Group Behaviour In Organizations

A group is defined as two or more interacting and interdependent individuals who work together to achieve certain objectives. There are various types of groups but two major divisions are as follows:

  1. Formal groups –
    Groups that have been officially planned and created by an organisation for a specific purpose with particular goals in mind.
  2. Informal groups –
    Groups that have been naturally formed without official planning, usually in a social and personal context. They generally serve group members’ own interests and social needs.

Group development
Different researchers have looked into how groups are formed and how they develop.

Tuckman, 1965
Bruce Tuckman identified five stages of group development. He originally came up with four stages but added the fifth stage in 1977 with Mary Ann Jenson.

Tuckman stated that these five stages are necessary for a team to progress, develop and deliver results successfully.

  1. FORMING –
  • The formation of the group is step one.
  • Individuals get to know each other and display their individual skills.
  • There is no conflict but also no real openness between members.
  • Not much work is done; goals and roles are decided and agreed upon.
  • Individualism is more dominant than teamwork.
  • Directive leadership is needed here by the group manager.
  • The rise of conflicts and competition is step two.
  • This may be unpleasant or uncomfortable but is essential for team growth.
  • Members confront each other’s perspectives, opinions and ideas.
  • Tolerance, patience and an open mind is needed to progress positively.
  • Team manager should guide members on the decision-making process, encourage professionalism and ensure that no one is judged or held back.


  1. NORMING –
  • The acceptance and agreement upon common goals is step three.
  • All aspects of the team, including goals and roles, become clear and understood.
  • Members have a mutual understanding of the group’s procedures and norms.
  • Everyone takes responsibility for the team and unites to reach the goal.


  • The peak of self-management is step four.
  • The group is now fully functional and operating smoothly without conflict.
  • Members are autonomous, competent and cooperative, and require less external supervision.
  • A strong rapport of trust, loyalty and understanding is present.
  • Team manager can be more participative than directive.


  • The completion and break-up of the group is step five.
  • The group will have achieved their goals and completed their tasks.
  • All activities are wrapped up properly and the team parts.

Woodcock, 1979
Mike Woodcock gave a four-stage model that gives his explanation of team development.

  • This team is characterised by disheartened members and a leader who makes the majority of decisions.
  • There is poor communication: meetings consist of much talking but little listening.
  • Mistakes are not addressed positively, they are seen as signs of failure and usually hidden, resulting in no lessons learned.
  • Goals may be misunderstood or vague with little planning involved.
  • The leader is seldom challenged and the group does not progress in this type of routine behaviour.
  • This team is characterised by the introduction of changes.
  • There is a gradual raise in communication.
  • Issues and problems are raised and discussed, as well as personal feelings and opinions.
  • The team becomes introspective and members begin to show concern for each other.
  • The transition may begin uncomfortably but usually members welcome this change as something positive.


  • This team is characterised by revised rules and procedures.
  • Taking group needs and experience into account, the old guidelines are updated and made relevant.
  • Although the leader may still have more authority in decision-making, the members will be a lot more committed and participative in the process.
  • Ground rules and clear objectives are established by good communication between everyone in the team.
  • This team is characterised by maturity, openness, cooperation and flexibility.
  • The members become very progressive, and learn to balance individual motivation with shared achievements.
  • The needs of members are embraced, the leader is flexible and understanding, and the team is self-assured.
  • Members are heavily invested in the team and work confidently towards goals.
  • Mature teams succeed easily and healthily.

Group Cohesiveness, Team Building And Team Performance

“Group cohesiveness” is the degree to which members are:

  • attracted to their group
  • motivated to remain in their group
  • mutually influenced by each other

A high degree of cohesiveness will result in:

  • More frequent communication, leading to more ideas and discussion.
  • Internal strength in the group, meaning it is more capable of giving financial and emotional support to others.
  • The openness to innovation will be very high (comfort to talk freely) or very low (not wanting to disagree).
  • Aggression, which may result in interpersonal conflicts.

Some factors which affect cohesiveness positively are:

  1. Similar attitudes and values of members
  2. External threats which make members closer to each other
  3. Outstanding success which motivates members
  4. Small-sized group means more personal relationships
  5. Difficulties encountered to join the group

The leader of a group can also encourage cohesiveness:

  1. Keeping the group small-sized
  2. Encouraging members to reach the group’s goals
  3. Increasing the time that members spend together
  4. Increasing the group’s status and membership
  5. Stimulating competition with other groups
  6. Giving rewards to the whole group for group achievements, rather than lone individuals
  7. Physically isolating the group

Characteristics of successful teams

Based on the work of Woodcock, there are nine main building blocks for successful teams:

  1. Clear objectives and agreed goals
  2. Openness and confrontation
  3. Support and trust
  4. Cooperation and conflict
  5. Sound working and decision-making procedures
  6. Appropriate leadership
  7. Regular review
  8. Individual development
  9. Sound intergroup relations

Some other building blocks for a successful team are:

  1. Clearly balanced roles
  2. Strong group cohesion
  3. Good communication skills
  4. Time given to creativity, innovation and celebration

A “decision” is a choice made from two or more alternative options.
A “problem” is the difference between a current state and the desired state.

The decision-making process
This process is a set of different steps that begin with identifying the problem and decision criteria, then allocating weights to those criteria, and move on to developing, analysing and selecting an alternative that can resolve a problematic situation.

The process of decision-making has the following steps:

  1. Organisational problem:

a)     Scanning stage– this involves monitoring the work situation for changing circumstances that may signal the emergence of a problem.
b)     Categorisation stage– this entails attempting to understand and verify the signs indicating that there is some type of discrepancy between the current stage and the desired stage.
c)     Diagnosis stage – this means gathering extra data and specifying the nature and cause of the problem.

2. Generation of alternatives:

This includes four basic principles:

a)     Do not criticise fellow members.
b)     Give free wheel; let the ideas flow out.
c)     Offer as many ideas as possible because this increases the possibility of a positive solution being created.
d)     Combine and improve on ideas that have been offered.

3. Choice of an alternative:

This consists of six criteria:

a)     “Feasibility” – the extent to which the solution can be accomplished within related organisational constraints like budgets and technology.
b)     “Quality” – the effectiveness of the solution.
c)     “Acceptability” – the degree to which decision makers and people who would be effected by the alternative are cooperative.
d)     “Cost” – the quantity and standard of resources required.
e)     “Reversibility” – the extent to which the alternative can be reversed.
f)      “Ethics” – the link to social values and guidelines.

4. Implementation and monitoring:

This step is taken to ensure the plan does not turn into a failure. Implementation requires careful planning of various aspects:

a)     Implementation on minor and major changes.
b)     Irreversible changes require a great deal of preparation.
c)     Sensitivity should be given to those who are involved in or affected by the implementation. They would require support and guidance.
d)     If participation is not feasible, individuals should be kept informed of the changes.
e)     Monitoring should be carried out now and again to ensure the implementation was successful.

Individual versus Group Decisions

Decisions may be made alone by individuals or collectively by groups.

Riggio (1999) discussed the advantages and disadvantages of group decisions.

  • Advantageous because: parts of the decision can be handled by relevant specialists and the decision will have a larger knowledge base for consideration. Also, the final decision will have been critiqued, discussed and collectively agreed upon by all members of the group.
  • Disadvantageous because: process is usually slower as more people are involved and have to depend on each other. Furthermore, conflicts may occur if the leader is too dominant or if group members cannot find common ground.

Greenberg & Baron (2008) found that group decisions are usually the better option for more complex decisions. However, they also found out that individuals are better at making productive decisions for more creative tasks.

Groupthink and Group Polarisation

Groupthink and group polarisation are two negative occurrences that may happen during group-based decision-making.

Irving Janis (1972)
Janis coined the term “groupthink”, which is basically defined as a mode of thinking that occurs in a highly cohesive group that always reaches a quick consensus instead of applying any critical evaluation. Because the group members respect each other so much, they avoid criticising each other and end up making hasty decisions that are often poor.

Janis outlined eight symptoms of groupthink.

  1. Illusion of vulnerability
  2. Illusion of morality
  3. Illusion of unanimity
  4. Shared negative stereotypes
  5. Collective rationalisations
  6. Self-censorship
  7. Direct conformity power
  8. Mindguards

Groupthink usually results in the following:

  • Group discussions are very limited.
  • Opinions from experts and outsiders is rarely sought.
  • Group is overconfident and fails to consider contingency plans.
  • Group fails to examine alternative options.
  • Decisions are decided quickly without critical evaluation.

Group polarisation is a psychological phenomenon that involves individuals’ views about a topic or decision becoming stronger after discussing it with a group. Sunstein (1999) gives examples like people who support gun control are more likely, after discussion, to end up supporting gun control with considerably more enthusiasm or people who believe that global warming is a serious problem will, after discussion, insist on the creation of strict prevention policies to prevent global warming – their opinion becomes stronger.

People “polarise” towards a stronger position after discussion with a group and groups may end up making riskier decisions after discussion, as compared to lone individuals. Polarising towards one end of a decision is known as a “risky shift”. Researchers have said that if a group polarises after discussion without taking it to an extreme, then it is known as a “cautious shift”.

Strategies to overcome groupthink and training to avoid poor decisions

Greenberg & Baron (2008) gave four methods to avoid and overcome groupthink.

  1. Promote open enquiry and questioning
  2. Use subgroups who come together after working separately
  3. Admit shortcomings and use constructive criticism
  4. Hold “second-chance” meetings for the group

Bottger & Yetton (1987) also found that training individuals before allowing them to work within groups will help to improve their task performance.

Group Conflict

There are two main types of group-related conflict:

  1. Intra-group conflict (between members of one group)
  2. Inter-group conflict (between different groups)

Major causes of group conflict

According to Riggio (1999), the causes for group conflict can be grouped into two categories: organisational causes and interpersonal causes.

Organisational causes for group conflict:

  • Status differences within an organisation
  • Preferred method of goal achievement
  • Lack of resources (e.g. money)
  • Delegation of responsibilities

Interpersonal causes for group conflict:

  • Lack of cooperation and harmony between members
  • Personal dislike or bias within the group
  • History of individuals (personal and/or professional history)

Positive and negative effects of conflict
Some negative effects of conflict are:

  • Reduction in group cohesiveness and harmony
  • Communication problems and misunderstandings
  • Reduced trust and reduced support between members
  • Lack of productivity due to constant conflict
  • Low levels of achievement due to low productivity

However, there are actually some positive consequences too:

  • Members may rethink their position or behaviour, leading to improvement
  • Successfully solved issues can lead to creative ideas and new relationships
  • Reduction in groupthink-related problems
  • Workforce is consulted and feedback can be collected
  • Feedback after conflict can lead to improved policies and other additions

Managing group conflict
Group conflict can be managed in a number of ways. For example, a manager can take charge of a conflict by:

  • Creating smaller subordinate goals for everyone to work towards
  • Call a vote and go along with the majority
  • Create more opportunities for improvement (e.g. workshops)

Thomas (1976)
Thomas identified five strategies that can be used to manage group conflicts.

  1. Competition (somebody eventually wins or loses)
  2. Accommodation (someone makes a sacrifice and accomodates others)
  3. Compromise (both sides fairly compromise by making sacrifices)
  4. Collaboration (both sides work together to overcome the issue)
  5. Avoidance (somebody suppresses or withdraws from conflict altogether)