Session16-18: Groups

A group is two or more individuals interacting and interdependent who have come together to achieve particular objectives. Groups can either be formal or informal. A formal group is defined by the organization’s structure with designated work assignments and established tasks. In formal groups, the behaviors that group members should engage in are stipulated by and directed toward organizational goals.

E.g. Six members of airline flight crew

Informal group is neither formally structured nor organizationally determined. Informal groups in the work environment meet the need for social contact.

E.g. Three employees from different departments who regularly have lunch or coffee together are an informal group.

Stages of group development

The process of learning to work together effectively is known as group development. Research has shown that groups go through definitive stages during development. Bruce Tuckman, an educational psychologist, identified a five-stage development process that most groups follow to become high performing. He called the stages: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. Group progress through the stages is shown in the following diagram.

Most high-performing groups go through five stages of group development.

  1. Forming stage

The forming stage involves a period of orientation and getting acquainted. Uncertainty is high during this stage, and people are looking for leadership and authority. A member who asserts authority or is knowledgeable may be looked to take control. Group members are asking such questions as “What does the group offer me?” “What is expected of me?” “Will I fit in?” Most interactions are social as members get to know each other.

  2. Storming stage

The storming stage is the most difficult and critical stage to pass through. It is a period marked by conflict and competition as individual personalities emerge. Group performance may actually decrease in this stage because energy is put into unproductive activities. Members may disagree on group goals, and subgroups and cliques may form around strong personalities or areas of agreement. To get through this stage, members must work to overcome obstacles, to accept individual differences, and to work through conflicting ideas on group tasks and goals. Groups can get bogged down in this stage. Failure to address conflicts may result in long-term problems.

3.  Norming stage

If groups get through the storming stage, conflict is resolved and some degree of unity emerges. In the norming stage, consensus develops around whom the leader or leaders are, and individual member’s roles. Interpersonal differences begin to be resolved, and a sense of cohesion and unity emerges. Group performance increases during this stage as members learn to cooperate and begin to focus on group goals. However, the harmony is precarious, and if disagreements re-emerge the group can slide back into storming.

4. Performing stage

In the performing stage, consensus and cooperation have been well-established and the group is mature, organized, and well-functioning. There is a clear and stable structure, and members are committed to the group’s mission. Problems and conflicts still emerge, but they are dealt with constructively. (We will discuss the role of conflict and conflict resolution in the next section). The group is focused on problem solving and meeting group goals.

5. Adjourning stage

In the adjourning stage, most of the group’s goals have been accomplished. The emphasis is on wrapping up final tasks and documenting the effort and results. As the work load is diminished, individual members may be reassigned to other groups, and the group disbands. There may be regret as the group ends, so a ceremonial acknowledgement of the work and success of the group can be helpful. If the group is a standing committee with ongoing responsibility, members may be replaced by new people and the group can go back to a forming or storming stage and repeat the development process.(Jennifer et al., 2014).

Punctuated Equilibrium model

Temporary groups with finite deadlines pass through a unique sequencing of actions (or inaction) called the punctuated-equilibrium model. The first meeting sets the group direction. A framework of behavioral patterns and assumptions through which the group will approach its project emerges in its first meeting. These lasting patterns can appear as early as the first few seconds of the group’s life. Once set, the group’s direction becomes ‘written in stone’ and is unlikely to be reexamined throughout the first half of the group life. This is a period of inertia-that is, the group tends to standstill or become locked into a fixed course of action. Even if it gains new insights that challenge initial patterns and assumptions, the group is incapable of acting on these new insights in phase 1.

Each group experiences its transition at the same point in its calendar-precisely half way between its first meeting and its official deadline-despite the fact that some groups spent as little as an hour on their project while others spent six months. It was as if the groups universally experienced a midlife crisis at this point. The midpoint appears to work life like an alarm clock, heightening members’ awareness that their time is limited and that they need to ‘get moving.’

This transition ends Phase 1 and is characterized by a concentrated burst of changes, dropping of old patterns, and adoption of new perspectives. The transition sets a revised direction for phase 2. Phase 2 is a new equilibrium or period of inertia. In this phase, the group executes all the plans created during the transition period.

The group’s last meeting is characterized by a final burst of activity to finish its work. To put it in a nutshell, the punctuated equilibrium model characterizes groups as exhibiting long periods of inertia interspersed with brief revolutionary changes triggered primarily by their members’ awareness of time and deadlines. This model is applicable only to temporary work groups who work under a time constrained completion deadline.

The stages in the model include the following;

  1. The first meeting sets the group’s direction
  2. The first phase of group activity is one of inertia and thus slower progress
  3. A transition takes place exactly when the group has used up half its allotted time
  4. This transition initiates major changes
  5. A second phase of inertia follows the transition
  6. The group’s last meeting is characterized by markedly accelerated activity

Why informal groups

Informal groups provide a very important service by satisfying their social needs. The members do things together due to close proximity or increase task interactions. The type of interactions affects the behavior and performance of group members. Why people join informal groups?

  1. To protect themselves from being alone
  2. To gain status (to feel significant)
  3. Self-esteem
  4. Affiliation: to fulfill social needs
  5. Power
  6. Goal achievement

Group dynamics: both formal and informal

Groups are not just unorganized mobs. It has a clear structure. Let us look at the structural variables;

Roles, Norms, status, group size, degree of group cohesiveness

Role: A set of expected behavioral patterns attributed to someone occupying a given position in a social unit. All group members will have a role and they tend to act accordingly. Example: A doctor plays the role of a doctor in hospital, a spouse at home, a parent to the child and a social worker for an informal charity organization.

Role identity: Certain attitudes and behaviors consistent with a role. People have the ability to shift roles rapidly when they recognize that situation and its demands clearly require major changes. For instance, when union stewards were promoted to supervisory positions, it was found that their attitudes changed from pro-union to pro-management within a few months of their promotion.

Role perception: Our view of how we are supposed to act in a given situation is a role perception. Where do we get these perceptions? We get the stimuli from all around us-friends, books, movies and television. Many lawyers will be influenced by the series Law and order and The practice.

Role expectations: they are defined as how others believe you should act in a given situation. The role of a high court judge is viewed as having propriety and dignity, while a football coach is seen as aggressive, dynamic and inspiring to his players.

Role conflict: when an individual is confronted by divergent role expectations, the result is role conflict. It exists when an individual finds that compliance with one role requirement may make it more difficult to comply with another. You must be a senior manager at a popular MNC but you are the youngest daughter at home and this can result in a role conflict as former role requires you to be authoritative while the latter expects you to be respectful of authority.

Norms: All groups have established norms: this is acceptable standards of behavior that are shared by the groups’ members. Norms tell members what they ought and ought not to do under certain circumstances. From an individual’s standpoint, it tells what is expected of you in certain situations. When agreed to and accepted by the group, norms act as a means of influencing the behavior of group members with a minimum of external controls. Norms differ among groups, communities and societies but they all have one.

Types of norms

Performance norms: explicit cues regarding how hard they should work in a group

Appearance norms: appropriate dress, loyalty to the organizations, when to look busy and when it is acceptable to goof off.

Social arrangement norms: norms come from informal work groups and primarily regulate social interactions within the group. With whom group members eat food, friendships on and off the job, social games and so on.

Allocation of resource norms: these norms can originate in the group or in the organization and cover things like pay, assignment of difficult jobs and allocation of new tools and equipment.

Conformity: Adjusting one’s behavior to align with the norms of the group. As a member you desire acceptance by the group. So you are susceptible to conforming to the group’s norms. There is considerable evidence that groups can place strong pressures on individual members to change their attitudes and behaviors to conform to the group’s standard.

However, individuals will not conform to the norms of all groups they belong. They conform to the norms of only reference groups. What is reference group?

Important groups to which individuals belong or hope to belong and with whose norms individuals are likely to conform. Reference groups are the groups that are characterized as important for the person, one defines himself/herself as a member or would like to be a member and feels this group is very significant to the one.

Status: A socially defined position or rank given to groups or group members by others. Status is a major motivator for human beings. Status has been shown some effects on norms say, high status members enjoys a freedom from appearance norms or performance norms.

Size: the number of members in a group. Evidence says that smaller groups finish their job fast while larger groups are better at innovating. However, groups of 7 members seem to be doing a good job.

One of most important drawback is found to be social loafing in group work. Social loafing is the tendency for individuals to expend less effort when working collectively than when working individually.

Group cohesiveness: it is the degree to which group members are attracted to each other and are motivated to stay in the group. Groups differ in their cohesiveness. If the members have spent a great deal of time together, or if the group size is smaller or if the group has faced external threats that have brought the group members come together. Cohesiveness is important because it brings people together and has a positive impact on productivity.

The studies show that the relationship of cohesiveness and productivity depends on the performance related norms established by the group. If the performance norms are high, a cohesive group will show high productivity. Also, if cohesiveness is high, norms are low, productivity will be low.The figure shows all other scenarios.

Work groups and Work teams

Work group: a group that interacts primarily to share information and to make decisions to help each group member perform within his or her area.

Work team: a group whose individual efforts result in performance that is greater than the sum of the individual inputs.

Groups and teams are not the same thing. Groups was defined as a set of two or more individuals interacting and interdependent who have come together to achieve particular objectives.

Workgroups have no need or opportunity to engage in collective work that requires a joint effort. So their performance will be mere summation of each group member’s individual’s contribution. There is no positive synergy that would create an overall level of performance that is greater the sum of inputs.

A work team generates a positive synergy through coordinated effort. Their individual efforts results in a level of performance that is greater than the sum of those individual inputs.

Types of teams

There are four common types of work teams; problem solving teams, self-managed work teams, cross functional teams and virtual teams.

Problem solving teams: Groups of 5-12 employees from the same department who meet for a few hours each week to discuss ways of improving quality, efficiency and the work environment.

Here members share ideas or offer suggestions on how work processes and methods can be improved; although they rarely have the authority to unilaterally implement any of their suggested actions. For example; Merill Lynch created a problem solving team to specifically figure out ways to reduce the number of days it took to open up a new cash management account.

Self-managed work teams: Groups of 10-15 people who take on responsibilities of their former supervisors. Typically, that includes planning, scheduling, of work, assigning tasks to members, collective control over the pace of work, making operating decisions, taking action on problems and working with suppliers and customers. Fully self-managed work teams can select their own members and have the members evaluate each other’s performance. As a result, supervisory positions take on decreased importance and may even be eliminated.

Cross-functional teams: teams made up of employees from about the same hierarchical level, but from different work areas, who come together to accomplish the task. The Boeing Company created a team made up of employees from production, planning, quality, tooling, design engineering and information systems to automate shims on the company’s C-17 program. Cross-functional teams are effective means for allowing people from diverse areas within an organization to exchange information, develop new ideas and solve problems and coordinate complex projects. But it goes through a difficult process of group development because diverse views create a chaos.

Virtual teams: all the previous types of teams do their work face to face. Virtual teams use computer technology to tie together physically dispersed members in order to achieve the common goal. They allow people to collaborate online-using communication links like wide area networks, video conferencing or email-whether they are only a room away or continents apart.

Best example is our classes now.

Group decision making

Many decisions in organizations are made by teams, groups or committees. Hence it is very important to learn about the intricacies of it.

Pros and cons of group decision making


  1. Groups generate more complex information and knowledge
  2. Group bring more input into decision making process
  3. Groups generate high quality decisions
  4. Increased acceptance of solution since all are participated in arriving at the solution
  5. Better support for the decision made


  1. Time consuming
  2. Conformity pressures in groups
  3. Group decision can be dominated by one or two members
  4. Group decisions suffer from ambiguous (unclear) responsibilities

Group think and Group shift

Two byproducts of group decision making have received a considerable amount of attention by practitioners and researchers because of its potential to affect a groups’ ability to appraise alternatives objectively and to arrive at quality decision solutions.

Group think is related to is the phenomenon in which the norm for consensus overrides the realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action and the full expression of deviant, minority or unpopular views. It describes a deterioration in an individual’s mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment as a result of group pressures.

Group think symptoms

  1. An illusion of invulnerability: Members ignore danger, take extreme risk and are overly optimistic.
  2. Collective rationalization: Members discredit and explain away warning contrary to group thinking.
  3. Belief in inherent morality: Members discredit and explain away warning contrary to group thinking.
  4. Stereotyped views of out-groups: The group constructs negative stereotypes of rivals outside the group.
  5. Direct pressure on dissenters: Members pressure any in the group who expresses arguments against the group’s stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, viewing such opposition as disloyalty.
  6. Self-censorship: Members withhold their dissenting views and counter-arguments.
  7. Illusion of unanimity: Members perceive falsely that everyone agrees with the group’s decision; silence is seen as consent.
  8. “Mind guards” are appointed: Some members appoint themselves to the role of protecting the group from adverse information that might threaten group complacency.

(source: Little book of behavioral investing by James Montier)

Examples: Columbia and challenger space shuttle disaster is an example of group think was particularly evident.

 Group shift is a change in decision risk between group’s decision and the individual decision that members within the group would make, can be either toward conservatism or greater risk.

What appears to happen in groups is that the discussion leads to a significant shift in the positions of members toward a more extreme position in the direction in which they were already leaning before the discussion.

Group shift can also be viewed as a type of group think. The shift can be seen as dominant group norm for decision making

 Group decision making techniques

Brain storming: An idea- generation process that specifically encourages any and all alternatives, while withholding any criticism of those alternatives.

  • Generating as many ideas as possible, suspending evaluations until all of the ideas has been suggested.
  • Emphasis of imagination in the ideas generated.
  • To overcome pressures for conformity (as conformity retards creativity).
  • 6-10 people participates in the brainstorming
  • the leader states the problem in a clear manner, then he/she records all alternatives for further discussion and analysis.
  • Drawbacks

– Production blocking-listening to others results in distraction from our point.

– Evaluation apprehension: fear that other group members might respond negatively.

– As a result, electronic brainstorming comes to place.

Nominal group technique: a group decision making technique in which individual members meet face to face to pool their judgments in a systematic but independent fashion.

  • Restriction of discussion and interpersonal communication during the decision making process.
  • Members are physically present, but they operate independently.
  • Steps;

– Individuals silently list their ideas

– It is collected by the leader and noted in a chart

– Discussion is allowed only to clarify the points. No criticism is allowed.

– A written vote is taken on those points.

  • It avoids evaluative apprehension
  • Promote independent thinking by avoiding production blocking

Electronic meeting: a meeting in which members interact on computers allowing for anonymity of comments and aggregation of votes.

  • Blend of nominal group technique with the sophisticated technology.
  • Issues are presented to the participants and they respond on to the computer screen.
  • Aggregate votes are displayed on to the screen.
  • Advantages

– Anonymity is maintained

– Less of fake responses as the anonymity is maintained

– Time saving

  • Disadvantages

– Need to type fast their responses

– Thus, people with good ideas may not be able to shine

 Delphi technique: itrefers to the systematic forecasting method used to gather opinions of the panel of experts on the problem being encountered, through the questionnaires, often sent through mail. In other words, a set of opinions pertaining to a specific problem, obtained in writing usually through questionnaires from several experts in the specific field is called as a Delphi technique.

  • In order to get opinions of experts related to the topic of discussion.
  • It differs from nominal group technique as the physical presence is not required.
  • Steps involved are:

– A questionnaire is distributed to the experts

– Responses are collected from the experts residing in various places

– Coordinator summarizes all the responses and sent back to them to get the final voting.

  • Advantages

– Able to generate a number of independent judgments without meeting face to face.

– This method can be used for decision making among geographically scattered groups.

– Cost saving as we do not have to bring all the experts to a central location.

  • Disadvantages

– Time consuming, not applicable for a situation where a speedy action is needed.

– They may not generate rich array of alternatives as in nominal technique.

Quality circle

  • Small groups that voluntarily meet to provide input for solving quality or production problems.
  • Quality circles are often generated as bottom up because they often advise to managers.
  • But top management still retains the decision making authority.
  • Quality circles are not empowered to implement their own recommendations.
  • Quality teams (unlike quality circles), they are developed as top down and are empowered to act on their own recommendations. It is a part of total quality management in the organization.

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