Social psychology Group processes

According to Cartwright & Zander (1968), a group may be defined as a “collection of individuals who have relations to one another that make them interdependent to some significant degree”. Other definitions state that a group is “two or more persons who are interacting with one another in such a manner that each person influences and is influenced by each other person (Shaw, 1981).

Turner (1987) goes further to say that “a psychological group is one that is psychologically significant for the members, to which they relate themselves subjectively for social comparison and the acquisitions of norms and values…that they privately accept membership in and which influence their attitudes and behaviour”. Clark & Pataki reserve the term “group” for aggregates containing three or more members because dyads (aggregate of 2 persons) differ from larger aggregates in a number of ways.

For example, unlike aggregates of three or more people, dyads are destroyed, no longer termed a group, by the loss of one member. Also, certain processes that are common in larger aggregates, such as, mediation of conflicts, coalition formation, majority and minority influence, cannot occur in dyads. From the book “Introduction to Social Psychology” by Graham Vaughan & Michael Hogg (2002) a group is defined as two or more people who share a common definition and evaluation of themselves and behave in accordance with such a definition. Group structure is a pattern of relationships among members that hold the group together and help it achieve assigned goals.

Structure can be defined in a variety of ways. These include group size, group roles, group norms, group cohesiveness and status systems. Group size can vary from two people to a very large number of people. Small groups of two to ten are thought to be more effective because each member has ample opportunity to participate and become actively involved in the group. Large groups may waste time by deciding on processes and trying to decide who should participate next. Group size will affect not only participation but satisfaction as well. It is increasingly difficult for members of large groups to identify with one another and experience cohesion.

Roles are positions in a group that are associated with certain expected behaviours. In formal groups, roles are usually predetermined and assigned to members. Each role will have specific responsibilities and duties. Group roles can be classified into work roles, maintenance roles, and blocking roles. Work roles are task-oriented activities that involve accomplishing the group's goals.

Maintenance roles are social-emotional activities that help members maintain their involvement in the group and raise their personal commitment to the group. Blocking roles are activities that disrupt the group. They make take the form of dominating discussions, verbally attacking other group members, and distracting the group with trivial information or unnecessary humor.

Norms are acceptable standards of behavior within a group that are shared by the members of the group. Norms define the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Each group will establish its own set of norms that might determine anything from the appropriate dress to how many comments to make in a meeting. Groups exert pressure on members to force them to conform to the group's standards.

The norms often reflect the level of commitment, motivation, and performance of the group. Cohesiveness refers to the bonding of group members and their desire to remain part of the group. Generally speaking, the more difficult it is to obtain group membership the more cohesive the group. Groups also tend to become cohesive when they are in intense competition with other groups or face a serious external threat to survival. Smaller groups and those who spend considerable time together also tend to be more cohesive.

The status system of a group reflects the distribution of power and prestige among its members. Status systems are usually hierarchical, with some members having more power and prestige than others. Members who possess higher status behave differently than those who possess lower status. A group engages in certain processes that naturally occur when a set of individuals are working together. In the Orientation phase, the needs of group members are to be oriented to the task, that is, to define the task, specify issues, identify expectations, and explore the nature of the work. From this, members develop a common understanding of the group's purpose.

In the Testing and Dependency phase, participants generally act as if they depend on the leader to provide all the structure. They look to the leader to set the ground rules, establish the agenda, to do all the "leading," while the group members acclimate themselves to the setting. Group members exhibit behavior to test what behavior is acceptable and what is not, and begin to establish boundaries, to consider themselves as individuals in relation to the group, and to define the function of the group and the leader.

This phase generally concludes when there is general agreement that the goals are achievable and that change is possible--whether it be changing behavior, making a decision, or solving a problem. Organizing to get work done involves a number of group decisions. These include establishing work rules, determining limits, defining the reward system, setting the criteria for the task, dividing the work and assigning individual responsibility for particular tasks. As it relates to Personal Relations, participants bring unique perspectives to group activity and many unresolved conflicts with regard to authority, dependency, rules, and agenda.

The result is that groups experience interpersonal conflict as they organize to get work done. The conflict may remain hidden, but it is there. The variety of organizational concerns that emerges reflects the interpersonal conflict over leadership and leadership structure, power, and authority. After some initial effort to alter previously held positions, group members revert to their previous, pre-group stance and fight to maintain it.

This phenomenon, variously described as regression or resistance, seems to occur when the group is perceived as an arena wherein deep-seated values, beliefs, and world views can be challenged. During this phase, the atmosphere is tense and much work is accomplished. This phase concludes when group members have struggled enough with each other to resolve, partially, their personal relations concerns (similarities to and differences from other group members, authority, dependency, and leadership) and have agreed upon how they will organize to do the work.

This allows issues to emerge that are sufficiently important for the group as a whole to consider. In the Information Flow phase, participants begin sharing ideas and feelings, giving and soliciting feedback, exploring actions, and sharing information related to the task. This is a period during which people become gradually more comfortable about being part of a group.

There is an emerging openness with regard to the task. Group cohesion, It is during this stage of development (assuming the group gets this far) that the participants, having resolved interpersonal conflict, begin to experience catharsis and a feeling of belonging to a group. This enables the group to focus on the task. Different points of view enrich the group process. When it becomes apparent that there has been learning in the form of new insights and new solutions to problems the group moves into the Problem Solving phase where the group's tasks are well-defined, there is a commitment to common activity.

The group's activities are both collaborative and functionally competitive. The feelings are focused on enjoyment of the here and the now. A reflective, meditative silence coexists with playful and pleasurable interaction with others. The task seems completed and there is a need for closure, repose, and quiet. Group productivity is a successful element to any business. This essentially means binding the power of teams to increase the individual efforts of the people who are serving with the organization. Influence assumes the existence of an effective leader who is able to motivate the employees and followers.

Such influence is not the coercive kind of leadership. Instead, it is based upon a charismatic personality, intense commitment to organizational vision, mission and goals as well as care for the followers and employees. It is important to note that group productivity plays an important role in management to attain group flexibility. Reviews on group size literature report little agreement among researchers relating the relation between size of group and group productivity.

The relation of group size and group membership is also ambiguous although Thomas and Fink (1963) indicate a slight higher satisfaction in smaller groups. Steiner argues that the effect of group size is dependent on the kind of task and more specifically the way in which the members’ ability and ability are integrated into the given task. Steiner developed a classification of group task in which he was able to generate predictions about the effects of group size on potential productivity. The actual productivity of the group is determined by this potential productivity minus the losses in productivity due to inadequate motivation of members and also minus losses in productivity due to inadequate coordination of members’ effort.

Steiner classifies the task as addictive, conjunctive, disjunctive, compensatory and complementary. An addictive task is when each member of the group performs similar functions thus the potential productivity is a sum of the members’ ability. A disjunctive task is when the potential productivity is a function of the most competent member of the group, as it would be the cases if only one member was allowed to pull the rope. A conjunctive task is where group performance is a function of the least competent member.

All members of the group must solve or complete a conjunctive task and the group cannot complete to the next task until each member has done so. A compensatory task includes tasks such as judging the number of items in a bottle, the group-mean is used as the group’s performance. A complementary task is where a division of labour is permitted so each member can work on his specialization. Many theories of group productivity stress the importance of members’ action as they carry out joint task.

Group interaction produces performance that is inferior to what would be predicted by knowing the ability of the individual members; this is known as process loss. Steiner (1972) suggested two causes for process loss. Coordination loss occurs when group members don’t combine their individual response in an optimal way. An example of this is when several people on tug-of-war team and pull on the rope at different times. Motivation loss occurs when the group does not apply maximal effort on the group task.

An example of this is social loafing. Because group productivity is often reduced by motivation loss and coordination loss a number of techniques have been implemented to improve the group’s effectiveness. However it is to be identified that none of the techniques will work in every case, but they still prove to be useful in some situations.

• Team Building: this is designed to increase group members’ intrapersonal and task skills by creating a strong sense interdependence through problem identification, role analysis and sensitivity training activities. • Quality Circles: popularized by Japanese businesses they involve regular meetings in which members of the work group identify production problems as well as offer solutions. • Autonomous Work Groups: members who work on independent task are allowed to control how the task are managed and accomplished.