Groups are, and have been, a significant part of the world’s culture for many centuries. The most elusive factor involved in the development of groups is understanding the dynamics involved. A group, according to Catherine E Seta, Paul B. Paulus, and Robert A. Baron, authors of Effective Human Relations, a guide to people at work (2000), is ” a collection of two or more interacting individuals who share common goals, have a stable relationship, and see themselves as a group” (pp. 214-215). Donelson R. Forsyth (2006) further delineates groups and their dynamics in his text Group Dynamics fourth edition. The book explains, in great detail, the internal and external workings as well as the development of groups. For the sake of brevity, this summary will divide the chapters into three main topics areas: theory and research, chapters 1-4; group development, chapters 5-8; and the psychological and sociological aspects of groups and their development, chapters 9-16.
By definition, “a group is two or more individuals connected to one another by social relationships”. Donelson R. Forsyth, author of Group Dynamics, uses this as the premise for his book. Not to say that there are not other types of relationships that drive group dynamics, there most certainly are.
Forsyth uses his book to introduce the theories, studies, and empirical findings pertinent to groups (pg xvi). He alludes to the fact that without groups our societies, in general, would not function within the ethical and moral decision processes that currently exist in our world today. Groups have been in existence for as long as historical records have existed. What drives people to form these groups is the part of the dynamics that remains in flux still today.
To better explain that fact, this document will summarize group dynamics in three sections as discussed by Forsyth: theory and research, group development, and the psychological and sociological aspects of groups. The theory and research section explains the common characteristics of groups, some assumptions guiding researchers, and individualism and collectivism. Group development explores group structures and the definition and use of power. The psychological and sociological aspects delve into leadership, conflict, and change within groups.
How groups interact, task inherent and interpersonally among members, shape the outcome of the success or failure of all groups. This interaction is formed by the structure of the group. Forsyth referred to this interaction as cohesion and this factor, more than any other, determines the unity of the group. A group’s ability to perform its task-at-hand is dependent upon the cooperation and unity possessed within the structure of the group. If the group has not moved past its conflict stage, then their chances of success at his point are minimal. Perhaps this fact alone has led researchers to their assumptions of group dynamics.
Rooted in both sociology and psychology, one must assume that studying how individuals interact within society as opposed to alone is at the forefront of the studies. This fact alone led to the formation of the five stages of group development known as forming (group initially convenes with a common goal), storming (individual personalities and ideas clash), norming (group overcomes indifferences), performing (focused towards achieving task or goal), and finally adjourning, when appropriate. This of course directly correlates to individualism and collectivism.
As much, individuals bring to a groups significant ideas and functions, but groups cannot function without the collective effort of all involved. These efforts are what shape and develop the structure of groups.
Forsyth (2006) uses norms, roles, and status, attraction, and communication networks to describe group development. He considers these three extremely important elements of the group structure. He explains that norms are implicit rather than explicit within the group. Roles, Donelson determined are coherent sets of behaviors expected of people in specific positions within the group (p. 176). The three networks he described, in one way or another, shape the social constructs within the group.
Social power is defined as the capacity to influence others, even when they try to resist. There are six distinct power bases summarized in the text; reward, coercive, legitimate, referent, expert and informational power. All provide an influential capability over others. Reward power stems from the ability to control various results by reward sought by others. Coercive stems from control over punishments and negative outcomes. Legitimate power built upon an individual’s position within the group. Referent is based on the personal attractiveness of the individual that possesses it. Expert is the possession of special knowledge or skills. Last, informational is based upon the potential use of informational resources; this type is supported by the phrase that “knowledge is power”. Use of these powers within the confines of the group of course creates the need to understand leadership, conflict, and change.
Forsyth (2006) defines leadership as “the process by which an individual guides others in their pursuits, often by organizing, directing, coordinating, supporting, and motivating their efforts” (p. 376). How then does one utilize leadership as a tool? He supports the situational leadership theory developed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard as a good basis for group development.
The theory contains four distinct styles; directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating. He states that for a leader to be effective they must display all four dimensions depicted in the theory as the group moves through its life cycle. A cyclic model versus the square may better represent this model. Since the leaders role is constantly moving in and out of the different styles depending upon the individual they are involved with at any given time. To say that such movement back and forth amongst members does not create some type of conflicts would be a fallacy.
Conflict occurs in groups when the actions or beliefs of one or more members of the group are unacceptable to and resisted by one or more of the others members within the group. This conflict is attributed to competition, distribution of resources, power struggles, decision-making, and personal. Thus, conflict resolution is paramount to team cohesiveness. Forsyth considers conflict a natural consequence of joining a group. Although some conflicts can strengthen group solidarity, if resolved, conflict in general is not a desired group element.
Why then do individuals join groups? According to Forsyth (2006), the motivation to join a group “comes from within the members themselves, for people’s personalities, preferences, and other personal qualities predispose them to affiliate with others” (p. 111). Individuals find resolution to change much easier as a group than individually. Groups tend to look at all aspects of the problem at hand and not focus on just one specific area of interest.
Thus, leading back to the specifics of why people join groups. As stated in the introduction of this summary, without groups societies in general would not function within the ethical and moral decision processes that currently exist in our world today. Forsyth does a very detailed look at all aspects of groups in our society today. He depicts the theory and research, group development, and the psychological and sociological aspects of groups very unambiguously through out his book.
Groups are inevitably a large contributing factor to societies across the world, be it large or small. They drive who we are and what we do morally, ethically, and culturally. The need to break down the barriers of cultural diversity amongst the many nations in the world can, and should, start using the premise of groups and their functions depictive in this text.