1. Discuss aspects of small group behavior theory as described in the literature.
2. Systematically examine the conscious and unconscious components of group life.
3. Differentiate the developmental stages of group life.
4. Analyze group behavior.
5. Facilitate teamwork throughout the group life span.
As members or leaders of groups, most of us notice the personalities of the members of the group, the topics discussed, the disagreements, and our own emotions. While individualistic Western cultures routinely view groups as collections of individuals, Eastern cultures have long recognized groups as distinct collectives rather than a collection of distinct individuals (Hofstede, 1983).
FIGURE 2-1 The I/We perception.
This perspective informs the way the group harnesses its power in order to get something done. Shifting from an I perspective to a We perspective recognizes the group as a source of intelligence that is greater than any one individual and facilitates the integration, engagement, and creation of collective wisdom—ultimately achieving a whole that is more powerful and creative than the sum of its parts (Briskin, Erickson, Ott, & Callanan, 2009).
All groups demonstrate consistent patterns of member, leader, and group behaviors as they relate to the acquisition of roles, the assumption of and response to authority, norm development, and communication patterns. These patterns serve as indicators of developmental changes in the group over time. Neuroscience supports the notion of a social brain—a neurophysiological conduit for perceiving, processing, and mirroring the emotions and behaviors of others. In other words, our interactions with each other in groups have the potential to trigger neuronal activity, which, in turn, influences our emotions and behaviors (Goleman, 2011). Positive or negative action on the part of one person can trigger a like reaction in another. When repeated often enough, this positive or negative interaction pattern becomes a group norm (Frederickson, 2003).
We have all experienced a time when we were in sync or on the same wavelength or connected with another individual or group of individuals on a level that transcended the social psychological aspects of engagement. Integrating the systemic laws of neuropsychology and physics with social psychology, Rene Levi (2005) examined and labeled these transcendent experiences as “collective resonance” and defined it as:
A felt sense of energy, rhythm, or intuitive knowing that occurs in a group of human beings and positively affects the way they interact toward a positive purpose … that enables us to make greater progress toward our common human goals than we have been able to do using idea exchange and analytic problem-solving alone. (p. 1)
This view is consistent with the “Weness” inherent to the Eastern conceptualization of groups and the emergence of collective intelligence in collectives of all types—including teams, organizations, and communities. It is important to note that these potentially generative interactive and integrative tendencies that are inherent to humans—when not managed mindfully—can devolve into collective folly with a focus on the barriers that divide and polarize rather than the connections that unify (Briskin, 2009).
These interactive patterns, carried out over the life of the group, contribute to the development of a unique social organism that is more than the sum of its parts (Bion, 1974; Lewin, 1951; Perls, Hefferline, & Goodman, 1951; Tilin & Broder, 2005; Tuckman, 1965; Wheelan, 2005).
Each of the columns in Table 2-1 represents a level of system in the group life—the group as a unit, the individual members within the group, and the context or the environment within which the group exists. Under each component are aspects that contribute to the social–psychological landscape of every group at any point in time. The study of group dynamics attempts to analyze and interpret group life by examining these aspects in a systematic fashion.
|Behavior—How does each member behave in the group?||Norms/rules—What are the explicit/tacit rules for behavior in this group?||Physical/social proximity—How much time does the group spend together?|
|Personal feelings—How do each of the members feel about working in the group?||Roles—Who are the talkers/listeners?||Relations with outsiders—What is stronger—members’ intragroup or extragroup relations?|
|Internalized norms—What are the personal rules that are held by each member?||Authority—Who are the leaders/followers?||Responsibilities/expectations—What is expected of this group?|
|Beliefs/values—What beliefs/values influence each member?||Communication—Who talks to whom?||Cultural issues—What are the cultural issues (age, ethnic, gender, professional) that might impact this group?|
|Self-concept—How does each member see himself or herself functioning in the group?||Level of autonomy—How much control over the outcomes of this group does the group have?|
What You See Is Not What You Get: The Unconscious Life of a Group
Wilfred Bion, a psychoanalyst, was one of the first researchers to identify patterns in groups. Bion maintained that groups have a conscious and an unconscious life. He named the conscious group the work group and the unconscious group the basic assumption group. The conscious work group focuses on rationally accomplishing overt tasks and activities. The basic assumption group describes the unconscious aspects of a group. Leaders and members often mistakenly perceive these unconscious aspects as interfering with the real work of the group. In fact, this is the way that the collective membership and leadership of the group deal with the anxiety and polarities of individual identity and collective identity. Bion specifically identified the following three basic assumptions: dependency, fight-flight, and pairing (see Table 2-2 ). Leaders and members who learn to identify these group processes as a natural part of a group’s development are better prepared to be positive catalysts in the group. Rather than being caught up in the anxiety of the group, this knowledge can allow a person to be more objective, emotionally independent, and prepared to act in a constructive manner (Bennis & Shepherd, 1956, p. 417–418).
Stages of Group Development
While there are multiple factors that influence group functioning, each group—like each human being—should be considered a unique organism that passes through predictable phases of development. Characteristic member, leader, and group behaviors, as they relate to the acquisition of roles, the assumption of and response to authority, norm development, and communication patterns—like human developmental milestones—serve as indicators of developmental changes in the group over time. Awareness of the interacting determinants of group behavior and the unconscious assumptions of the group will facilitate an understanding of group behavior and facilitate effective group leadership and participation.
Groups display behavioral patterns that are common to all groups and are not dependent on the individuals in the group. A number of theorists have used various terms to describe the key issues that groups address over their life span. While these issues are ever present, some issues gain primacy depending upon the developmental level of the group. In summary, the group, as a whole, struggles to find the right balance between the unconscious desire to have a group identity and retain individual identities. Over time, a group is also challenged with dealing with the paradox of being safely protected by an omnipotent leader and taking control of its own destiny. A mature group learns to deal effectively with these issues. Its members work cooperatively as separate and discrete members who willingly choose to belong to the group because they identify with interests of the group. This group tests its conclusions, seeks knowledge, learns from its experience, and is in agreement with regard to the group’s purpose and tasks (Bales, 1950; Bion, 1974; Rioch, 1983; Schutz, 1958; Tuckman, 1965; Wheelan, 2005; Yalom, 1995).
TABLE 2-2 Wilfred Bion Summary
Data from: Bion, W (1974) Experiences in Groups: And other papers. Paolo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books, Inc.
Tuckman (1965) conducted an extensive review of the group development literature and concluded that therapy groups, work groups, and human relations training groups (t-groups)1 had strong developmental similarities despite differences in group composition, task, goal, and the duration of group life. He noted a few critical common themes about groups:
1. There is a distinction between groups as a social entity and a task entity.
2. In all groups, the task and the social emotional functions occur simultaneously.
3. All groups go through four stages of group development. The task and social emotional functions are different for each stage.
4. The group moves from one stage to the next by successfully accomplishing the task and social emotional/group structure function at each stage.
Tuckman named these stages of group development forming, storming, norming, and performing ( Table 2-3 ). He later added a fifth stage called adjourning, which describes the characteristics of groups as they terminate.
TABLE 2-3 Tuckman’s Description of the Stages of Group Development Based on Literature Review of Therapy and T-Groups
|Tuckman (1965)||Task Issues||Structure and Social-Emotional Issues|
|Forming||Orientation to the task: Group members attempt to define the group task by identifying information that will be needed and the ground rules that must be followed to complete the job of the group.||Testing and dependence: Group members attempt to discover acceptable behavior according to the leader and other group members.|
|Storming||Emotional response to task demands: Group members act emotionally to task demands and exhibit resistance to suggested actions.||Intragroup conflict: Group members disagree with one another and the leader as a way to express their own individuality.|
|Norming||Discussing oneself and others: Group members listen to each other and the leader and use information and input from everyone.||Development of group cohesion: Group members accept the group and the individuality of fellow members, thus becoming an entity through rule agreement and role clarification.|
|Performing||Emergence of insight: A variety of methods of inquiry are used and members adjust their behavior to serve the greater goals of the group.||Functional role relatedness: Members are focused on getting the task done and relate to each other in ways that will accomplish the task.|
Data from: Tuckman, B. (1965). “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384–394.
An Integrated Model of Group Development
Susan Wheelan (2005) used empirical research to build on Tuck-man’s model. She proposed and validated an integrated model of group development using the Group Development Questionnaire (GDQ) (Wheelan, 1990; Wheelan & Hochberger, 1996). Using observational and survey data, this integrated model is consistent with previous models in that it describes group stages developing naturally and in a chronological fashion over time. In addition, Wheelan and her team of researchers found that:
There are specific characteristics that emerge in each stage of a group’s development. Early stages of group development are associated with specific issues and patterns of speech such as those related to dependency, counter dependency, and trust, which precede the actual work conducted during the more mature stages of a group’s life.
Groups navigate through the stages by accomplishing process-oriented goals like achieving a certain degree of member safety, expressing and tolerating different opinions, and devising agreed-upon methods of decision making.
There is a normative time frame that most groups need in order to traverse each stage.
Organizational culture influences group norms and can influence group development.
Member and leader behaviors are equally important in the development of a group and the dynamic between them must be addressed as the group develops.
Identifying the Stages of Group Development: Characteristics and Goals
While stages of group development are identified by the issues that predominate, there is always a percentage of group energy that is expended on dependency, conflict, trust and work regardless of the stage. For example, work gets done at every stage of development. In earlier stages, most of the work is done under the leader’s direction. In succeeding stages members take increasingly more responsibility. By Stages 3 and 4, responsibility for work is evenly distributed among the members and the leader is used as a resource. The key challenge for group members and leaders is finding the balance between task and social-emotional issues and managing the conflict that these issues engender over the life span of the group. Wheelan and Williams (2003) found that the communication content of groups over their life span mirror key developmental issues. In other words, the amount of time spent talking about task related concerns increases over the life of the group while the amount of time talking about social-emotional concerns decreases as the group matures. Figures 2-3A, B, and C provide an example of how the proportion of attention on key issues might shift based on the developmental level of the group. As with people, no one size fits all and each group ultimately demonstrates unique developmental patterns.
FIGURE 2-2 Key developmental issues of group life.
Data from: Wheelan, S. (2005). Group Processes: A developmental perspective. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Stage I (Dependency/Inclusion) is characterized by significant member dependency on the designated leader, concerns about safety, and inclusion issues. In this stage, members rely on the leader and powerful group members to provide direction. This is manifested by the percentage of statements that address dependency and pairing (when two people couple or pair by giving mutual compliments to each other) (8% and 16%, respectively). Statements regarding conflict are few (about 6%). About 17% of the time, team members engage in safe, non controversial discussions filled with flight statements by exchanging stories about outside activities or other topics that are not relevant to group goals while approximately 50% of the time is spent on work related issues. The goals at Stage I are to: create a sense of belonging and the beginnings of predictable patterns of interaction, develop member loyalty to the group, and create an environment in which members feel safe enough to contribute ideas and suggestions.
Data from: Wheelan, S. (2005). Group Processes: A developmental perspective. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Stage II (Counterdependency/Fight) is characterized by member disagreement about group goals and procedures and conflict is an inevitable. Flight statements decrease to about 7% and work statements remain at 49%. Dependency statements fall to 2% and those regarding conflict rise to 28%. Expressing disagreements and working them out is a necessary part of this process and allows members to communicate and begin to establish a trusting climate in which members feel free to disagree with each other and collaborate. The goals for Stage 2 are to: develop a unified set of goals, values, and operational procedures, and to strike a balance between respect for the individual contributions and mediating individual needs with the group needs.
Data from: Wheelan, S. (2005). Group Processes: A developmental perspective. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Stage III (Trust/Structure) is characterized by more mature negotiations about roles, organization, and procedures. The primary goal for Stage III is to solidify positive relationships that benefit the productivity of the group.
Stage IV (Work/Productivity) is characterized by a time of intense team productivity and effectiveness. Having resolved many of the issues of the previous stages, the group can focus most of its energy on goal achievement and task accomplishment. Roughly 62% of statements are related to work and 20% of the time is spent on sorting out differences of opinion on how the work should get done. At this point the group is resilient enough to remain cohesive while encouraging task-related conflicts.
TABLE 2-4 Wheelan: An Integrated Model of Group Development
REFLECTION: Identify the Stage of a Group
Which stage does the behavior indicate?
Members are listening and seeking to understand one another.
Members attempt to figure out their roles and functions.
Divisive feelings and subgroups within the group increase.
Group members follow a self-appointed or designated leader’s suggestions without enthusiasm.
Disagreements become more civilized and less angry and emotional.
Members argue with one another, even when they agree on the basic issues.
Termination: When groups face their own ending point, some may address separation issues and members’ appreciation of each other and the group experience. In other groups the impending end may cause disruption and conflict.
How Does the Stage of the Group Impact Team Productivity?
Wheelan (2005) found that aspects such as group size and group age affect development and productivity. It usually takes at least six months for a group to achieve the Stage IV developmental level. Newly formed groups are characterized by a higher percentage of dependency counterdependency/flight statements (“I don’t know what to do.” “The leader is incompetent.” “Did you see the game last night?”), while more established groups make more work statements (“Let’s focus on the task at hand.”). These findings are corroborated by Nembhard & Edmondson (2006), who found that long-standing membership in healthcare teams was correlated with the willingness of all members, irrespective of status, to share information and provide innovative solutions—behaviors that are indicative of more mature groups.
In a study involving 17 intensive care units, Wheelan, Davidson, and Tilin (2003) found a link between perceived group maturity and patients’ outcomes in intensive care units. Staff members of units with mortality rates that were lower than predicted perceived their teams as functioning at higher stages of group development. They perceived their team members as less dependent and more trusting than did staff members of units with mortality rates that were higher than predicted. Staff members of high-performing units also perceived their teams as more structured and organized than did staff members of lower performing units.
Group Size: Less Is More
It is not uncommon to hear members of groups complain that some members of the group are doing more work than others. This perceptual phenomenon can happen in any sized group but studies show that the larger the group, the less energy any individual exerts. In the late nineteenth century, Maximillian Ringelman performed one of the first experiments with group size by having groups of people pulling on a rope. He discovered that the more people pulled on a rope, the less each individual contributed. Ringelman called this phenomenon “social loafing.” In addition, larger groups tend to have a more difficult time coalescing around a single identity and distributing work in an equitable fashion. Studies indicate that cohesion and intimacy decrease as team size increases (Bogart & Lundgren, 1974; Fisher, 1953; Seashore, 1954). Members of larger groups perceive their groups to be more competitive, less cohesive, more argumentative and less satisfying (Steiner, 1972). Wheelan (2009) found that small groups tended to be more productive than large groups and small groups reached mature levels of group development more rapidly than large groups.
FIGURE 2-4 Correlation of group size and productivity. According to Wheelan, groups of three to eight were more productive and more mature at six months than groups with nine or more members.
Data from: Wheelan, S.A. (2009). Group size, group development, and productivity. Small Group Research, 40(2), 247–262
The literature seems to indicate that groups are most productive when they are composed of five to eight members. Theoretically, this is because the larger the group, the longer and more difficult it is for the group to develop a common identity.
CASE STORY: How Many People are Needed to Make this Decision?
Our team needs to make decisions regarding who should be enrolled in the program. There are applications that could potentially be denied for various reasons. When I first got here, there were 40 people in the morning meeting where these decisions were made. Everyone read the report at that meeting and, after the coffee kicked in, people were talking amongst themselves, others were listening, and others were on cell phones. People were just getting confused and the decision process was taking around two hours. I worked with the marketing people and changed this system. We now have a separate smaller group of 8 people in a meeting that includes social work, nursing, a physician, transportation and four marketing people who give input but don’t get a vote. We invite additional guests from other departments such as behavioral medicine as needed.
At first, there was a lot of stress associated with the transition because change is stressful. But after six months the length of time from intake to decision was cut dramatically. The morning meeting can be done in 15 minutes!
—Karen J. Nichols, MD, Chief Medical Officer, University of Pennsylvania Life Program
How Long Does It Take for a Group to Develop Through Each Stage?
The most common question team leaders ask us is, “How can I get my team to develop faster?” If teams could develop faster, work productivity would go up, problems would be solved faster, and disagreements would easily be resolved. Research supports that it takes time for groups to mature (Wheelan, Davidson & Tilin, 2003). Under the right circumstances, groups can reach full maturity in six to eight months. Attempting to rush the process would be like expecting a 5-year-old child to behave like a 25-year-old adult. It would not yield good results and would only serve to frustrate everyone involved.
Figure 2-5 is meant to be a guide to the average amount of time researchers have ascribed to the stages of development based on the integrated model of group development. Every group is a bit different, and some may actually get stuck at a certain level of development and take longer to move on to the next stage. Issues such as culture, diversity, group management, organizational dynamics, and complexity of tasks, as well as group commitment and identity impact group dynamics and the way groups develop.
FIGURE 2-5 Time it takes for groups to mature.
Adapted from: Wheelan, S. Davidson, B., & Tilin, F. (2003). Group Development Across Time: Reality or Illusion? Small Group Research, 34(2), 223–245.