What is Group? Definition, Types, Characteristics, Stages of Group Development

  • Post last modified:26 October 2021
  • Reading time:22 mins read

What is Group?

We define a group has two or more individuals, interacting and interdependent, who have come together to achieve particular common objectives. A group can range in size from two members to thousands of members.

Very small collectives, such as dyads (two members) and triads (three members) are groups, but so are very large collections of people, such as mobs, crowds, and congregations.

In an organisational setting, groups are a common organisational component and the study of groups and group dynamics is an important area of study in organisational behaviour. Group dynamics refers to the attitudinal and behavioural characteristics of a group. Group dynamics concern how groups form, their structure and process, and how they function.

There are several theories as to why groups develop. The most common framework for examining the “how” of group formation was developed by Bruce Tuckman (1965). In essence, the steps in group formation imply that groups do not usually perform at maximum effectiveness when they are first established.

They encounter several stages of development during the course of development and then become productive and effective. Most groups experience the same developmental stages with similar conflicts and resolutions.


Definition of Group

Everyone knows what a group is in general. When two persons or more come together and interact at one place it may be called a group. The group may be defined in various ways. Given below are a few important definitions of a group and each of these definitions emphasises one or the other important features of the group.

R.M. Williams (1951) “A social group is a given aggregate of people playing inter-related roles and recognised by themselves or others as a unit of interaction.” Here it can be said the group is an aggregate of some people. The roles of the group members are interrelated. The group is considered a unit.

R.M. MacIver (1953) “By group we mean any collection of social beings who enter into distinctive social relationships with one another.” It is clear that there must be social relationships between the individual members of a group.

David (1968) “ A social psychological group is an organised system of two or more individuals who are interrelated so that the system performs some functions, has a standard set of the role relationship among its members and has a set of norms that regulate the function of the group and each of its members.”

Kretch, Crutchfield and Ballachy (1962) defined psychological group “ as two or more persons who meet the following conditions : (i) the relations among the members are independent, each member’s behaviour influences the behaviour of each of the others, (ii) the members ‘share on ideology’ – a set of beliefs, values and norms which regulate their mutual conduct.”

Paulus (1989) “ A group consists of two or more interacting persons who share common goals, have a stable relationship, are somehow interdependent and perceive that they are in fact part of a group.”

Here we can say that individuals interact with each other, either directly or indirectly. Besides this, the group members are interdependent in some manner, i.e., what happens to one must affect what happens to the others. Not only this, their relationship must be relatively stable.

The members of the group involve to attain the goals and their interaction will be in a structured form so that, each group member performs the same or more or less similar functions each time they meet. Finally, it can be said that the individuals involved in a group must recognise that they are part of a group.

Features of Group

The important features of the group are:

  • One or more individuals come together and influence each other.

  • There are social interactions and relationships amongst the individual members of a group.

  • There exists some common motives, drives, interests, emotions etc. amongst group members.

  • There is communication among group members, both verbal and or non-verbal.

  • The group members have some common object of attention and group members stimulate each other.

  • They have common loyalty and participate in similar activities.

  • There exits feeling of unity in the group. Group members treat each other with respect and regard and has a sense of comradiere that develops among them.

  • The action of the members is controlled by the group.

  • There are some customs, norms and procedures which are acceptable to everyone but if exception happens, then the particular member will be ostracised from the group.

Stages of Group Development

According to Tuckman’s theory, there are five stages of group development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. During these stages group, members must address several issues and the way in which these issues are resolved determines whether the group will succeed in accomplishing its tasks.

The five-stage group-development model are:

Forming

The first stage, Forming stage, faces a great amount of uncertainty about the group’s purpose, structure, and leadership amongst the members of the group. Members “test the waters” to determine what types of behaviours are acceptable. This stage is complete when members have begun to think of themselves as part of a group.

Storming

The Storming stage is one of intra-group conflict. Members accept the existence of the group but resist the constraints it imposes on individuality. There is conflict over who will control the group. When this stage is complete, there will be a relatively clear hierarchy of leadership within the group.

Norming

In the third stage Norming, close relationships evolve and the group develops cohesiveness. There is now a strong sense of group identity and camaraderie. This Norming stage is complete when the group structure solidifies and the group has assimilated a common set of expectations of what defines the correct behaviour of members.

Performing

The fourth stage is Performing. The structure at this point is fully functional and accepted. Group energy has moved from getting to know and understand each other to perform the task at hand. For permanent workgroups, performing is the last stage in development.

Adjourning

However, for temporary committees, teams, task forces, and similar groups that have a limited task to perform, the Adjourning stage is for wrapping up activities and preparing to disband. Some group members are upbeat, basking in the group’s accomplishments.

Others may be depressed over the loss of camaraderie and friendships gained during the work group’s life.

Many interpreters of the five-stage model have assumed a group becomes more effective as it progresses through the first four stages. Although this may be generally true, what makes a group effective is actually more complex.

First, groups proceed through the stages of group development at different rates. Those with a strong sense of purpose and strategy rapidly achieve high performance and improve over time, whereas those with less sense of purpose actually see their performance worsen over time.

Similarly, groups that begin with a positive social focus appear to achieve the “performing” stage more rapidly. Nor do groups always proceed clearly from one stage to the next. Storming and performing can occur simultaneously, and groups can even regress to previous stages.


Other Theories of Group Development

Classic Theory

The classic theory was developed by George Homans, which suggests that groups develop based on activities, interactions, and sentiments. Basically, the theory means that when individuals share common activities, they will have more interaction and will develop attitudes (positive or negative) toward each other.

The major component of this theory is the interaction of the individuals in the group.

Social Exchange Theory

Social exchange theory offers an alternative explanation for group development. According to this theory, individuals form relationships based on the implicit expectation of mutually beneficial exchanges based on trust and felt an obligation.

Thus, a perception that exchange relationships will be positive is essential if individuals are to be attracted to and affiliate with a group.

Social Identity Theory

Social identity theory offers another explanation for group formation. This theory suggests that individuals get a sense of identity and self-esteem based upon their membership in the groups.

The nature of the group may be demographically based, culturally based, or organisationally based. Individuals are motivated to belong to and contribute to the identity of groups because of the sense of belongingness and self-worth the membership in the group gives to them.


Types of Groups

One most common way to classify a group is ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ in nature.

Formal Group

Formal workgroups are created by the organisation to achieve organisational goals. These groups are defined based on certain parameters or the boundaries in a formal way e.g. Sales Department, HR department, South region etc. Formal groups may take the form of command groups, task groups, and functional groups.

Control Group

Control Group means the group which is under the responsibility of a manager and the individuals account before the manager only. An example is a manager, responsible for the financial affairs department, and his/her staff working under his/her responsibility.

Task Group

Task Group means the group which is formed in order to perform the tasks that are determined by the organization. In order to accomplish the goal, the group may have cross-control relations. If the crime is committed or there is a fault in the institution, then other units should also work in coordination with each other.

Functional group

Functional group is generally created by the organisation to accomplish specific goals within an unspecified time frame. Functional group generally exists after achievement of current goals and objects

The organisation’s structure in most of the time defines formal groups with designated work assignments establishing tasks.

In formal groups, the behaviours team members should engage in are stipulated by and directed by the organisational defined policies and working rules and are aligned toward organisational goals. The members of an airline flight crew are a formal group.

Informal Groups

In contrast, an informal group is neither formally structured nor organisationally determined or defined. Informal groups are natural formations in the work environment that appears in response to the need for social contact. Three employees from different departments who regularly have lunch or coffee together are an informal group. However, these types of interactions among individuals, though informal, deeply affect their behaviour and performance.

Informal groups can have a strong influence in organisations’ decision making that can either be positive or negative. For example, employees who form an informal group can either discuss how to improve a production process or how to create shortcuts that jeopardise quality. Informal groups can take the form of interest groups, friendship groups, or reference groups.

Command Group

Command groups are specified by the organisational chart and often consist of a supervisor and the subordinates that report to that supervisor. An example of a command group is an academic department chairman and the faculty members in that department.

Task Group

Task groups are formed of people who work together to achieve a specific common task. Members are brought together to accomplish a narrow range of goals within a specified time period. Task groups are also commonly referred to as ‘task forces’. The organisation appoints members and assigns the goals and tasks to be accomplished.

Examples of assigned tasks are the development of a new product, the improvement of a production process, or the proposal of a motivational contest. Other common task groups are ad hoc committees, project groups, and standing committees.

Ad hoc committees are temporary groups created to resolve a specific complaint or develop a process. Project groups are similar to ad hoc committees and normally disband after the group completes the assigned task. Standing committees are more permanent than ad hoc committees and project groups. They maintain longer life spans by rotating members into the group.

Functional Group

A functional group is created by the organisation to accomplish specific goals within an unspecified time frame. Functional groups remain in existence after achievement of current goals and objectives. Examples of functional groups would be a marketing department, a customer service department, or an accounting department.

Interest Groups

Interest groups usually continue over time and may last longer than general informal groups. Members of interest groups may not be part of the same organisational department but they are bound together by some other common interest.

The goals and objectives of group interests are specific to each group and may not be related to organisational goals and objectives. An example of an interest group would be students who come together to form a study group for a specific class.

Friendship Groups

Friendship groups are formed by members who enjoy similar social activities, political beliefs, religious values, or other common bonds. Members enjoy each other’s company and often meet after work to participate in these activities.

For example, a group of employees who form a friendship group may have an exercise Groups Formation, Development and their impact on organisational processes group, a softball team, or a potluck lunch once a month. Recent examples may be WhatsApp groups, FB groups etc.

Reference Groups

A reference group is a type of group that people use to evaluate themselves. According to Cherrington (1994) the main purposes of reference groups are social validation and social comparison. Social validation allows individuals to justify their attitudes and values while social comparison helps individuals evaluate their own actions by comparing themselves to others. Reference groups have a strong influence on members’ behaviour.

By comparing themselves with other members, individuals are able to assess whether their behaviour is acceptable and whether their attitudes and values are right or wrong. Reference groups are different from the previously discussed groups because they may not actually meet or form voluntarily.

For example, the reference group for a new employee of an organisation may be a group of employees that work in a different department or even a different organisation. Family, friends, and religious affiliations are strong reference groups for most individuals. Some of the groups and discussion forums on Linkedin may be a virtual type of Reference Group.


Characteristics of Groups

Suppose you belong to a group where you may observe some special features which you can accept or not. It may be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy favourable or unfavourable, but there are certain significant features say the characteristics of the group.

Sense of we-feeling

There is a feeling of belongingness among the members of the group. The members of the group help each other in performing their duties. They work collectively against the harmful powers. They treat people who do not belong to the group as outsiders. They always try to make the group self-sufficient.

Common interest

Each and every member of the group has a common interest. There is similarity among the members in regard to their interest which promotes unity. The group includes those persons who are related to each other in such a way that they should be treated as one.

Feling of unity

Unity is essential for every group. Each and every member of the group treats each other as their own and there develops a sense of camaraderie amongst the members of group.

Related to each other

It is true that members of the group are inter-related. There is a reciprocal communication among the group members. Social relations are the fundamentals of group life.

Affected by group characteristics

Every group has some social characteristics which separate it from similar and dissimilar groups. These characteristics affect the members of the group. The nature may be different for different persons, but still all the members are affected by the group.

Common values

There are certain values which are common among members and are traditionally respected and communicated to the succeeding generation. They are manifested in the mutual behaviours of the members. Members of the social group are bound together in terms of theses common values.

Control of group

In each group there are some customs, norms and procedures which are acceptable to everyone. In fact, without some norms, the existence of group life is impossible. It may be stated that the reasons behind the similarity of behaviours in a group life is that the actions of the members are controlled by the group.

Obligation

In a group situation, all members have complementary obligations to each other. Also the relationships between the members of a group get strengthened through their mutual obligation and common social values.

Expectations

Not only mutual obligation, the members of the group also expects love, compassion, empathy, co-operation etc., from all other members of the group. If mutual expectation is fulfilled, the group members are maintained in tact. A group can maintain its existence only if the constituent members fulfill their responsibility by satisfying the desires among themselves.

Groups are the units of social organisation. Therefore, the integration and disintegration of social organisation are dependent upon the integration or disintegration of the groups. In group, social relationship is a very important factor. The first and foremost social relationship indicates the relationship among the family members. Thus, it can further be said that family is an important social group.


Terms Related to Group

Let us first understand various terms which are evolved over the time based on various researches and continuous development of theories.

Group Structure

Group structure is a pattern of relationships amongst members that hold the group together and help it achieve assigned goals. A structure can be described in a variety of ways. Among the more common considerations are group size, group roles, group norms, and group cohesiveness.

Group Size

The size of a group affects the group’s overall behaviour. Group size can vary from 2 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.

Group Roles

Group Roles are a set of expected behaviour patterns attributed to someone occupying a given position in a social unit. We are all required to play a number of roles, and our behaviour varies with each. So different groups impose different role requirements on individuals.

Role Perception

Our view of how we’re supposed to act in a given situation is a role Groups Formation, Development and their impact on organisational processes perception. We get role perceptions from stimuli all around us—for example, friends, books, films, television etc.

Role Expectation

Role expectation is the way others believe you should act in a given context. In the workplace, we look at role expectations through the perspective of the psychological contract, viz. an unwritten agreement that exists between employee and employer.

Role Conflict

When compliance with one role requirement may make it difficult to comply with another, the result is role conflict. At the extreme, two or more role expectations are mutually contradictory.

Group Norms

All groups have established norms – acceptable standards of behaviour shared by their members that express what they ought and ought not to do under certain circumstances. When agreed to and accepted by the group, norms influence members’ behaviour with a minimum of external controls.

Different groups, communities, and societies have different norms, but they all have them. Norms can cover virtually any aspect of group behaviour.

Group Cohesiveness

Cohesiveness refers to the bonding of group members and their desire to remain part of the group. Many factors influence the amount of group cohesiveness. 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.

Cohesiveness in workgroups has many positive effects, including worker satisfaction, low turnover and absenteeism, and higher productivity. However, highly cohesive groups may be detrimental to organisational performance if the goals of the group are misaligned with organisational goals. Highly cohesive groups may also be more vulnerable to groupthink.

Groupthink

Groupthink occurs when members of a group exert pressure on each other to come to a consensus in decision making. Groupthink results in careless judgments, unrealistic appraisals of alternative courses of action, and a lack of reality testing. It can lead to a number of decision-making issues such as the following:

  • Incomplete assessments of the problem
  • Incomplete information search
  • Bias in processing information
  • Inadequate development of alternatives
  • Failure to examine the risks of the preferred choice

Evidence suggests that groups typically outperform individuals when the tasks involved require a variety of skills, experience, and decision making. Groups are often more flexible and can quickly assemble, achieve goals, and disband or move on to another set of objectives.

Many organisations have found that groups have many motivational aspects as well. Group members are more likely to participate in decision-making and problem-solving activities leading to empowerment and increased productivity.

Groups complete most of the work in an organisation; thus, the effectiveness of the organisation is limited by the effectiveness of its groups.


Impact of Group on the Change of Individual Attitude

The group may increase or decrease or prevent the change of attitude in its members, namely if this change of attitude is in the group’s norm, then the group plays an increasing role in this change, but if it conflicts with the group norm, then the group plays the preventive role in this change of attitude.

This is the result of which the agreement in the group plays the supportive role in order to protect the individual’s attitude in direction of the group norm. The group decision is taken as a result of group discussion and the members find an agreement (norm) in the group.


Impact of Group Working on Organisational Outcomes

Group working has a direct relationship with the performance in organisations. There is always interdependence in organisations on each other. The various departments depend upon the performance of other departments.

For example, Marketing Department has to depend on Production and Quality control for the satisfaction of customers. Similarly, the Purchase department can ensure smooth on-time purchase when the Finance department arranges funds and ensures payments on-time to the suppliers.

The whole ecosystem within the organisation and even with external stakeholders depend upon each other in a very complex manner. The interdependence thus becomes key.

Similarly, within the group interdependence on each other is critical for performance towards the desired results. In case of conflicts within the team, with no means to resolve conflicts, may lead to lack of performance of the team. This may not only impact the outcomes of the team, but also the entire performance of the organisation.

Therefore, effective group work is critical to the success of an organisation. Groups may enhance outcomes or retard outcomes depending on various factors linked with Group Working.

Some of these important factors are given below:

  • Shared Goals: The understanding of common shared goal is very important for the purpose of effective team working. When Groups align and understand goals and share is strongly, they are able to align their efforts in same directions.

  • Shared culture: When groups have strong common culture. They agree and share the Values, Attitude, beliefs, assumptions and norms they are able to work in an appropriate manner without wasting time on conflicts on many issues and better understanding of each other.

  • Cohesiveness: The group which are able to become a cohesive team are able to perform better. This is also true for a cricket team or a hockey team. Higher cohesiveness is builtt consciously over time and through lot of formal and informal engagement exercises. Companies devote lot of efforts and money to build right kind on teams.

  • Right Competence within the team: Even if the group has all the above but do not have right skills or competence they may not be able to deliver right performance. Thus right teams or groups must possess the required competencies. A complete team has right attributes both behavioural as well as functional. In absence of this group may frustrate and spilt.

Organisations focus on building above essential components in the group because these impact organisational outcomes.


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