Group Dynamics

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." – Helen Keller

We constantly work as groups or teams everyday. Groups are people interacting within a specified time.

Groups become TEAMS when they:

  • Are two or more people that share a common goal & social structure
    • A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, & a common approach that they hold themselves mutually accountable (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993)
  • Form 
    • Because of commonalities: interests; purpose/goal; organized activities; similar characteristics, needs, values, expectations, etc.;
    • For survival - families, communities
    • Because of location or circumstance
    • As a result of relationships, social interactions, chance, etc.
    • Examples include personal & social relationships, work groups, neighborhoods, organizations, committees, sport teams, assignment groups, etc. 
  • Are time bound (limited existence)
  • Are in constant flux (dynamic) 
  • Require effort to be effective & productive
  • Teamwork is an individual skill, (Avery, 2001)

Strategies for Success:

  • Establish clear group/team expectations BEFORE first meeting
    • Group facilitator/leader is critical in helping shape member expectations
    • Create a context for discussion, brainstorming, decision-making & dialogue 
      • Bohm's Principles of Dialogue (more on dialogue)
        • The group agrees that no group-level decisions will be made in the conversation
        • Each individual agrees to suspend judgement in the conversation
        • As these individuals "suspend judgement" they also simultaneously are as honest and transparent as possible
        • Individuals in the conversation try to build on other individuals' ideas in the conversation
  • SMART goals 
    • Clearly established expectations
    • Activities & experiences must be perceived as meaningful & worthwhile
  • Assigning specific roles &/or responsibilities
    • Utilize team & individual strengths
    • "....clear definition of roles is a hallmark of effective collaboration." (Useem, 2006)
  • Establish mutual accountability for meeting these roles &/or responsibilities
    • A common fate
  • Identify team rules/guidelines for negotiation & decision-making
  • Periodic self-reflection to identify ways to more effectively
    • Contribute & use my skills
    • Support teammates
    • Communicate (speak & listen)
  • Identify methods for individual & group recognition

Inhibitors of Group/Team Development

  • Davenport & Prusak (1998) suggest:
    • Lack of trust
    • Different cultures, vocabularies, & frames of reference
    • Lack of time & meeting places
    • Narrow idea of productive work
    • Status & rewards go to knowledge owners
    • Lack of absorptive capacity in recipients
    • Belief that knowledge is prerogative of particular groups
    • Intolerance for mistakes or need for help
    • Not-invented-here syndrome (own ideas & creations, nationalism, etc.)

Group Dynamics/Team Development Theory

Phase Model:

  • Gersick's Punctuated Equilibrium Model (1988)
    • These phases occur regardless of the time bewteen formation & completion
    • Groups transition from a phase of inertia punctuated by a period of concentrated change
    • Time & context are defining characteristics
    • Phase One
      • First meeting is critical & establishes
        • Norms are established quickly
        • Pre-meeting member expectations & context for how the group will operate
      • "A framework of behavioral patterns and assumptions through which a group approaches its project emerges in its first meeting, and the group stays with that framework through the first half of its life," (Gersick, 1988, p. 32)
      • Little progress is made
    • Transition
      • Occurs 1/2 way between first meeting & goal/task completion date
      • Paradigmatic shifts occur from gradual learnings during phase one
      • Is "...a powerful opportunity for a group to alter the course of its life midstream," (Gersick, 1988, p. 32)
      • Alterations to group function beyond this point are unlikely
    • Phase Two
      • Group acts based on strategies/behaviors established during transition phase
      • Goal/task completion is when the group "experiences the positive and negative consequences of past choices," (Gersick, 1988, p. 32)

Linear Model:

  • Tuckman, (1965) & later  with Jensen (1977), proposed at least 4+ stages for a group/team (this wont apply to short-term teams)
    • Views society from a small group perspective
    • Progression through each stage indicative of group/team effectiveness
    • Involves a variety of skills & behaviors that must be negotiated & compromised
  • Tuckman (1965) & Tuckman & Jensen (1977) stages:
    • Forming
      • High dependence on leader(s) who need to direct & guide
      • Lack of commitment & interest
      • Unclear goals & group member roles
      • Hesitation, frustrations & conflict are apparent
    • Storming
      • Power struggles
        • Catharsis (purging of emotions)
      • Testing of roles
        • Dissention & negotiation
        • Sub-groups may form
      • Leader coaches
    • Norming
      • Consensus reached
      • Roles are clearly defined
        • Member strengths are identified
      • Commitment & unity are strengths
      • Leader is a facilitator
      • Social bonds begin to establish
      • Challenges include:
        • Social loafing - exerting less effort toward a goal in a group than when performed individually (Karau & Williams, 1993)
          • Lack of individual recognition
          • Inability to be evaluated
          • Increases with group size
        • Social facilitation - "An increase in effort in effort by a person working in a group," (Gagne & Zuckerman, 1993, p. 525)
          • Typically only in easier tasks?
          • Higher arousal or motivation
    • Performing
      • Shared vision & strong intra-team relationships
      • Seek delegation from leader
      • Creativity & confidence
      • Cohesion:
        • Cohesion – "the dynamic process that is reflected in the tendency of a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its instrumental objectives and/or for the satisfaction of member affective needs," (Carron, Brawley & Widmeyer, 1998, p. 213)
          • Attracts members, resists turnover, motivates individuals
          • Correlates with
            • The presence (or perceived presence) of outside threats (Useem, 2006)
            • Increased self-esteem
            • Increased trust & satisfaction
            • Increased pressure to perform
            • Drecreased anxiety
      • Attains:
        • Team efficacy - belief in capabilities to attain specific goal (Bandura, 1997)
        • Team potency - global belief in capabilities across multiple domains (Guzzo, Yost, Campbell, & Shea, 1993)
        • Combined, these result in setting higher goals, specific strategies, which persist during setbacks (Collins, & Parker, 1993)
      • Challenges include:
        • Overbounding – build boundaries, limits productive outside help or input
        • Groupthink – conformity that suppresses dissent & critical thinking, & lacks tolerance for alternative perspectives
    • Adjourning/Reforming
      • Team, as is, dissolves
        • Recognition of achievements
        • Mourning & decline in motivation levels
        • Need for new goals & challenges for remaining members
      • New team members join
        • Team dynamics & capabilities change
        • New goals & purpose may be identified
  • More on Tuckman's stages - MIT

team performance

Image source: Edison, T. (2008)

Other Factors to Consider

  • Size?
    • Each member MUST have an important & effective role
    • Odd number breaks ties, enables progress
      • 3-7, with the average optimal number being about 5 (Useem, 2006)
  • Composition?
    • Diversity is at the heart of being a team
      • Demographic heterogeneity (e.g. gender, race, or age) 
        • More likely to categorize/make judgments about others (Stroessner, 1996) particularly early in a teams development
        • Tends to impede the ability of group members to collaborate effectively/lower cooperation (Chatman & Flynn, 2001).
      • Heterogeneity of task relevant knowledge & personality types is more often associated with positive team outcomes (Mannix & Neale, 2005)
    • Seek a balance based on the purpose &/or tasks of the group, to include (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006)
      • Varying task-relevant perspectives and experiences
      • Personal task-relevant diversity (e.g., gender, culture, etc.)
      • Task-relevant work styles (e.g., detail-oriented, strategic thinkers, etc.)
    • High diversity of disciplines can improve outcomes
  • Characteristics of Membership?
    • Higher conscientiousness is positively related to team performance (Koslowski and Bell, 2003)
      • the relationship is stronger for performance & planning tasks than it is for creative and decision-making tasks
    • Higher intelligence among team members is positively related to goal achievement (Devine & Philips, 2001)
      • Team-level collective intelligence factor is related to group performance on a variety of tasks
    • Higher mean levels of extroversion are more effective than teams with lower levels of this personality trait (Kozlowski & Bell, 2003)

More on Group/Team Dynamics:


Avery, C. (2001). Teamwork is an individual skill: Getting your work done when sharing responsibility. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efflcacy: The exercise of control. NY: W. H. Freeman & Comp

Carron, A., Brawley, L. & Widmeyer, N. (1998). The measurement of cohesion in sport groups. In J.L. Duda (Ed.), Advances in sport and exercise psychology measurement (213-226). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology

Chatman, J. & Flynn, F. (2001). The influence of demographic heterogeneity on the mergence & consequences of cooperative norms in work teams. Academy of Management Journal, 44(5), 956-974

Collins, C. & Parker, S. (2010). Team capability beliefs over time:Distinguishing between team potency, team outcome efficacy, & team process efficacy. The British Psychological Society, 83(4) 1003-1023

Davenport, L. & Prusak, T. (2000). Working knowledge.  (2nd ed.) Boston MA: Harvard Business Review Press

Devine, D. & Philips J. (2001). Do smarter teams do better? A meta-analysis of cognitive ability and team performance. Small Group Research, 32, 507–532. 

Edison, T. (2008). Team development life cycle: A new look. Defense AT&L, 14-17

Gagne, M. & Zuckerman, M. (1999). Performance & learning goal   orientations as moderators of social loafing & social facilitation. Small Group Research, 30(5), 524-541 

Gersick, C. (1988). Time & transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. Academy of Management Journal, 31(1), 9-41 

Guzzo, R., Yost, P., Campbell, R. & Shea, G. (1993). Potency in groups: Articulating a construct. British Journal of Social Psychology, 32, 87-10

Karau, S. & Williams, K. (1993) Social loafing: A meta-analytic review & theoretical integration. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 65(4), 681–706.

Kozlowski, S. & Bell B., (2003). Work groups & teams in organizations. In Borman, W., Ilgen, D. & Kilmoski, R. (Ed.s). Handbook of Psychology: Industrial and Organizational Psychology (333–375). London: John Wiley & Sons

Kozlowski S. & Ilgen D. (2006). Enhancing the effectiveness of work groups and teams. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7(3), 77–124

Mannix, E. & Neale M. (2006). What differences make a difference? The promise and reality of diverse teams in organizations. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 6, 31–55

Stroessner, S. J. 1996. Social categorization by race or sex: Effects of perceived non-normalcy on response times. Social Cognition, 14, 274-276.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384–99

Tuckman, B. & Jensen, M-A. (1977). Stages of small group development revisited. Group & Organization Studies, 2(4), 419-427

Useem, J. (2006, June 8). What's that spell? Teamwork! Fortune Magazine. Retrieved from magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/06/12/8379242/ index.htm