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Definition of a Small Group

It is important to initially Most researchers define a small group as having at least

define a small group. Read three and no more than twelve or fifteen members. A group
how most researchers define needs to have at least three members, otherwise it would
a small group and then simply be a dyad. With three members, coalitions can be
complete the interactive formed and some kind of organization is present. Too large
activity and quiz at the end of of a group (more than twelve or fifteen members) inhibits
this section. the group members' ability to communicate with everyone
Size else in the group.
Interaction A group's members must be able to communicate freely and
openly with all of the other members of the group. Groups
will develop norms about discussion and group members
will develop roles which will affect the group's interaction.
Goals A group must have a common purpose or goal and they
must work together to achieve that goal. The goal brings the
group together and holds it together through conflict and

Why do people join a group?

People join groups for a variety of reasons. Some group members are motivated by task
concerns and others are motivated by interpersonal attraction to other group members.
Read about the reasons people join groups and then complete the interactive activity and
quiz at the end of this unit.
Group Synergy Group synergy1 refers to the idea that two heads (or more)
are better than one. You may have also heard the phrase,
"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts," which also
refers to group synergy. Put simply, groups are often
capable of producing higher quality work and better
decisions that can an individual working alone.
Support and A group may be more willing to take on a large project than
Commitment would an individual. In addition to its increased ability to
perform work, the group can provide encouragement and
support to its members while working on a big project.
Interpersonal Needs Individuals often join a group to meet their interpersonal
needs. William Schutz2 has identified three such needs:
inclusion, control, and affection.
Inclusion is the need to establish identity with
Control is the need to exercise leadership and prove
one's abilities. Groups provide outlets for this need.
Some individuals do not want to be a leader. For
them, groups provide the necessary control over
aspects of their lives.

Affection is the need to develop relationships with

people. Groups are an excellent way to make friends
and establish relationships.

Types of Small Groups

Groups form to accomplish some objective. The objective may be to complete some kind
of task or it may be to promote the interpersonal relationships between the group
members. Many groups, however, fulfill both of these functions. Read more about the
various types of groups and then complete the interactive activity and the quiz at the end
of this unit.
Social Groups While all groups will have both social and task dimensions,
some groups are predominantly social in their orientation.
Examples of these groups would be families and social
clubs. These groups provide for our safety and solidarity
needs and they help us develop self-esteem.
Work Groups Work groups function to complete a particular task. In a
work group, the task dimension is emphasized. The group
members pool their expertise to accomplish the task.
Examples of this would be workplaces, campus
organizations, or juries. There are several types of work
groups, based on the work of Ivan Steiner3:
Additive Work Group: All group members perform
the same activity and pool their results at the end.
An example of this would be gathering signatures
for a petition drive.
Conjunctive Work Group: Group members perform
different, but related, tasks that allow for the
completion of a goal. Every group member must
complete their task in order for the group task to be
completed. An example of this would be an
assembly line, in which each worker performs tasks
that together build a completed car.
Disjunctive Task: Members meet to determine the
best alternative for a problem or issue. There are two
types of disjunctive tasks:
o Judgment Task: Group members must
choose one correct answer from all

Decision-Making Task: Group members

must choose the best alternative from a set of
options. There is no one correct answer for a
decision-making group.
Contrived or Emergent Some groups form spontaneously, such as a group of
Groups friends. Other groups are contrived, that is, they are formed
for a specific purpose. Organized clubs, social groups, or
committees are contrived groups.

Small Group Development

Researchers have studied groups to understand how they develop. Several different
models have been suggested, but they all tend to follow a similar progression. Listed
below are three of the most common models. Click on the researcher's name to learn
more about each model. Poole's model will be discussed later because he takes a different
perspective towards group development.
Linear Models of Group Development
Tuckman's Model
Tubbs's Theory Fisher's Model
1. Forming
1. Orientation 1. Orientation
2. Storming
2. Conflict 2. Conflict
3. Norming
3. Consensus 3. Emergence
4. Performing
4. Closure 4. Reinforcement
5. Adjourning
Tubbs's Small Group Development Theory4
Orientation In this stage, group members get to know each other, they
start to talk about the problem, and they examine the
limitations and opportunities of the project.
Conflict Conflict is a necessary part of a group's development.
Conflict allows the group to evaluate ideas and it helps the
group avoid conformity and groupthink
Consensus Conflict ends in the consensus stage, when group members
compromise, select ideas, and agree on alternatives.
Closure In this stage, the final result is announced and group
members reaffirm their support of the decision.
Fisher's Small Group Development Theory5
Orientation During the orientation phase, Fisher says group members
get to know each other and they experience primary tension,
the awkward feeling people have before communication
rules and expectations are established. Groups should take
time to learn about each other and feel comfortable
communicating around new people.
Conflict The conflict phase is marked by secondary tension, or
tension surrounding the task at hand. Group members will
disagree with each other and debate ideas. Remember that
conflict is good, because it helps the group achieve positive
Emergence In the emergence phase, says Fisher, the outcome of the
group's task and its social structure become apparent.
Reinforcement In this stage, group members bolster their final decision by
using supportive verbal and nonverbal communication.
Tuckman's Small Group Development Theory6
Forming In the forming stage, group members learn about each other
and the task at hand.
Storming As group members become more comfortable with each
other, they will engage each other in arguments and vie for
status in the group. These activities mark the storming
Norming During the norming stage, group members establish implicit
or explicit rules about how they will achieve their goal.
They address the types of communication that will or will
not help with the task.
Performing In the performing stage, groups reach a conclusion and
implement the conclusion.
Adjourning As the group project ends, the group disbands in the
adjournment phase.
Poole's Small Group Development Theory7
Task track Marshall Scott Poole and his colleagues have found that
group development is often more complicated than the three
previous models indicate. He has argued that groups jump
back and forth between three tracks: task, topic, and
relation. The three tracks can be compared to the
intertwined strands of a rope. The task track concerns the
process by which the group accomplishes its goals.
Topic track The topic track concerns the specific item the group is
discussing at the time.
Relation track The relation track deals with the interpersonal relationships
between the group members. At times, the group may stop
its work on the task and work instead on its relationships.
When the group reaches consensus on all three tracks at
once, it can proceed in a more unified manner as the three
previous models illustrate.
Breakpoints Breakpoints occur when a group switches from one track to
another. Shifts in the conversation, adjournment, or
postponement are examples of breakpoints.
Many groups meet to solve problems or make decisions. Read to learn more about how
groups can effectively accomplish their task objectives and then complete the interactive
exercise at the end of the discussion.
Standard Agenda Developed by John Dewey, reflective thinking8 involves a
careful, systematic approach to a problem. Groups who use
reflective thinking to make their decisions make use of a
six-step guide called the standard agenda.
1. Problem identification. What is the problem? What
is wrong with the current situation?
2. Problem analysis. View the current situation as a
balance between restraining forces and helping
forces. What are the forces in play in your group's
3. Criteria selection. What are the goals of the final
4. Solution generation. Generate as many solutions as
possible. Avoid groupthink by listing many
5. Solution evaluation and selection. Measure each
solution against the criteria from step three.

6. Solution implementation. Enact the chosen solution.

Brainstorming Another option for decision-making is brainstorming. When
brainstorming, group members are encouraged to generate
as many ideas about a particular topic as they can. For
instance, group members may use brainstorming to generate
as many solutions as they can in step four of the standard
agenda. Group members should be encouraged to say
anything that comes to mind when brainstorming. Every
idea is written down and judgments about ideas are saved
until later, when the group returns to all of the ideas and
selects those that are most useful.
Nominal Group Nominal group technique is a group decision-making tool
Technique used when the group must rank order a set of options. In
order to use the nominal group technique, group members
work individually to list all alternatives to a problem or
issue. Sometimes, nominal group technique is used after a
brainstorming session is held. Then, the group facilitator
asks each group member to individually rank all of the
options from lowest to highest priority. Finally, the
facilitator computes an average score for each idea. the
lowest score is the highest priority for the group.
For example, if six group members were discussing
problems on campus and they assigned parking the scores
of 1,1,2,2,1,1, it would have an average score of 1.3.
Another problem, lack of activities, may have received
ranks of 2,2,1,1,2,3. Its score would be 1.8. Parking would
be the most important priority. Nominal group techinique is
a good way to have all of the group members voice their
opinions and discussion is not dominated by a few vocal
group members.
The Final Decision There are many ways that a group can make a final
decision, decide on a solution, or come to agreement. Some
of the most popular ways of making the decision include:
Consensus: The group members all agree on the final
decision through discussion and debate.
Compromise: Through discussion and readjustment of
the final plan, group members come to agreement by giving
up some of their demands.
Majority Vote: The decision is based on the opinion of
the majority of its members.
Decision by Leader: The group gives the final decision
to its leader.
Arbitration: An external body or person makes a
decision for the group.

Groupthink is a concept that was identified by Irving Janis9 that refers to faulty decision-
making in a group. Groups experiencing groupthink do not consider all alternatives and
they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions. Learn more about groupthink
and then complete the interactive exercise at the end of the discussion.
Conditions Groupthink occurs when groups are highly cohesive and
when they are under considerable pressure to make a
quality decision.
Negative outcomes Some negative outcomes of groupthink include:
Examining few alternatives
Not being critical of each other's ideas
Not examining early alternatives
Not seeking expert opinion
Being highly selective in gathering information

Not having contingency plans

Symptoms Some symptoms of groupthink are:
Having an illusion of invulnerability
Rationalizing poor decisions
Believing in the group's morality
Sharing stereotypes which guide the decision
Exercising direct pressure on others
Not expressing your true feelings
Maintaining an illusion of unanimity

Using mindguards to protect the group from

negative information
Solutions Some solutions include:
Using a policy-forming group which reports to the
larger group
Having leaders remain impartial
Using different policy groups for different tasks
Dividing into groups and then discuss differences
Discussing within sub-groups and then report back
Using outside experts
Using a Devil's advocate to question all the group's

Holding a "second-chance meeting" to offer one last

opportunity to choose another course of action

Leadership is concerned with control and power in a group. Leadership can be aimed at
either maintaining the interpersonal relationships in the group or prodding the group to
achieve its task. Groups will sometimes have two leaders: one for the social dimension
and one for the task dimension. There are also three main perspectives on leadership.
First, some researchers believe some people are born with traits that will make them a
good leader. A second perspective is that the group's leader selects an appropriate
leadership style for the given task. A third way of understaning leadership says that to
some degree, leaders are born with traits that make them good leaders, but that they also
learn how to become a leader and use strategies appropriate to a given situation. Learn
more about leadership and then complete the interactive exercise at the end of the
"Good Leaders are This approach says that people are born with traits that
Born" make them effective leaders. The challenge for the group is
to find a person with these traits.
One-Best-Style This approach says that in a given situation, one particular
style of leadership is most effective. There are four main
Autocratic: Leader uses his or her authority to make
Democratic: Authority is shared and all group
members help make decisions.
Laissez-faire: A "hands-off" style in which the
leader allows the group to make its own decisions.
Abdacratic: No one in the group exercises
leadership. This style, says researchers, leads to
group disintegration and is followed by autocratic
Contextual10 This approach says that leaders are to some degree born
with leadership traits, but that the situation, personalities of
other group members, pressures on the group, and group
norms also determine leadership.

Roles in Groups
Every member of a group plays a certain role within that group. Some roles relate to the
task aspect of the group, while others promote social interaction. A third set of roles are
self-centered and can be destructive for the group. Read about the roles group members
play and then complete the activity.
Task-Oriented Roles Researchers Benne and Sheats11 identified several roles
which relate to the completion of the group's task:
Initiator-contributor: Generates new ideas.
Information-seeker: Asks for information about the
Opinion-seeker: Asks for the input from the group
about its values.
Information-giver: Offers facts or generalization to
the group.
Opinion-giver: States his or her beliefs about a
group issue.
Elaborator: Explains ideas within the group, offers
examples to clarify ideas.
Coordinator: Shows the relationships between ideas.
Orienter: Shifts the direction of the group's
Evaluator-critic: Measures group's actions against
some objective standard.
Energizer: Stimulates the group to a higher level of
Procedural-technician: Performs logistical functions
for the group.

Recorder: Keeps a record of group actions.

Social Roles Groups also have members who play certain social roles:
Encourager: Praises the ideas of others.
Harmonizer: Mediates differences between group
Compromiser: Moves group to another position that
is favored by all group members.
Gatekeeper/expediter: Keeps communication
channels open.
Standard Setter: Suggests standards or criteria for
the group to achieve.
Group observer: Keeps records of group activities
and uses this information to offer feedback to the

Follower: Goes along with the group and accepts the

group's ideas.
Individualistic Roles These roles place the group member above the group and
are destructive to the group.
Aggressor: Attacks other group members, deflates
the status of others, and other aggressive behavior.
Blocker: Resists movement by the group.
Recognition seeker: Calls attention to himself or
Self-confessor: Seeks to disclose nongroup related
feelings or opinions.
Dominator: Asserts control over the group by
manipulating the other group members.
Help seeker: Tries to gain the sympathy of the

Special interest pleader: Uses stereotypes to assert

his or her own prejudices.
Conflict in Groups
Conflict can be good for a group if it is managed appopriately. By airing differences,
group members can produce quality decisions and satisfying interpersonal relationships.
Learn how to manage conflict in a group and then complete the activity.
Identifying Conflict The first step in managing conflict is to identify the conflict.
1. Do the group members know that a conflict exists?
2. Are the group members arguing over competing
3. Are scarce resources at stake?

4. Are the group members dependent on each other to

solve the conflict?
Styles of Conflict Researchers Ruble and Thomas12 have identified five styles
Management for managing conflict. The styles can be charted on two
dimensions: assertiveness and cooperativeness. The five
styles are:
Competitive: high in assertiveness, low in
cooperativeness. Competitive people want to win
the conflict.
Accommodative: low in assertiveness and high in
cooperativeness. These group members are easy
going and willing to follow the group.
Avoiding: low in assertiveness, low in
cooperativeness. Avoiding people are detached and
indifferent to conflict.
Collaborative: high assertiveness, high in
cooperativeness. These group members are active
and productive problem solvers.

Compromising: moderate in assertiveness, moderate

in cooperativeness. Compromisers are willing to
"give and take" to resolve conflict.
Defensive climate The climate in which conflict is managed is important.
Groups should avoid a defensive climate, which is
characterized by these qualities:
Evaluation: judging and criticizing other group
Control: imposing the will of one group member on
the others.
Strategy: using hidden agendas.
Neutrality: demonstrating indifference and lack of
Superiority: expressing dominance.

Certainty: being rigid in one's willingness to listen to

Supportive Climate Instead, groups should foster a supportive climate, marked
by these traits:
Description: presenting ideas or opinions.
Problem orientation: focusing attention on the task
Spontaneity: communicating openly and honestly
Empathy: understanding another person's thoughts
Equality: asking for opinions.

Provisionalism: expressing a willingness to listen

other the ideas of others.

Mediated Groups
As technology becomes more accessible, groups will hold more of their meetings either
on-line or via video or telephone connections. Read more about these groups and then
join a mediated group in the activity section to experience first hand the differences
between mediated groups and face-to-face groups.
Types Mediated groups take several forms:
Teleconferences in which the group members talk
via the telephone.
Videoconferences in which a video and audio
connection allows the group members to
communicate with each other.

Computer-mediated discussions such as Listservs,

chat, or Usenet, in which the group members
communicate via email.
Advantages There are several advantages to mediated groups. First, they
are usually inexpensive to operate. Instead of traveling long
distances to meet, groups can meet over the telephone or via
email. In addition, when using email or telephones, the
group does not have to meet as a whole. It can carry on its
business over time and without everyone being present.
Disadvantages There are also some disadvantages to mediated groups.
When communicating via the telephone or by email, it is
difficult to judge other group members' nonverbal
expressions. Also, the technology can be a difficult
adjustment. Finally, the social aspects of the group are
downplayed when the group does not meet face to face.

Group Meetings
Meetings are often dreaded by group members because they lack focus and appear to be
unproductive. However, group meetings can be a great asset if they are planned properly
and administered effectively. Learn how to have a great group meeting and then complete
the activity.
Preparation 1. Give appropriate notice to those involved.
2. Identify a purpose for the meeting.
3. Include only people who are relevant to the
4. Distribute an agenda before the meeting. Include the
following items:
o Call to order
o Approval of previous minutes and treasurer's
o Unfinished business (specify)
o New business (specify)
o Announcements
o Adjournment
5. Establish start, stop, and break times.

6. Set deadlines for follow-up actions.

During the meeting Start promptly and end on time.
Use Robert's Rules of Order
Assign someone to take notes and write the minutes.
Use an appropriate discussion model
o Standard agenda

o Nominal Group Technique

Behavior to avoid Hold unnecessary meetings.
Invite everyone
Let people dominate the discussion
Allow discussion to wander from the topic

Fail to act on decisions made