Group Theory and Group Skills

Definition of terms

Workgroups: A collaboration of workers established by high-ranking decision-makers in an organization for purposes of improving coordination in different departments of an organization. Members of a workgroup work together for purposes of formulating strategies, developing action plans, and clarifying issues. They also share a commitment that is based on agreed common aims or objectives.

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Work teams: A cross-functional, self-directed, multi-skilled group of workers who are responsible for assignments, quality control, goal attainment, cost control, work schedule, and target attainments. Work teams have the skills, information, and authority to carry out specific decisions in order to meet their responsibilities in the workplace.

Introduction

The common use truisms, “unity is strength, and two heads are better than one,” could very well be used to describe the understanding of group dynamics in the business world. According to Toseland & Rivas (2005), group dynamics influence how individual members and the collective team in group work. The understanding of group dynamics is necessary for effective work practice; this is because a group functions like a social system, which is made up of various elements and interactions. Toseland & Rivas (2005) notes that the understanding of group dynamics helps the business owners and managers conceptualize workgroups as social systems made of individuals interacting with each other (p. 64). Understandably, and like other social settings, greater success is attained when people are able to work together for a common goal.

Group dynamics pose several challenges for the management of business organizations; the ever-changing business environment, especially in view of globalization, can tap into the same dynamics and hence enhance efficiency and higher production in their respective businesses.

Achieving mutual goals through positive interdependence

The process of positive interdependency begins with group members understanding each other through proper communication, building trust in each other, and finally, being able to work together in problem-solving and/or goal achievement (Johnson, D & Johnson, F., 2008). Trust building in a group involves making individuals’ behavior comfortable and predictable to all people in the workgroup. According to Toseland & Rivas (2004), building unanimity in the business environment requires social integration, which in turn helps members of the group to work in an orderly, efficient manner towards accomplishing work targets and group goals (p. 64).

Validity and relevancy concerns regarding group research

According to Jackson (2004), research into group dynamics and contributions of the same into the business market fails the credibility and relevance test because “few studies address how group composition relates to specific issues in the business environment” and instead, psychologists have always conducted such researches in the past for purposes of understanding group performances and group processes (p.354). Accordingly, psychologists have identified variance (group heterogeneity and homogeneity) and group composition as the main considerations in their research. In addition, Jackson (2004) notes that the psychologists have, over the years of research, failed to address how group composition affects the outcomes of a Workgroup (p. 354).

Who is more effective at work environments, individuals, or groups?

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There are strengths in numbers. Clearly then, workgroups or work teams could be more effective in work environments than an individual working on a goal or a project without help from other people in the organization. However, there are several exceptions to this. According to Kozlowski & Ilgen (2006), “Workgroups are defined as groups of people within an organization who share information, perspectives, and best practices for purposes of helping each member within the group perform within their area of responsibility” (p. 82). This means that workgroups have individualized goals as opposed to collective goals. Teams, on the other hand, have a collective approach to work, where a limited number of people forming teamwork together in given tasks and responsibilities and share a mutual responsibility in the same. According to Toseland & Rivas (2005), groups can fail the effectiveness test if there is too much conformity to set rules, which in turn restricts individuals from “bringing out their full potential at work” (p. 65). The presence of hierarchism, restrictive roles, and norms could also hinder the effectiveness of groups in the work environment. This happens because restrictive environments suppress group members’ intellectual contributions, creativity, and initiative.

Cohesiveness

According to Levine (1989), cohesiveness in the workplace refers to the ability of group members to obey norms set in the workplace. As stated by Toseland & Riva (2005), norms are defined as the “shared expectations and beliefs about the appropriate ways to act in a social situation in a group” (p. 79). Cohesiveness, therefore, refers to the propensity of group members to accept and share set norms for purposes of working within the groups’ values (Johnson D. & Johnson F., 2008).

The value of group cohesiveness cannot be overstated. This is especially because cohesion in a workgroup gives the individuals therein a feeling of belonging and responsibility. In other words, members learn to “own the process or work process” in such a way that they need to excel as a group, and this is more motivated by the fact that members would like to excel as individuals. According to Johnson D. & Johnson F (2008), “When efficiency requires efficient cooperation, almost any action that promotes cohesiveness increases effectiveness.” Moreover, this means that low cohesiveness in a Workgroup results in low productivity, while high cohesiveness and an increase in the level of effort by each individual member of the group thus raise productivity.

Understanding how cohesive forces affect Workgroups relies on the understanding of how groups work. According to Kozlowski & Ilgen (2006), Workgroups are made up of individuals who interact face-to-face or virtually for purposes of achieving common goals (p. 79). Their responsibilities as individual group members are to perform relevant tasks that would lead to a good workflow, excellent outcomes, and attainment of goals. According to (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006), though individuals may have different responsibilities and roles in the workgroup, their respective contributions are embedded and encompassed in the workgroup system, which is then linked to a broader system in the work environment (p. 79).

The cohesive forces that emerge in Workgroups include the feeling of belonging of individual members in a group and their willingness to remain in the same group. According to Kozlowski & Ilgen (2006), this usually depends on how the needs of members are met in that specific group. As such, individuals need to feel that their differences are acknowledged and accepted, their capabilities recognized, and given a chance to prosper (p. 79). Johnson D & Johnson F (2008) acknowledges that people within a workgroup needs to feel that they are properly compensated. As such, there is a need for organizations that promote the Workgroup culture to ensure that members of the same group are compensated similarly or where differences are justified by hierarchy or any other factor ( i.e.), enough reasons should be provided to justify the same.

Increasing cohesiveness in a Workgroup is the responsibility of the group leader, who can do this by filtering and interpreting perceptions in the group. From such, Kozlowski & Ilgen (2006) indicate that the leaders are then able to “Shape a convergent emergent process, which eventually yields collective climate perceptions” (p.80). The collective climate formed influences members’ satisfaction, performance, the viability of individual contribution, and by extension, the performance of the workgroup.

Social influence/interaction affects decision-making

Heterogeneity is among the strongest influence of workgroups in the business environment (Jackson, 2004). The heterogeneous composition brings in different abilities and attributes. This, in turn, enhances creative decision-making and encourages the emergence of different perspectives on handling different tasks in the workplace. Considering that members of a heterogeneous group come from different social backgrounds, Jackson (2004) reckons that individuals in such groups bring their external contacts and issue processing experiences to a workgroup scenario. The resultant scenario is a broader pool of information, which then leads to multiple solutions available to the group members for consideration while making a decision.

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In the event that time is not a constraining factor, it is evident that the social interactions of different group members could bring to the discussion table more alternatives for exploration. As such, Workgroups are more likely to come up with better-argued, substantive decisions and actions than decisions reached by an individual or a homogenous group. However, this too presents a hiccup in decision making, especially where there is a limitation in time. Reaching a consensus may be hard within the specified time limit, and in such cases, leaders of the group may be forced to make compromises or encourage group members to cast votes for their preferred decisions. According to Jackson (2004), such practices may eventually lead to a lower acceptance of the decisions made and hence affecting group cohesiveness (p. 354).

Social influence and interaction in groups also bring about people of different ages (the old bring experience to the workgroups, while the young bring in new ideas), genders, and domestic-cultural diversity. According to Jackson et al. (1995), social influence and interaction in Workgroups operating in the globalized world are especially becoming commonplace (p. 207[). As indicated by Jackson et al. (1995), this is especially because large business organizations are forming international alliances that require people from different cultures to work together for a common business goal. Some of the common workgroups touted to come up as globalization takes center stage in the world include: marketing groups, operation groups, design groups, and event management groups, all of which will need to make decisions as a group (p. 207).

Ways of encouraging or discouraging recognition of proposals in Workgroups

Members of a Workgroup are guided by the overall goals and objectives that the Workgroup targets to achieve at the end of a specific period. Leaders of such groups should encourage members to scrutinize any proposals brought to the table thoroughly in order to determine whether, indeed, the proposal will help the workgroup meet the specified goals and objectives. It should be the most viable proposal available, contain activities that would be within a specified budget, and lastly, is it supported by resources necessary to make it a reality.

In order to reach a compromise, deliberation with individual members needs to take place. The individual members are then able to discuss the proposals at length and decide whether the proposals are indeed viable or not. If the proposals are viable, then acknowledging the author’s input in the same is necessary for purposes of upholding Workgroup cohesiveness, just as is the case when the proposal is rejected. The larger workgroup owes the author of the rejected proposal an explanation of the reasons behind the rejection if they are to continue feeling as if they are part of the workgroup.

Workgroup leaders

Like any other organized group, Workgroups perform best where some kind of leadership is offered. According to Kozlowski & Ilgen (2006), Workgroup leaders play an important role in shaping the mental models that the group adopts through linking tasks and learning processes (p. 79). Before the workgroup starts taking action, the leader helps formulate the goals, which are commensurate with the groups’ capabilities. It is also the leader’s responsibility to monitor the performance in the group, diagnose deficiencies in performance and help the group brainstorm for purposes of coming up with viable solutions to tackle their deficiencies.

With no clear leadership, Workgroup members usually share the responsibilities of leadership collectively. However, Jackson et al. (1995) note that people who voluntarily steer the workgroup can earn the recognition of their fellow Workgroup members (p. 207). When this occurs, such people are appointed as leaders either in the same workgroup or in other departments in the organization. This especially happens when the leader in a group earns the recognition of senior management in an organization through good group performance.

Johnson, D & Johnson, F. (2008) state that Workgroup leaders are responsible for handling the human dynamics necessary to make Workgroups effective. This then deals with a cohesive culture in a Workgroup, which affects an organization in hiring choices, decision-making, and consequently, the bottom-line. In response to this, Jackson et al. (1995) indicate that a leader should have a close relationship with members of the workgroup in order to know how best to handle communications, decision-making, and culture, among other human dynamics presented in the workgroup ( p. 239). According to (Jackson 2004), “When leaders fail to acknowledge and deal with human dynamics in Workgroups, what happens is that people have one foot in the Workgroup, and the other foot is looking for a job in other organizations” (p. 346). This means that members of a Workgroup will be looking for better job prospects elsewhere because their contributions are not well appreciated within the workgroup, or they do not get enough room for career development. To avoid such, Toseland & Rivas (2005) suggest that leaders should be able to instill the doctrine of negotiation in their Workgroups (p. 70).

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It should be noted that the relationship between leaders and Workgroup members plays a huge role in determining the performance of the group. This argument is supported by Toseland & Rivas (2005) who states that Workgroup members are able to relate better with leaders who “communicate rather than issue orders, and who act as part of the group rather than overseers of the same” (p. 110). Accordingly, this is not just issuing orders but communicating to the group members, often discussing what needs to be done, the most viable approach to adopt, and the leader’s willingness to express his concerns to the Workgroup members. Kozlowski & Ilgen (2006) recommends that Workgroup leaders communicate to members in informal as well as formal meetings, especially because they need to know and address the different situations facing the members.

Teams are more effective than Workgroups

A team is defined as a limited number of people who possess complementary skills working together for purposes for accomplishing common goals, working approach, or purpose. A team holds itself mutually responsible for the outcomes of its activities. As such, teams are perceived by Toseland & Rivas (2005) as basic performance units in many organizations, and their impact is usually significantly higher than what is registered from a working group (p.110).

As opposed to Workgroups, teams have true interdependence between team members, shared accountability at a greater level, and a need for increased performance or opportunities. The latter means that a team is more prepared to tackle opportunities and performance challenges that come up in their line of work much better than in Workgroups. This is especially so because team members are more organized, interdependent, and often have a greater sense of accountability than their Workgroup counterparts have. Although Workgroups have coordination and collaboration, teams have a higher degree of the same. On the downside, According to Kozlowski & Ilgen (2006), teams are more expensive to run and maintain than Workgroups, especially because they “use an organizations’ resources without commensurate results for the same” (p. 81). This means that teams do not always have immediate results for the organization, although they may be more efficient and productive than Workgroups in the end.

Example

In the medical practice, teams rather than Workgroups have been found to be more appropriate. On a hospital’s surgical team, for example, the surgeons need to work with the operating room nurses and the anesthesiologist; though this example does not have a profit motive as many business teams would have, the point is that the surgical team has a common objective in mind which in this case, is a successful surgery which would lead to better health for the patient. The team is always looking out for each other because they have a shared responsibility of ensuring that the patient comes out of surgery. A Workgroup of waiters and chefs in a hotel, on the other hand, would have a dissimilar work relationship. In a hotel setting, the waiter “hopes” that the chefs would prepare the food in good time so that he (the waiter) can effectively serve the patrons who come to the hotel for dinner. In the end, the waiter could care less about the circumstances that the chef is working in (and vice versa), just as long as they are able to meet their different responsibilities in the business.

Conclusion

Groups are a paradox to many business enterprises in the contemporary market. While workgroups and teams can spur business achievement in some cases, they are also capable of bringing disastrous consequences to a business enterprise. With proper leadership and management, however, it is evident that there is indeed strength in numbers.

Some of the positive outcomes that are likely to come up from group dynamics include group cohesion, efficacy, and potency. On the other hand, an organization would need to devise effective ways of handling group effects, emotions, moods, and conflicts that are inevitable in such groups. With effective leaders who encourage cohesion, communication between members, and pride in the group, groups would be capable of taking up a unitary construct and hence better efficiency and productivity in the long term. Regardless of whether the group is a workgroup or a work team, benefits can be accrued from the group’s potency and team efficacy, respectively, and hence the opinion in this paper that groups have more benefits in the workplaces than individual performances in the business world.

References

Jackson, S. E. (2004). Consequences of group composition for the interpersonal dynamics of strategic issue processing. Strategic Issue Processing Journal. 3(1), 345-375.

Jackson, S. E., May, K. E. & Whitney, K. (1995). Understanding the dynamic of diversity in decision-making teams. 204-249. Web.

Johnson, D.W. and Johnson, F.P. (2008). Joining Together: Group Theory and Group skills (10th Ed.). NJ: Pearson.

Kozlowski, S. W. J. & Ilgeb, D. R. (2006). Work groups and teams. Association for Psychological Science. 7(3), 77-115.

Toseland, R. W. & Rivas, R. F. (2005). Understanding group dynamics. An introduction to group work practice, 5/e. 4(1), 64-112. Web.

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