Group dynamics in a work organisation is a complex phenomenon driven by formal and informal processes. While managers have a certain amount of influence on the former processes the latter ones often go completely unseen, and still, have a crucial effect on the performance outcomes of the. In this article we explain the importance of understanding group dynamics and present solutions that, among many other things, enables you to explore the collaboration, communication culture and engagement within your team.
People group together
People form groups in many different areas of their life to do their hobbies, to work, or to practice team sports. Ultimately, they belong to several social groups where they maintain different connections with a circle of people. Some of these circles might overlap, for example when we play soccer with our colleagues, and others do not. In some cases, we actually put huge effort into making some of these circles as distinct as possible. In other cases we have very limited opportunities to define the circle of people we would like to have in a group where we belong to. This is usually true for formal groups. People belong to the same group formally when they share the membership of the same organisation. And within one organisation, such as workplace for instance we also find several types of groups. One can distinguish – among many others – between formal and informal groups. Managers need to understand the dynamics of these groups in general and within their organisation in particular in order to be able to lead a successful team.
The importance of group dynamics
Understanding group dynamics primarily means understanding how groups are formed and which processes are followed in their functioning. Group dynamics ultimately imply change which is related to the attitudes and behavioural patterns of the individuals and to the structure of social relationships among individuals forming the group. As mentioned earlier, the evolution of a group is shaped by external and internal factors. External factors such as work-related duties prescribed by one’s position in the organisational hierarchy are usually responsible for the evolution of formal groups. Internal factors, however, like affections and mutual sympathy are the driving forces behind the development of informal groups. Whereas people are assigned to formal groups (departments, project teams and so on) from their very first day at work, they usually do not immediately become the member of an informal group within the organization. However, as people get to know each other better by working together, they start forming informal relationships and these relations influence the formal work-related relationships as well as the individual’s’ work-related attitudes and behaviours. Whereas managers might have a good deal of influence on the formal processes, the informal evolution of a group often goes unnoticed and requires special tools to discover.
Evolution of groups
The dynamics of formal groups, however, can be described by a well established psychological explanation, in which Bruce Wayne Tuckman elaborated the 5 stages of group development. It shall be noted ’though, that these stages of group development mentioned here are merely suggestive. In reality, several stages may go on simultaneously.
the first stage of group development when the group is initially coming together. This period is characterised by uncertainty among group members when members seeking either a work assignment (in a formal group) or other benefits, like status or affiliation (in an informal group). Members at this stage engage either in busy type of activity or show apathy.
the period of vying for established relations and roles. In this stage members seek out familiar or similar individuals and begin a deeper sharing of self. Subgroups begin to form as individuals make coalitions in the form of strongly connected dyads and triads. Conflicts between the subgroups may arise as people strive for control and authority.
the formation of group identity. Efforts are made to establish various norms for task performance. Members begin to take greater responsibility for their own group and relationships. Once this stage is complete, a clear picture about hierarchy of leadership will emerge.
the stage of a fully functional group. Group norms are followed and collective pressure is exerted to ensure the effectiveness of the group. Ideally the group opens up at this stage and may redefine its goals in the light of information from the outside environment.
the disengagement when the group decides to disband. Some members may feel happy over the group performance, and some may be unhappy losing their colleagues
Turning groups into effective teams
All teams are groups but not all groups are teams. Teams often are difficult to form because it takes time for members to learn how to work together. This is partly because belonging to a team, in a broader sense, is a result of feeling part of something larger than oneself. It has a lot to do with understanding the mission and objectives of the organisation. Moreover, even if the mission is clear and team members work for the same formal goals, they also develop informal goals that may compliment or work against the formal ones.
Exploring this phenomenon is a never ending challenge for team managers. Until now they could rely on coaching and team-building practices to increase intra-group and inter-group effectiveness and bring members together, make them share their perception of each other and understand each other’s point of view. Thus, resolve problems and work together in a cooperative and efficient way. However, the time has come when smart and fast solutions can aid team managers to detect and eliminate potential risks in their team in the following areas:
collaboration within subgroups is usually more frequent than among subgroups. The ideal connectivity among the groups is maintained by key figures invisibly bridging them. For this reason, it is essential to map out the inner workings of your team, making hidden patterns of collaboration within and between strategically important groups visible.
working in teams is getting more and more common as it allows companies to bring together multi-skilled people and to diversify the pool of information. However, in order to make a unit work together efficiently, cooperation and information sharing have to complement one another. Therefore, it is vital for an efficient team to discover and eliminate the discrepancies between collaboration and communication.
even though, developing a responsible ownership mentality takes time, engagement can spread in your team through cooperation. Hence, it is crucial to identify people with ownership mentality and make sure they are well-connected in the collaborative network.
Direction of the team
a vision shared by all members helps clarifying strategy and setting goals. Also, it provides a meaning to team members’ work and increases their engagement. Thus, it is essential to know if differing visions exist within the team, and who are the team members sharing the same vision.
successful teams recognise and praise individual results actively and openly. A recognition culture – giving positive feedback as a natural activity – will boost team members’ commitment and productivity. Hence, it is important to identify those who give and receive recognition, as well as to those who lag behind in this regard.
sharing knowledge and experience is an important factor of success. Team performance is low, when members are reluctant to share information within the team. The best way to overcome this is to identify mentors and promote them as role models to those who want to learn and progress.