A key part of managing staff is to recognise that sometimes employees act collectively and a group dynamic must be taken into consideration. This page looks at what constitutes a group and some of the implications of group behaviour. 

What is a group?

A group is any collection of individuals who perceive themselves to be a group.

 Groups usually have the following characteristics:

  • a sense of identity - the group has defined boundaries and it is clear who is within the group and who is not.
  • loyalty to the group - group members accept one another and have certain standard behaviours that they follow.
  • purpose and leadership - a group has a purpose and individuals are chosen to join the group in order to help the group achieve its goals.

There tend to be two main types of group:

  • informal groups - these are groups that individuals voluntarily join in order to meet their social or security need - for example employees who sit together to chat at lunch time.
  • formal groups - these are groups that are created to carry out specific tasks, communicate and solve problems. Membership is normally determined by the organisation - for example, a project team put together to deliver a new payroll system.

Advantages and disadvantages of groups

Groups usually have several key benefits over individuals. These include:

  • mixture of skills and abilities in the group, often improving the number of creative ideas and appreciation of different points of view. This can also aid problem solving.
  • synergy - the pooling of ideas and energy within a group may mean greater efficiency than if the workers were acting as individuals.
  • increased flexibility, as the team can easily be configured in different ways, with different people taking over different tasks.
  • better control, with opportunities for individual performance to be reviewed and controlled by other group members.
  • increased motivation, if workers' social needs are being met within their group.
  • improved communication between workers.
  • healthy competition within the organisation - by splitting the organisation into groups, some rivalry may be created which may help boost organisational performance.

However, placing employees into different groups is not always more efficient. There are a number of problems inherent in group work. These include:

  • group decision-making can be slow as discussion is needed to come to any agreement.
  • groups tend to produce decisions that are compromises, rather than the decisions that are most beneficial to the organisation.
  • group pressure to conform means that members of a close-knit team agree to decisions that they know are wrong because other group members support them and they wish to fit in.
  • groups have a lack of individual responsibility which means responsibility for decisions is shared by the entire group. Groups may therefore make riskier decisions that individuals.
  • groups risk having too much social interaction - meetings may become social events with little practical work undertaken.
  • groups may cause increased competition and conflict which may be destructive. Managers

will need to monitor groups carefully to ensure that corrective action is taken if these problems are noted.

Group behaviour

When dealing with other individuals within a group, people can adopt different types of behaviour. 

  • Assertive - this is direct, honest and professional communication. It involves insisting on your rights without violating the rights of others.
  • Aggressive - this violates another person's rights and can often lead to conflict.
  • Passive behaviour - is giving in to another person in the belief that their rights are more important than yours.

The difference between a group and a team

An effective team can be described as 'any group of people who must significantly relate with each other in order to accomplish shared objectives'.

In order to ensure that the group is truly an effective team, team members must have a reason for working together. They must need each other's skills, talent and experience in order to achieve their mutual goals.

A team is a formal group. It has a leader and a distinctive culture and is geared towards a final result.

We can establish the differences between groups and teams by observing their behaviour.

In teams:

  • there is more openness and trust
  • feelings are expressed more freely
  • there are common objectives
  • process issues are part of the work
  • conflict is worked out
  • decisions are by consensus
  • commitment can be very high.

In groups:

  • people accommodate each other
  • people negotiate
  • objectives may be modified
  • the process issues are often covert
  • politics are rife
  • commitment can be high.

As a way to ensure that the team welds together to become an effective unit, you might look for evidence of successful team-building.

Created at 8/9/2012 2:01 PM  by System Account  (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time : Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London
Last modified at 9/25/2013 3:36 PM  by System Account  (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time : Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London

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