Groups are a fundamental part of social life. They can be very small - just two people - or very large. They can be highly rewarding to their members and to society as a whole, but there are also significant problems and dangers with them. All this makes them an essential focus for research, exploration and action. Just how we define 'group' and the characteristics or ideas we use has been a matter of debate for many years.
The significance of collectivities like families, friendship circles, and tribes and clans has been long recognized, but it is really only in the last century or so that groups were studied scientifically and theory developed
As interest in group processes and group dynamics developed and accelerated (most particularly since the 1980s) the research base of the area strengthened. Not unexpectedly, the main arenas for the exploration of groups, and for building theory about them, have continued to be sociology and social psychology.
As well as trying to make sense of human behaviour – why people join groups and what they get from them (both good and bad) – the study of groups has had a direct impact on practice in a number of areas of life. Perhaps the most obvious is work – and the contexts and practices of teams. But it has also acted as a spur to development in those fields of education, therapy, social care and social action that use groups to foster change. DEFINATION
Hundreds of fish swimming together are called a school. A pack of foraging baboons is a troupe. A half dozen crows on a telephone line is a murder. A gam is a group of whales. But what is a collection of human beings called? A group. ….collections of people may seem unique, but each possesses that one critical element that defines a group: connections linking the individual members…. members are linked together in a web of interpersonal relationships. Thus, a group is defined as two or more individuals who are connected to one another by social relationships.
This definition has the merit of bringing together three elements: the number of individuals involved; connection, and relationship. When people talk about groups they often are describing collectivities with two members or three members. For example, a work team or study group will often comprise two or three people.
However, groups can be very large collectivities of people such a crowd or religious congregation or gathering. As might be expected, there are differences in some aspects of behaviour between small and larger groupings. A set of people engage in frequent interactions
·They identify with one another. ·They are defined by others as a group. ·They share beliefs, values, and norms about areas of common interest. ·They define themselves as a group. ·They come together to work on common tasks and for agreed purposes Types of groups There are various ways of classifying groups, for example in terms of their purpose or structure, but two sets of categories have retained their usefulness for both practitioners and researchers. They involve the distinctions between: ·primary and secondary groups; and
·planned and emergent group. |
Primary Groups If all groups are important to their members and to society, some groups are more important than others. Early in the twentieth century, Charles H. Cooley gave the name, primary groups, to those groups that he said are characterized by intimate face-to-face association and those are fundamental in the development and continued adjustment of their members.
He identified three basic primary groups, the family, the child's play group, and the neighborhoods or community among adults. These groups, he said, are almost universal in all societies; they give to people their earliest and most complete experiences of social unity; they are instrumental in the development of the social life; and they promote the integration of their members in the larger society.
Since Cooley wrote, over 65 years ago, life in the United States has become much more urban, complex, and impersonal, and the family play group and neighborhood have become less dominant features of the social order.they are are clusters of people like families or close friendship circles where there is close, face-to-face and intimate interaction. There is also often a high level of interdependence between members. Primary groups are also the key means of socialization in society, the main place where attitudes, values and orientations are developed and sustained.
Secondary groups , characterized by anonymous, impersonal, and instrumental relationships, have become much more numerous. People move frequently, often from one section of the country to another and they change from established relationships and promoting widespread loneliness. Young people, particularly, turn to drugs, seek communal living groups and adopt deviant lifestyles in attempts to find meaningful primary-group relationships.
The social context has changed so much so that primary group relationship today is not as simple as they were in Cooley's time. are those in which members are rarely, if ever, all in direct contact. They are often large and usually formally organized. Trades unions and membership organizations such as the National Trust are examples of these. They are an important place for socialization, but secondary to primary groups. Planned and emergent groups
Alongside discussion of primary and secondary groups, came the recognition that groups tend to fall into one of two broad categories: Planned groups. Planned groups are specifically formed for some purpose – either by their members, or by some external individual, group or organization. Emergent groups. Emergent groups come into being relatively spontaneously where people find themselves together in the same place, or where the same collection of people gradually come to know each other through conversation and interaction over a period of time. Formal Groups:
A designated work group defined by the organization’s structure. A formal group is set up by the organization to carry out work in support of the organization’s goals. In formal groups, the behaviours that one should engage in are stipulated by – and directed toward – organizational goals. Examples include a book-keeping department, an executive committee, and a product development team. Formal groups may be command groups or task groups.
·Command Group: A command group consists of a manager and the employees who report to him or her. Thus, it is defined in terms of the organization’s hierarchy. Membership in the group arises from each employee’s position on the organizational chart. ·Task Group:
A task group is made up of employees who work together to complete a particular task or project. A task group’s boundaries are not limited to its immediate hierarchical superior. It can cross command relationships. An employee’s membership in the group arises from the responsibilities delegated to the employee – that is, the employee’s responsibility to carry out particular activities. Task group may be temporary with an established life span, or they may be open ended. ·Committee:
A group of people officially delegated to perform a function, such as investigation, considering, reporting, or acting on a matter. Committee, one or more persons appointed or elected to consider report on, or take action on a particular matter. It investigates analyses and debates the problem and makes recommendation. Committee usually has their own Committee member comprising of advisory authority, secretary and others. Recommendation is sent to the authority that is responsible for implementing them. Informal Groups:
An organization’s informal groups are the groups that evolve to meet social of affiliation needs by bringing people together based on shared interests or friendship. Thus, informal groups are alliances that are neither formally structured nor organizationally determined. hese groups are natural formations in the work environment that appear in response to the need for social contact.
Many factors explain why people are attracted to one another every day, they are likely to form friendships. That likelihood is even greater when people also share similar attitudes, personalities, or economic status. ·Friendship Groups: Groups often developed because the individual members have one or more common characteristics.
We call these formations “Friendship groups”. Social alliances, which frequently extend outside the work situation, can be based on similar age, same political view, attended the same college, etc. ·Interest Groups: people who may or may not be aligned into common command or task groups may affiliate to attain a specific objective with which each is concerned. This is an interest group ·Reference Groups: Sometimes, people use a group as a basis for comparison in making decisions or forming opinions. When a group is used in this way. It is a reference group. Employees have reference gr
oup inside or outside the organization where they work. For most people, the family is the most important reference groups. Other important reference groups typically include co-workers, friends, and members of the person’s religious organization. The employee need not admire a group for it to serve as a reference group. Some reference groups serve as a negative reference; the employee tries to be unlike members of these groups. Social Groups
While all groups will have both social and task dimensions, some groups are predominantly social in their orientation. Examples of these groups would be families and social clubs. These groups provide for our safety and solidarity needs and they help us develop self-esteem Work group:Work groups function to complete a particular task. In a work group, the task dimension is emphasized.
The group members pool their expertise to accomplish the task. Examples of this would be workplaces, campus organizations, or juries. There are several types of work groups, based on the work of Ivan Steiner Additive Work Group: All group members perform the same activity and pool their results at the end. An example of this would be gathering signatures for a petition drive. Conjunctive Work Group: Group members perform different, but related, tasks that allow for the completion of a goal.
Every group member must complete their task in order for the group task to be completed. An example of this would be an assembly line, in which each worker performs tasks that together build a completed car. Disjunctive Task: Members meet to determine the best alternative for a problem or issue. There are two types of disjunctive tasks: ·Judgment Task: Group members must choose one correct answer from all alternatives. ·Decision-Making Task: Group members must choose the best alternative from a set of options. There is no one correct answer for a decision-making group.
Some benefits and dangers of groups As can be seen from what we have already reviewed, groups offer people the opportunity to work together on joint projects and tasks - they allow people to develop more complex and larger-scale activities. We have also seen that groups can be: ·significant sites of socialization and education – enabling people to develop a sense of identity and belonging, and to deepen knowledge, skills, and values and attitudes. ·places where relationships can form and grow, and where people can find help and support. ·settings where wisdom flourishes.
As James Suriwiecki (2004) has argued, it is often the case that 'the many are smarter than the few'. However, there is a downside to all this. The socialization they offer might be highly constraining and oppressive for some of their members. They can also become environments that foster interpersonal conflict. Furthermore, the boundaries drawn around groups are part of a process of excluding certain people (sometimes to their detriment) and creating inter-group conflict.
There is also evidence to show that groups can impact upon individuals in ways that warp their judgements and that lead to damaging decision making (what some commentators have talked about as 'groupthink'). For these reasons we need to be able to appreciate what is going on in groups - and to act where we can to make them more fulfilling and beneficial to their members and to society as a whole. Conclusion
From this brief overview we can see the significance of groups and why it may be important to intervene in them - both to strengthen their potential as sites of mutual aid and communal well-being, and to help them become more fulfilling to their individual members. They are a fundamental part of human experience and play a crucial role both in terms of shaping and influencing individual lives and society itself. Humans are small group beings. We always have been and we always will be.
The ubiquitousness of groups and the inevitability of being in them makes groups one of the most important factors in our lives. As the effectiveness of our groups goes, so goes the quality of our lives. To ensure that groups are effective, members must be extremely competent in using small group skills. Humans are not born with these skills; they must be developed. (Johnson and Johnson 2003: 579; 581)
Those skills - and the attitudes, orientations and ideas associated with them - are learnt, predominantly, through experiencing group life. They can also be enhanced by the intervention of skilled leaders and facilitators - but that is another story.