Thesis: Group Dynamics the Precarious Nature

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Group Dynamics

The Precarious Nature of Group Dynamics

With the advent of the new millennium has come an increased focus on the workplace and the impact of sociological concepts within that workplace, such as leadership and group dynamics. Indeed, a study of group dynamics in the workplace reveals that the theory is significantly relevant to the goings on of organizations, posing several important implications for managers, owners, and employees. However, Brown (2000) points out that groups have traditionally been associated with negative outcomes both in popular, Western culture, as well as in sociological studies. Indeed, Brown (2000) mentions that "groupthink" is generally the idea most often associated with group behavior, "rather than the more positive aspects of team spirit, intergroup cooperation, group productivity and collective problem solving" (pg. xiv). The groups of social psychology and sociology may be more malevolently oriented groups, such as gangs. However, in the work place, groups are perceived by management as positive, using a collective problem solving and diversity approach to creating innovative solutions. This difference points not only to the difference in the treatment of groups between disciplines, but also to the fact that group dynamics can elicit both positive and negative results in the workplace. In his introduction to Group Dynamics for Teams, Levi (2007) writes that two traditional schools studying the issue of group dynamics have been historically separated. These are the psychological and social scientist schools, who have traditionally collected much data on the subject, as well as those who have attempted to apply such methods and reasoning to the dynamic of the workplace. Levi (2007) declares that it is his attempt to unite these two schools, making the research of the scholars able to be "applied to the ways in which teams operate in organizations" (pg. xvii). In congruence with Levi's (2007) goal, this paper will consider both the traditional psychological and social research regarding group dynamics, as well the more modern research that has dealt with group dynamics specifically in the workplace. Through an examination of group dynamics and their relationship to decision-making, motivational patterns, conflict and competition, and task functions, a better understanding of how this traditional psychological and social idea can be applied to the workplace can be gained

I. Group vs. Individual Decision-Making

Although it was traditionally a buzzword among psychologists and sociologists, the term, "groupthink," has begun to make its way into popular circles. Developed in 1982 after Janis's influential study of American foreign policy decisions made by groups, the term was coined to express "concurrence-seeking tendencies that lead to defective decision making" (Brown, 2000, pg. 213). When Janis (1982) coined the term, Brown (2000) argues she was trying to assess the quality of groups' decision making, a perilously difficult task as it is nearly impossible to discuss, after the fact, how good a decision is. However, in her study of American foreign policy decisions, Janis (1982) found that those decisions in which Americans were not the benefactors (decisions that did not go the way the foreign policy decision-makers would have wanted them to go) were marked by several features. The group was "cohesive," and was not able to access input from another group, in addition to being "dominated by a very directive leader" (Brown, 2000, pg. 213). Furthermore, Janis (1982) found that the groups who made "bad" decisions did not "search systematically" through a variety of options, perhaps because the groups that exhibited poor decision-making were almost always faced with a fast-approaching deadline (Brown, 2000, pg. 213). Based on this study, Janis (1982) isolated a number of groupthink "symptoms," including the fact that cohesion in groups tend to suppress those with other opinions, leading to "groupthink." A lack of creativity and the use of negative stereotypes to address those outside of one's group can also be symptoms (Brown, 2000), pg. 213).

Thus, groupthink is a very serious problem associated with groups and decision-making in the workplace. While an individual decision-maker may be able to use creativity and external resources to come up with a completely innovative and capturing idea for the corporation or organization, groupthink could be responsible for stifling that individual should he be put into a group. However, it is important to note that groupthink has been noted to occur in cohesive groups. This means that incorporating diversity into the workplace group scenario is an effective solution to the problem, allowing groups to be created in which difference is praised, and in which each person works together in order to positively influence the end result. When these kinds of groups are formed, workplace group decision-making can actually be of a positive quality. According to Levi (2007), group decision-making can bring positive results because it encourages multiple sources of knowledge and points-of-view, as well as making the rejection of non-productive solutions more likely. Indeed Levi (2007) argues that group decision-making is superior to individual decision-making because the collaborative component rules out the possibility of a single individual being able to come up with the same solution. Thus, the effects of groups on the decision-making process in the workplace can both be positive and negative. However, it is more likely that those affects are positive if the group is one that rejects cohesion and accepts diversity.

II. Motivational Patterns in Workplace Groups

Although groups are certainly capable of making decisions, they cannot do so without proper motivation, making motivational patterns in workplace dynamics an important area of study. In adolescents, the peer group has traditionally been viewed as a source of group motivation. Clearly, this has both positive and negative implications for adolescent psychology, and is widely studied among such professionals. Peer pressure can encourage teenagers to perform both positive and negative tasks, everything from drinking and drugs and alcohol to studying and becoming involved in the Community. This concept is easily applicable to the peer group in the workplace. Working together as peers, workers are motivated by their fellow employees to be productive or face the consequences of being viewed as a less fruitful employee by the group. Drawing on competition, this encourages workers to produce the most work, stay on task, and come up with innovative solutions. However, Levi (2007) notes that such group dynamics can also be the impetus for lack of motivation in groups due to social loafing. The concept refers to the fact that it is easy for individuals to become free riders when they are in a group scenario. While being in a group may encourage some to prove their worth in order to be singled out as group leaders or as exceptional group members, this only works on a certain portion of the population. Others are content to "loaf," according to Levi (2007), to allow other members of the group to take the primary responsibility, decreasing motivation and ultimately suggesting that individual processes are better for the workplace than putting employees in groups.

However, our discussion of group decision-making suggests that group work rather than individual work is, indeed, better suited to the workplace. Thus, with methods of dealing with the motivational pattern of loafing or free riders, it becomes more applicable, once again, to focus as groups as primary agents in the workplace. Luckily, Levi (2007) writes that motivation can be improved through focusing on a group's task, goals, and "team members' sense of commitment or belonging" (pg. 59). Indeed, Baumeister and Leary (1995) confirmed the belongingness hypothesis by finding that most people need to form social attachments in order to have positive benefits to their health and well being. Indeed, their article title espouses that these ties are important for "fundamental human motivation." Just as the issue of peer groups and motivation can be applied to the workplace, so can Baumeister and Leary's (2995) study, which compliments Levi's (2007) declaration. With better attachments, groups can function with high levels of motivation. Groups whose members share an intrapersonal bond that is not negative can hold each other accountable for motivational levels through positive, rather than negative, reinforcement. Soon, the praise of the group will be reward enough to encourage workers to perform their tasks. Thus, the motivational pattern of free riding or social loafing can easily be overcome with this attention to intrapersonal communication and bonding.

However, it is similarly important that these groups not be considered cohesive, although they may be considered bonded interpersonally. In other words, while it is of the greatest importance that a group be close enough to prevent motivational decreases, it is of similar importance that the group still maintain distance enough to critique ideas that are unproductive, avoiding groupthink. While it may take some time to develop groups of this caliber, it is certainly possible through the matching of group members with those who complement them.

III. Conflict and Competition Among Workplace Groups

Whenever a situation involves multiple persons, conflict and competition are dynamics that are nearly always present. Within the workplace, as previously discussed, the construction of groups is precarious. Groups must be formed in such a way that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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