Functions of Small groups19/09/2022 0 By indiafreenotes
Small group communication refers to interactions among three or more people who are connected through a common purpose, mutual influence, and a shared identity. In this section, we will learn about the characteristics, functions, and types of small groups.
Without the ability to share ideas, the small group will likely suffer or fail. Creating the opportunity for the group to have regular meetings to brainstorm, discuss the variations on project directions and come up with creative solutions to existing problems will move the group closer together as a unit and is likely to result in a better finished product. If the group does not communicate ideas openly, one individual may feel responsible for the eventual success or failure of the project, which can affect his job and standing in the organization.
Accountability within a small group is part of the interaction process. If the group has six employees working together, each person should have roughly the same amount of time and work invested in each project the group works on. Establishing work flow grids, having established deadlines, and requiring the group to keep its manager up to date on each person’s progress will help ensure that everyone in the group contributes equally to the project. In addition to meeting project deadlines, the small group can fact-check each other’s work, which helps keep the project from failing or being delayed due to a small mistake in calculations or assumptions.
When setting up small groups, encourage the members to establish regular meeting times and teach them how to communicate in a supportive fashion. Consider holding an organization-wide training session on small group communication techniques, and include information on different communication and learning styles. Some ways of communicating include brainstorming, dialectical inquiry, and nominal group technique, according to Reference for Business.
When employees working in a group see another employee struggling, open communication and encouragement between the members of the group can give each employee confidence to do her best. Establish a clear path of communication from the group to upper level management in the event that one or more employees cause problems within the group by not performing to the group’s and organization’s expectations.
Characteristics of Small Groups
Different groups have different characteristics, serve different purposes, and can lead to positive, neutral, or negative experiences. While our interpersonal relationships primarily focus on relationship building, small groups usually focus on some sort of task completion or goal accomplishment. A college learning community focused on math and science, a campaign team for a state senator, and a group of local organic farmers are examples of small groups that would all have a different size, structure, identity, and interaction pattern.
Size of Small Groups
There is no set number of members for the ideal small group. A small group requires a minimum of three people (because two people would be a pair or dyad), but the upper range of group size is contingent on the purpose of the group. When groups grow beyond fifteen to twenty members, it becomes difficult to consider them a small group based on the previous definition. An analysis of the number of unique connections between members of small groups shows that they are deceptively complex. For example, within a six-person group, there are fifteen separate potential dyadic connections, and a twelve-person group would have sixty-six potential dyadic connections. As you can see, when we double the number of group members, we more than double the number of connections, which shows that network connection points in small groups grow exponentially as membership increases. So, while there is no set upper limit on the number of group members, it makes sense that the number of group members should be limited to those necessary to accomplish the goal or serve the purpose of the group. Small groups that add too many members increase the potential for group members to feel overwhelmed or disconnected.
Structure of Small Groups
Internal and external influences affect a group’s structure. In terms of internal influences, member characteristics play a role in initial group formation. For instance, a person who is well informed about the group’s task and/or highly motivated as a group member may emerge as a leader and set into motion internal decision-making processes, such as recruiting new members or assigning group roles that affect the structure of a group (Ellis & Fisher, 1994, p. 57). Different members will also gravitate toward different roles within the group and will advocate for certain procedures and courses of action over others. External factors such as group size, task, and resources also affect group structure. Some groups will have more control over these external factors through decision making than others. For example, a commission that is put together by a legislative body to look into ethical violations in athletic organizations will likely have less control over its external factors than a self-created study group.
Small groups exhibit interdependence, meaning they share a common purpose and a common fate. If the actions of one or two group members lead to a group deviating from or not achieving their purpose, then all members of the group are affected. Conversely, if the actions of only a few of the group members lead to success, then all members of the group benefit. This is a major contributor to many college students’ dislike of group assignments, because they feel a loss of control and independence that they have when they complete an assignment alone. This concern is valid in that their grades might suffer because of the negative actions of someone else or their hard work may go to benefit group members who didn’t contribute enough. Group meeting attendance is a clear example of the interdependent nature of group interaction. Many of us have arrived at a group meeting only to find half of the members present. In some cases, the group members who are present have to leave and reschedule because they can’t accomplish their task without the other members present. Group members who attend meetings but withdraw or don’t participate can also derail group progress. Although it can be frustrating to have your job, grade, or reputation partially dependent on the actions of others, the interdependent nature of groups can also lead to higher-quality performance and output, especially when group members are accountable for their actions.
The shared identity of a group manifests in several ways. Groups may have official charters or mission and vision statements that lay out the identity of a group. For example, the Girl Scout mission states that “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place”. The mission for this large organization influences the identities of the thousands of small groups called troops. Group identity is often formed around a shared goal and/or previous accomplishments, which adds dynamism to the group as it looks toward the future and back on the past to inform its present. Shared identity can also be exhibited through group names, slogans, songs, handshakes, clothing, or other symbols. For instance, colleges typically have T-shirts and other clothing items in the college’s colours and carrying the college’s symbols for sale in campus stores, but smaller groups within the college (sports teams, various college clubs, etc.) also have their own such clothing or symbols.
A key element of the formation of a shared identity within a group is the establishment of the in-group as opposed to the out-group. The degree to which members share in the in-group identity varies from person to person/ group to group. Shared identity also emerges as groups become cohesive, meaning they identify with and like the group’s tasks and other members. The presence of cohesion and a shared identity leads to a building of trust, which can also positively influence productivity and members’ satisfaction.
Functions of Small Groups
Even with the challenges of group membership that we have all faced, we still seek out and desire to be a part of numerous groups. In some cases, we join a group because we need a service or access to information. We may also be drawn to a group because we admire the group or its members. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our identities and self-concepts are built on the groups with which we identify. So, to answer the earlier question, we join groups because they function to help us meet instrumental, interpersonal, and identity needs.
Groups Meet Instrumental Needs
Groups have long served the instrumental needs of humans, helping with the most basic elements of survival since ancient humans first evolved. Groups helped humans survive by providing security and protection through increased numbers and access to resources. Today, groups are rarely such a matter of life and death, but they still serve important instrumental functions. Labor unions, for example, pool efforts and resources to attain material security in the form of pay increases and health benefits for their members, which protects them by providing a stable and dependable livelihood. Individual group members must also work to secure the instrumental needs of the group, creating a reciprocal relationship. Members of labor unions pay dues that support the group’s efforts. Some groups also meet our informational needs. Although they may not provide material resources, they enrich our knowledge or provide information that we can use to then meet our own instrumental needs. Many groups provide referrals to resources or offer advice. For example, several consumer protection and advocacy groups have been formed to offer referrals for people who have been the victim of fraudulent business practices.
Groups Meet Interpersonal Needs
Group membership meets interpersonal needs by providing inclusion, control, and support.
In terms of inclusion, people have a fundamental drive to be a part of a group and to create and maintain social bonds (consider family and friendship groups, shared-interest groups, activity groups, etc.).
People also join groups because they want to have some control over a decision-making process or to influence the outcome of a group. Being a part of a group allows people to share opinions and influence others. Conversely, some people join a group to be controlled, because they don’t want to be the sole decision maker or leader and prefer to be given a role to follow.
Groups also provide support for members in ways that supplement the support given by significant others in interpersonal relationships. Some groups, like therapy groups for survivors of sexual assault or support groups for people with cancer, exist primarily to provide emotional support. While these groups may also meet instrumental needs through connections and referrals to resources, they fulfill the interpersonal need for belonging that is a central human need.
Groups Meet Identity Needs
Our affiliations are building blocks for our identities, because group membership allows us to use reference groups for social comparison in short, identifying us with some groups and characteristics and separating us from others. Some people join groups to be affiliated with people who share similar or desirable characteristics in terms of beliefs, attitudes, values, or cultural identities.