups because they want to have some control over a decision-making process or to influence the outcome of a group.
While religious groups as a whole are too large to be considered small groups, the work that people do as a part of a religious communitya€”as a lay leader, deacon, member of a prayer group, or committeea€”may have deep ties to a persona€™s identity. Such groups allow us opportunities to better ourselves by encouraging further development of skills or knowledge.
For example, although a family unit works together daily to accomplish tasks like getting the kids ready for school and friendship groups may plan a surprise party for one of the members, their primary and most meaningful interactions are still relational. Service groups, on the other hand, work to meet the needs of individuals but are task oriented. Virtual groups bring with them distinct advantages and disadvantages that you can read more about in the a€?Getting Plugged Ina€? feature next.
Since norms are implicit, much of this information is learned through observation or conveyed informally from one group member to another. Groups also help in making decisions involving judgment calls that have ethical implications or the potential to negatively affect people.
When I worked in housing and residence life, I helped coordinate a a€?World Cup Soccer Tournamenta€? for the international students that lived in my residence hall. Even when group members share cultural identities, the diversity of experience and opinion within a group can lead to broadened perspectives as alternative ideas are presented and opinions are challenged and defended.
Neither students nor faculty are born knowing how to function as a group, yet students and faculty often think wea€™re supposed to learn as we go, which increases the likelihood of a negative experience.
Of course, to do this you have to overcome some scheduling and coordination difficulties, but putting other things aside to work as a group helps set up a norm that group work is important and worthwhile. Jensen, a€?Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited,a€? Group and Organizational Studies 2, no. So a manageable amount of uncertainty is actually a good thing for group cohesion and productivity. For example, if a leader begins to emerge or is assigned during the forming stage, some members may feel that the leader is imposing his or her will on other members of the group. Interpersonal conflicts that predate the formation of the group may distract the group from the more productive idea- or task-oriented conflict that can be healthy for the group and increase the quality of ideas, decision making, and output.
Norms bring a sense of predictability and stability that can allow a group to move on to the performing stage of group development.
Groups can even use procedures like Roberta€™s Rules of Order to manage the flow of conversations and decision-making procedures. During task-related interactions, group members ideally begin to develop a synergy that results from the pooling of skills, ideas, experiences, and resources.
Even groups that are relational rather than task focused can increase membersa€™ interpersonal, listening, or empathetic skills or increase cultural knowledge and introduce new perspectives. Last, the potential for productive and destructive conflict increases as multiple individuals come together to accomplish a task or achieve a purpose. Ideally, groups would have an appropriate balance between these two types of cohesion relative to the groupa€™s purpose, with task-oriented groups having higher task cohesion and relational-oriented groups having higher social cohesion.
Conversely, groups have more control over their informal networks, which are connections among individuals within the group and among group members and people outside of the group that arena€™t official. Remember that time is an important resource in most group interactions and a resource that is usually strained.
Group meeting attendance is a clear example of the interdependent nature of group interaction. Shared identity can also be exhibited through group names, slogans, songs, handshakes, clothing, or other symbols. So, to answer the earlier question, we join groups because they function to help us meet instrumental, interpersonal, and identity needs. For example, a person who used to play the oboe in high school may join the community band to continue to improve on his or her ability. In such groups, like a committee or study group, interactions and decisions are primarily evaluated based on the quality of the final product or output.
Since other chapters in this book focus specifically on interpersonal relationships, this chapter focuses more on task-oriented groups and the dynamics that operate within these groups. Kinship networks provide important support early in life and meet physiological and safety needs, which are essential for survival. In fact, in traditional groups, group members passively acquire 50 percent or more of their knowledge about group norms and procedures, meaning they observe rather than directly ask.Debra R.


Group members should also contribute often, even if just supporting someone elsea€™s contribution, because increased participation has been shown to increase liking among members of virtual groups.Joseph B. Individuals making such high-stakes decisions in a vacuum could have negative consequences given the lack of feedback, input, questioning, and proposals for alternatives that would come from group interaction. As a group, we created teams representing different countries around the world, made brackets for people to track progress and predict winners, got sponsors, gathered prizes, and ended up with a very successful event that would not have been possible without the synergy created by our collective group membership. Individuals connected through a hierarchy or chain of command often work better in situations where decisions must be made under time constraints.
Regular meetings also allow members to interact with each other, which can increase social bonds, build a sense of interdependence that can help diminish social loafing, and establish other important rules and norms that will guide future group interaction. Groups often make guidelines about how meetings will be run, what to do about lateness and attendance, the type of climate theya€™d like for discussion, and other relevant expectations. For example, more dominant personalities may take early leadership roles in the group that can affect subsequent decisions. As we will learn in our section on group leadership, leaders should expect some degree of resentment from others who wanted to be the leader, have interpersonal conflicts with the leader, or just have general issues with being led. Synergy is positive in that it can lead group members to exceed their expectations and perform better than they could individually.
However, group members may continue interpersonal relationships that formed even after the group dissolves. This section explores the dynamics mentioned previously in order to better prepare you for future group interactions. Even the most task-focused groups need some degree of social cohesion, and vice versa, but the balance will be determined by the purpose of the group and the individual members. The originator of symbolic convergence theory, Ernest Bormann, claims that the sharing of group fantasies creates symbolic convergence. This model has become increasingly popular in various organizational settings since then as means to increase productivity and reduce bureaucracy. As you can see, when we double the number of group members, we more than double the number of connections, which shows that network connection points in small groups grow exponentially as membership increases. Different members will also gravitate toward different roles within the group and will advocate for certain procedures and courses of action over others. For example, a group membera€™s friend or relative may be able to secure a space to hold a fundraiser at a discounted rate, which helps the group achieve its task. At a family reunion, for example, matching t-shirts specially made for the occasion, dishes made from recipes passed down from generation to generation, and shared stories of family members that have passed away help establish a shared identity and social reality. Conversely, some people join a group to be controlled, because they dona€™t want to be the sole decision maker or leader and instead want to be given a role to follow. The three main types of tasks are production, discussion, and problem-solving tasks.Donald G. In professional and civic contexts, the word team has become popularized as a means of drawing on the positive connotations of the terma€”connotations such as a€?high-spirited,a€? a€?cooperative,a€? and a€?hardworking.a€? Scholars who have spent years studying highly effective teams have identified several common factors related to their success. The ability to transcend distance means that people with diverse backgrounds and diverse perspectives are more easily accessed than in many offline groups. Comer, a€?Organizational Newcomersa€™ Acquisition of Information from Peers,a€? Management Communication Quarterly 5, no. Group members also help expand our social networks, which provide access to more resources. The members of this group were also exposed to international diversity that enriched our experiences, which is also an advantage of group communication. When group interaction does occur under time constraints, having one a€?point persona€? or leader who coordinates action and gives final approval or disapproval on ideas or suggestions for actions is best. Williams, a€?Social Loafing: A Meta-Analytic Review and Theoretical Integration,a€? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65, no. Instead of committing to frequent meetings, many student groups use their first meeting to equally divide up the groupa€™s tasks so they can then go off and work alone (not as a group). If group members end up falling short of these expectations, the other group members can remind the straying member of the contact and the fact that he or she signed it. As with most models of communication phenomena, although we order the stages and discuss them separately, they are not always experienced in a linear fashion.
The cohesion that begins in this stage sets the group on a trajectory influenced by group membersa€™ feelings about one another and their purpose or task. Group membersa€™ diverse skill sets and access to resources can also influence the early stages of role differentiation. In general, people go along with a certain amount of pressure to conform out of a drive to avoid being abnormal that is a natural part of our social interaction.Donald G.
Violations of group rules, however, typically result in more explicit punishments than do violations of norms. Glitches in the groupa€™s performance can lead the group back to previous stages of group development. In reality, many bonds, even those that were very close, end up fading after the group disbands. For example, a team of workers from the local car dealership may join a local summer softball league because theya€™re good friends and love the game. Teams in the workplace have horizontally expanded the traditional vertical hierarchy of organizations, as the aim of creating these teams was to produce smaller units within an organization that are small enough to be efficient and self-manageable but large enough to create the synergy that we discussed in the earlier part of the chapter.
Negative group experiences are often exacerbated by a lack of knowledge about group communication processes.
So, while there is no set upper limit on the number of group members, it makes sense that the number of group members should be limited to those necessary to accomplish the goal or serve the purpose of the group. Both types of networks are important because they may help facilitate information exchange within a group and extend a groupa€™s reach in order to access other resources. Reachability refers to the way in which one member is or isna€™t connected to other group members. In centralized groups like the wheel, the person with the most connections, person C, is also more likely to be the leader of the group or at least have more status among group members, largely because that person has a broad perspective of whata€™s going on in the group. In some cases, the group members who show up have to leave and reschedule because they cana€™t accomplish their task without the other members present. Although they may not provide material resources, they enrich our knowledge or provide information that we can use to then meet our own instrumental needs. When people do not interact with their biological family, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, they can establish fictive kinship networks, which are composed of people who are not biologically related but fulfill family roles and help provide the same support. For example, the Gay Mena€™s Health Crisis is a group that was formed by a small group of eight people in the early 1980s to advocate for resources and support for the still relatively unknown disease that would later be known as AIDS.
A local community-theater group may be able to put on a production with a limited budget by drawing on these connections to get set-building supplies, props, costumes, actors, and publicity in ways that an individual could not. People who are more introverted or just avoid group communication and voluntarily distance themselves from groupsa€”or are rejected from groupsa€”risk losing opportunities to learn more about others and themselves. While some group work can definitely be done independently, dividing up the work and assigning someone to put it all together doesna€™t allow group members to take advantage of one of the most powerful advantages of group worka€”synergy. If the group encounters further issues, they can use the contract as a basis for evaluating the other group member or for communicating with the instructor.
Additionally, some groups dona€™t experience all five stages, may experience stages multiple times, or may experience more than one stage at a time. Groups with voluntary membership may exhibit high levels of optimism about what the group can accomplish.
In terms of size, the bonding that begins in the forming stage becomes difficult when the number of people within the group prevents every person from having a one-on-one connection with every other member of the group.
Many implicit norms are derived from social norms that people follow in their everyday life. Changes in membership, member roles, or norms can necessitate a revisiting of aspects of the forming, storming, or norming stages.
This doesna€™t mean the relationship wasna€™t genuine; interpersonal relationships often form because of proximity and shared task interaction. They may end up beating the team of faculty members from the community college who joined the league just to get to know each other better and have an excuse to get together and drink beer in the afternoon.
In group communication, group fantasiesVerbalized references to events outside the a€?here and nowa€? of the group, including references to the groupa€™s past, predictions for the future, or other communication about people or events outside the group. Small groups that add too many members increase the potential for group members to feel overwhelmed or disconnected.
Some groups will have more control over these external factors through decision making than others. For example, the a€?Circlea€? group structure in Figure 13.1 "Small Group Structures" shows that each group member is connected to two other members. Group members who attend meetings but withdraw or dona€™t participate can also derail group progress. Similar groups form to advocate for everything from a stop sign at a neighborhood intersection to the end of human trafficking. Adler and Jeanne Marquardt Elmhorst, Communicating at Work: Principles and Practices for Businesses and the Professions, 8th ed. Virtual groups experience more difficulty with this part of socialization than copresent traditional groups do, since any form of electronic mediation takes away some of the richness present in face-to-face interaction. Virtual group members should also make an effort to put relational content that might otherwise be conveyed through nonverbal or contextual means into the verbal part of a message, as members who include little social content in their messages or only communicate about the groupa€™s task are more negatively evaluated. The increased knowledge, diverse perspectives, and access to resources that groups possess relates to another advantage of small groupsa€”synergy. Social loafers expect that no one will notice their behaviors or that others will pick up their slack.
Although the optimism can be motivating, unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment, making it important for group members to balance optimism with realism. Also, in larger groups, more dominant members tend to assert themselves as leaders and build smaller coalitions within the group, which can start the group on a trajectory toward more conflict during the upcoming storming stage.Donald G. Norms within the group about politeness, lateness, and communication patterns are typically similar to those in other contexts. One way to continue to build group cohesion during the performing stage is to set short-term attainable group goals.
In this example, the players from the car dealership exhibit high social and task cohesion, while the faculty exhibit high social but low task cohesion. Omta, a€?Identification of Competencies in Open Innovation Teams,a€? Research and Development Management 40, no. This lack of knowledge about group communication can lead to negative group interactions, which creates a negative cycle that perpetuates further negative experiences. For example, a commission that is put together by a legislative body to look into ethical violations in athletic organizations will likely have less control over its external factors than a self-created weekly book club. This can make coordination easy when only one or two people need to be brought in for a decision. Since this person has access to the most information, which is usually a sign of leadership or status, he or she could consciously decide to limit the flow of information.
Although it can be frustrating to have your job, grade, or reputation partially dependent on the actions of others, the interdependent nature of groups can also lead to higher-quality performance and output, especially when group members are accountable for their actions.
For example, several consumer protection and advocacy groups have been formed to offer referrals for people who have been the victim of fraudulent business practices. Virtual groups who do not overcome these challenges will likely struggle to meet deadlines, interact less frequently, and experience more absenteeism. It is this potential for social loafing that makes many students and professionals dread group work, especially those who have a tendency to cover for other group members to prevent the social loafer from diminishing the groupa€™s productivity or output.
Groups with assigned or mandatory membership may include members that carry some degree of resentment toward the group itself or the goals of the group.
Sometimes a norm needs to be challenged because it is not working for the group, which could lead a group back to the storming stage.
Accomplishing something, even if ita€™s small, can boost group morale, which in turn boosts cohesion and productivity.
Fortunately, as with other areas of communication, instruction in group communication can improve peoplea€™s skills and increase peoplea€™s satisfaction with their group experiences. In this case, Erik and Callie are very reachable by Winston, who could easily coordinate with them. But in complex tasks, that person could become overwhelmed by the burden of processing and sharing information with all the other group members.
Whether a group forms to provide services to members that they couldna€™t get otherwise, advocate for changes that will affect membersa€™ lives, or provide information, many groups meet some type of instrumental need. Groups faced with production tasks are asked to produce something tangible from their group interactions such as a report, design for a playground, musical performance, or fundraiser event.
These members can start the group off on a negative trajectory that will lessen or make difficult group cohesiveness. Other times, group members challenge norms for no good reason, which can lead to punishment for the group member or create conflict within the group.
Too much pressure, however, can lead people to feel isolated and can create a negative group climate. For example, as a graduate student, I spent a lot of time talking with others in our small group about research, writing, and other things related to our classes and academia in general. To overcome these challenges, team members can think positively but realistically about the teama€™s end goal, exhibit trust in the expertise of other team members, be reliable and approachable to help build a good team spirit, take initiative with actions and ideas, ask critical questions, and provide critical but constructive feedback. However, if Winston needed to coordinate with Bill or Stephanie, he would have to wait on Erik or Callie to reach that person, which could create delays.
The circle structure is more likely to emerge in groups where collaboration is the goal and a specific task and course of action isna€™t required under time constraints. Groups faced with discussion tasks are asked to talk through something without trying to come up with a right or wrong answer. Groups can still be successful if these members are balanced out by others who are more committed to and positive in regards to the purpose of the group. Most of this communication wouldna€™t lead to symbolic convergence or help establish the strong social bonds that we developed as a group.
This potential for innovation makes teams ideal in high-stakes situations where money, contracts, or lives are at stake.
The circle can be a good structure for groups who are passing along a task and in which each member is expected to progressively build on the othersa€™ work. While the person who initiated the group or has the most expertise in regards to the task may emerge as a leader in a decentralized group, the equal access to information lessens the hierarchy and potential for gatekeeping that is present in the more centralized groups. Instead, it was our grad student a€?war storiesa€? about excessive reading loads and unreasonable paper requirements we had experienced in earlier years of grad school, horror stories about absent or vindictive thesis advisors, and a€?you wona€™t believe thisa€? stories from the classes that we were teaching that brought us together. Large corporations are now putting together what has been termed interorganizational high-performance research and development teams consisting of highly trained technical and scientific experts from diverse backgrounds to work collectively and simultaneously on complex projects under very challenging conditions.Lisa J. A group of scholars coauthoring a research paper may work in such a manner, with each person adding to the paper and then passing it on to the next person in the circle. Groups faced with problem-solving tasks have to devise a course of action to meet a specific need. In this case, they can ask the previous person questions and write with the next persona€™s area of expertise in mind. These groups also usually include a production and discussion component, but the end goal isna€™t necessarily a tangible product or a shared social reality through discussion. Davis, a€?What Makes High-Performance Teams Excel?a€? Research Technology Management 52, no. The a€?Wheela€? group structure in Figure 13.1 "Small Group Structures" shows an alternative organization pattern. Task-oriented groups require honed problem-solving skills to accomplish goals, and the structure of these groups is more rigid than that of relational-oriented groups.
In markets where companies race to find the next generation of technological improvement, such research and development teams are critical for an organizationa€™s success. This can be a useful structure when Tara is the person with the most expertise in the task or the leader who needs to review and approve work at each step before it is passed along to other group members.
Research on such teams in real-world contexts has found that in order to be successful, high-performance teams should have a clear base such as a project mission, a leader who strategically assigns various tasks to members based on their specialized expertise, and shared leadership in which individual experts are trusted to make decisions relevant to their purview within the group. But Phillip and Shadow, for example, wouldna€™t likely work together without Tara being involved.
Although these high-performance teams are very task oriented, research has also found that the social element cannot be ignored, even under extreme internal and external pressures. In fact, cohesion and interdependence help create a shared reality that in turn improves productivity, because team members feel a sense of shared ownership over their charge.Stephanie T.
Solansky, a€?Team Identification: A Determining Factor of Performance,a€? Journal of Managerial Psychology 26, no.



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