Group Dynamics

  • Post last modified:26 October 2021
  • Reading time:9 mins read

What is Group Dynamics?

Group Dynamics refers to the complex forces that are acting upon every group throughout its existence which cause it to behave the way it does.

The group will have a name, for example, Nurse administrators. It would have its constitution – all the ward sisters, departmental sisters, assistant nursing superintendents and nursing director. It would have the ultimate purpose – to improve patient care (as for the example given above).

A group will also have dynamics – it is always moving, doing something, changing, interacting and reacting.

Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist and change management expert, is credited with coining the term “group dynamics” in the early 1940s. He noted that people often take on distinct roles and behaviours when they work in a group. “Group dynamics” describes the effects of these roles and behaviours on other group members, and on the group as a whole.

A group with a positive dynamic is easy to spot. Team members trust one another, they work towards a collective decision, and they hold one another accountable for making things happen. As well as the researchers have found that when a team has a positive dynamic, its members are nearly twice as creative as an average group.

In a group with poor group dynamics, people’s behaviour disrupts work. As a result, the group may not come to any decision, or it may make the wrong choice, because group members could not explore options effectively.


Group Think

Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”.

It is a a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group. In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group. People who are opposed to the decisions or overriding opinion of the group as a whole frequently remain quiet, preferring to keep the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd.

Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanise other groups. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.

Symptoms of Groupthink

Janis has documented eight symptoms of groupthink:

  • Illusion of invulnerability: Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.

  • Collective rationalisation: Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.

  • Beliefs in inherent morality: Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.

  • Stereotyped views of out-groups: Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.

  • Direct pressure on dissenters: Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.

  • Self-censorship: Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.

  • Illusion of unanimity: The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.

  • Self-appointed ‘mind-guards’: Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

When the above symptoms exist in a group that is trying to make a decision, there is a reasonable chance that groupthink may happen. Groupthink occurs when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision.

When pressures for unanimity seem overwhelming, members are less motivated to objectively appraise the alternative courses of action available to them. These group pressures lead to carelessness and irrational thinking since groups experiencing groupthink fail to consider all alternatives and seek to maintain unanimity. Decisionsshapedbygroupthinkhavelowprobability of achieving successful outcomes.

Groupthink can have some benefits. When working with a large number of people, it can allow the group to make fast decisions, complete tasks, and finish projects quickly. However, this phenomenon also has costs as well. The suppression of individual opinions and creative thought can lead to poor decision-making and inefficient problem-solving.

A number of factors can influence this psychological phenomenon. It tends to occur more in situations where group members are very similar to one another and is more likely to take place when a powerful and charismatic leader heads the group. Situations where the group is placed under extreme stress or where moral dilemmas exist also increase the occurrence of groupthink.

However, there are steps that groups can take to minimise this problem. First, leaders can give group members the opportunity to express their own ideas or argue against ideas that have already been proposed. Breaking up members into smaller independent teams can also be helpful.


Factors Effecting Group Dynamics and Their Management

Group leaders and team members can contribute to a negative group dynamic. Let’s look at some of the most common problems that can occur:

  • Weak leadership: When a team lacks a strong leader, a more dominant member of the group can often take charge. This can lead to a lack of direction, infighting, or a focus on the wrong priorities.

  • Excessive deference to authority: This can happen when people want to be seen to agree with a leader, and therefore hold back from expressing their own opinions.

  • Blocking: this happens when team members behave in a way that disrupts the flow of information in the group. People can adopt blocking roles such as:

    • The aggressor: this person often disagrees with others, or is inappropriately outspoken.
    • The negator: this group member is often critical of others’ ideas.
    • The withdrawer: this person doesn’t participate in the discussion.
    • The recognition seeker: this group member is boastful, or dominates the session.
    • The joker: this person introduces humour at inappropriate times.

  • Groupthink: As discussed in earlier, this happens when people place a desire for consensus above their desire to reach the right decision. This prevents people from fully exploring alternative solutions.

  • Free riding: Here, some group members take it easy, and leave their colleagues to do all the work. Free riders may work hard on their own, but limit their contributions in group situations; this is known as “social loafing.”

  • Evaluation apprehension: team members’ perceptions can also create a negative group dynamic. Evaluation apprehension happens when people feel that they are being judged excessively harshly by other group members, and they hold back their opinions as a result.

Strategies for Improving Team Dynamics

The following approaches could be used to improve group dynamics:

Know Your Team

As a leader, it is very important to know one’s team in order to guide the development of the group. It is essential to learn about the phases that a group goes through as it develops. When the leader understands these, he/she will be able to preempt problems that could arise, including issues with poor group dynamics. Identifying the group’s positives and negatives could also help plan to deal with potential problems that the group would face.

Tackle Problems Quickly

If any member of the group has adopted behaviour that’s affecting the group unhelpfully, it becomes necessary to act quickly to address it. Feedback should be provided to show the team member the impact of his actions, and encourage him to reflect on how he/she can change her behaviour.

Define Roles and Responsibilities

Teams that lack focus or direction can quickly develop poor dynamics, as people struggle to understand their role in the group. Hence, as soon as a team is formed, a team charter should be created defining the group’s mission and objective, and everyone’s responsibilities. Everyone should have a copy of the document, and be reminded of it regularly.

Break Down Barriers

Regular team-building exercises should be used to help everyone get to know one another, particularly when new members join the group. These exercises ease new colleagues into the group gently, and also help to combat the “black sheep effect,” which happens when group members turn against people they consider different.

The idea of the Johari Window should also be used to help people open up.

This is a communication model that is used to improve understanding between individuals. Lead by example: share what you hope the group will achieve, along with “safe” personal information about yourself, such as valuable lessons that you’ve learned.

Focus on Communication

Open communication is central to good team dynamics, so it should be made sure that everyone is communicating clearly. All of the forms of communication should be used that the group uses – emails, meetings, and shared documents, for example – to avoid any ambiguity.

Pay Attention

In a group setting, it becomes imperative to watch out for the warning signs of poor group dynamics. Particular attention should be paid to frequent unanimous decisions, as these can be a sign of groupthink, bullying or free riding. If there are frequent unanimous decisions in the group, new ways should be explored to encourage people to discuss their views, or to share them anonymously.


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