We—humans—spend a lot of time in groups. Families, workplaces, churches, mosques, and synagogues, political organizations, sports teams, clubs, associations, etc. A “group” is a collection of two or more people that interact, communicate, and influence one another. A crowded elevator or a subway car is not generally considered a group; it’s a crowd. A club or a work-team is a group.
Groups are the settings for a range of behaviors, all of which entail human interaction and influence. Individuals become members of groups in order to achieve goals and to satisfy needs. Groups have shared goals, or agendas, which include their “task agenda”—getting work done; and their “social agenda”—meeting the social-emotional and identity needs of members. Groups assign members to roles that prescribe a set of expectations for each member’s behavior. These roles typically have different statuses, or different levels of prestige associated with each role. There are “in-groups” and “out-groups”; the former are groups with which people identify as members and the latter are groups with which people don’t identify and are often “assigned” by members of other groups. An organization is a kind of group, whose members work together for a shared purpose in a continuing way. Organizations can contain various groups, both formal and informal, within its boundaries.
Groups have different levels of cohesion or incoherence. Both internal competition among group members and external competition with other groups, can affect the degree of cohesion, or solidarity of the group. While cohesion is important to most groups, if excessive, it can be the cause of undesirable factors like “groupthink” which can lower the quality of the group’s decision-making ability, lead to closed-mindedness, prejudice, and exert undue pressure to conform.
These features and dynamics (above) are applicable to most groups. They are especially noticeable at work, where group dynamics are often operative. Status of members, specified roles, pressures towards conformity and “groupthink”, leadership and “followership,” group decision-making, etc., are issues with which we must often deal—both consciously and unconsciously. In the for-profit world and the non-profit world, group dynamics are at play. Awareness of these features can help us to productively deal with them, rather than experience them unconsciously, and at times, adversely.