The main points made in this reading have been:
Groups cannot be understood simply in terms of the interactions between individual members because:
individuals have contracts with the group as a whole and this is distinct from their relationships with other members of the group on a one-to-one basis;
people behave differently in groups;
there are simply too many possible interactions between group members, including their sub-personalities, to make sense of group activity in this way.
The contracts that an individual has with a group may have several components, each of which may have conscious and unconscious parts. The main components are likely to include:
certain ideas, attitudes or beliefs that support a particular perspective or view of the world;
an emotional component, relating to certain values and the expression or denial of certain emotions.
People are most likely to function effectively as a group if:
the group has a well-defined task that is seen as challenging and significant by group members;
the group is not too large (has fewer than 10 members) and not too small (too small to have adequate resources and expertise);
the expertise and characteristics of members of the group are complementary;
the group allows itself time to go through the stages of development – forming, storming, norming and performing – and by doing so, develops trust by sharing hidden agendas and personal differences;
each meeting is designed to allow for a creative cycle that involves nurturing, energising, peak activity and relaxation;
the group explicitly discusses its objectives, how to organise itself, its leadership and the roles of members.
Construct your own brief definitions or descriptions of the following:
(a) The informal contract between a group and one of its members.
(b) The psychological contract between a group and one of its members.
(c) Hidden agenda.
(d) Blind spot.
Your definitions should include at least the following features:
(a) Informal contract: not usually written down or discussed; includes assumptions about ways of working, what feelings can be expressed and in what ways. Taboo areas may be included.
(b) Psychological contract: the set of psychological expectations that the group has of the individual and vice versa; not discussed and only revealed in a crisis.
(c) Hidden agenda: an item known to a group member but not to the group as a whole.
(d) Blind spot: a characteristic or aspect of an individual recognised by the group, but not by the individual, involved. (Deep down, the individual may know about it but refuse to acknowledge it.)
Calculate the number of interactions in groups with four, six, and eight members.
The formula is N × (N − 1) / 2.
With four members there are six possible pairings (AB, AC, AD, BC, BD, CD). With six there are 15 possible pairs. With eight there are 28 possible pairs. The number of possible interactions (and hence possible conflicts or misunderstandings) nearly doubles in going from a group of six to a group of eight.
From your study of Reading 2, make a list of the four or five factors that you regard as most significant in determining whether or not a group will function effectively.
The most important factors are:
worthwhile, clear, and attainable group objectives.
group size and composition: it should be neither too big nor too small, and should include people with complementary skills and characteristics.
adequate time to go through the stages of group formation, especially the storming phase.
organisation of group meetings so that the stages of the creative cycle are each given adequate time.
Another important factor is the group's attitude to change. However, if the above items are all satisfied, then this, along with other factors, will probably get sorted out satisfactorily. In particular, if the group succeeds in generating trust in the process of group formation, then blind spots and hidden agendas will not be a major source of difficulty (since individuals will share them with the group).
Key for SAQs 4 and 5
The following paragraphs provide short descriptions of five different groups.
Group 1 – A management group has eight members and is chaired by the managing director. Two of the members of the group are candidates for an important promotion and are keen to impress the managing director, whose opinion is crucial to their chances.
Group 2 – A food-manufacturing company has a large number of separate production operations. Over the years it has had a record of poor staff relations, the main complaint being about working conditions. It has also had a record of poor product quality. In order to involve workers in quality-control issues the management decides to form shop-floor groups. These groups are convened by the area manager and, in order to get things going, they are given the fairly trivial task of assembling data on product quality in their area.
Group 3 – An institution has a long history of financial crises and departmental disputes, and a high turnover of senior staff. A decision is made to review the structure of the entire organisation. This is implemented by forming a 'structure review group', which consists of the heads of all 14 departments, 4 members from the consultative committee and 3 representatives from service groups outside the institution, plus representatives from the local council and a neighbouring institution, making a total of about 30 people altogether.
Group 4 – A marketing team had been together for a long time and had become used to formulating and implementing its own policies. For a new range of fashion fabrics it designed an unusual promotion campaign. Against the advice of the general management group it went ahead with its ideas. After six weeks of poor response the group put an increased effort into the advertising campaign and complained to the management group that the new fabrics were not up to previous standards.
Group 5 – The executive committee of Bloggs Engineering consists of the managing director, the director of manufacturing, the marketing director, the heads of finance and personnel, the company secretary and the chief buyer. For several years there has been a long-standing dispute between the marketing director and the director of manufacturing. The managing director is unaware of this and is frequently dismayed that apparently simple tasks are not accomplished between meetings. He often begins meetings by hauling one or other of the members over the coals for not completing the assigned task.
If you have difficulty answering the next two questions and arrive at different answers from the ones given here, bear in mind that the answers are subjective. There is no single correct answer. The aim is to gain additional insight into what is going on, as a preliminary to working out possible ways of tackling the problems.
From the descriptions given above, and the discussion in Reading 2, suggest likely sources of problems in the effective functioning of each group. (Note that more than one explanation may fit in some cases.)
The main sources of problems are likely to be:
Group 1: Two members of the group have very powerful hidden agendas.
Group 2: The group has been given a trivial objective. There is also a history of discord between members and the convenor.
Group 3: The group is far too large to do anything effective.
Group 4: The group has isolated itself from criticism and from data which might prove it wrong. This is groupthink coupled with seeking external scapegoats.
Group 5: It's difficult to know what the main problem with this group is, it has so many. There are hidden agendas and a massive blind spot: both indicative of inadequate group formation. There is also evidence of very poorly managed meetings with the nurturing stage being used for disciplinary action!
Below are descriptions of patterns of behaviour in groups. Which, in your opinion, is most likely to apply to each of the Groups 1–5 described above, bearing in mind the points covered in Reading 2? (Hint: you might find it easier to begin by producing your own description of what each group is like and then match your description to one or more of those below.)
Group meetings are poorly attended, regarded as a drag and typified by long rambling conversations of little consequence.
The group makes decisions easily but then finds that they are either not carried out or do not have the desired consequences.
Group meetings are generally argumentative with members interrupting each other and 'getting at' each other personally.
The meetings seem to go on for ages without getting anywhere. Everyone expresses a sense of frustration and alienation from the main issues.
During meetings there are often long, uncomfortable silences.
Group meetings are characterised by a strong sense of camaraderie. Most problems are blamed on one or two outside bodies.
Meetings tend to go very slowly, often getting off to a bad start, which puts people in a defensive mood.
It is difficult to identify just one aspect as being typical of a group's behaviour. The reason for this is that when things go wrong the way this is revealed depends on a host of chance factors. In what follows, I present first the answer I intended when constructing the question and then alternative answers that seem appropriate.
Group 1 might well suffer from argumentative meetings (3). The hidden agendas are of an interpersonal nature, and so I would expect to see the potential candidates 'getting at' each other in an atmosphere of hostility. They might suffer from aimless meetings as well (4), because with strong, undeclared hidden agendas people can argue about issues without resolving the concealed reasons for disagreement.
Group 2 might well suffer from meetings that are poorly attended (1), meetings that are interminable (4), and, quite possibly, meetings with difficult silences (5). The group has a trivial objective, so I would expect it to have very little energy or enthusiasm, reflected in poor attendance and rambling discussions of no consequence. Because the main issue of staff relationships is not openly on the table people might well feel frustrated and, with low interest combined with a potentially enormous taboo area, there could be times when no one wants to say anything.
Group 3 might well suffer from interminable meetings (4) and meetings that get off to a bad start (7). The group is too big and it is likely to be frustrating for everyone involved. Discussions may get lost in the need for everyone to have their say and there are likely to be formal 'points of order' raised, alienating people from the real issues. With a large group the level of interpersonal contact and trust will be low; one cannot get to know much about 30 other people at the beginning of a meeting!
Group 4 is likely to show a strong sense of 'us' and 'them' (6).
Group 5 really is an appalling set-up and could have every kind of unhelpful behaviour, such as:
long silences (5) because no one wants to tell the managing director about his or her blind spot;
slow starts (7) because of the way the managing director starts the meetings;
decisions that never happen or misfire (2) because of the long-standing conflict between two of the directors, each of whom will be trying to undermine the other; and
argumentative meetings (3) because of the conflict between the directors and the fear of being 'disciplined' next time around.
Which of the following groups is likely to be susceptible to groupthink?
A group of people, drawn from a number of companies, attending a week-long management training course.
The finance committee of an organisation facing a serious financial crisis.
A local group formed to protest about the planned development of a dangerous chemical dump in its neighbourhood.
A group of parent governors of a comprehensive school working on plans to turn it into an independent one.
A group of shop floor workers and a supervisor from one section of a factory who meet regularly to discuss quality problems that arise in that section of the factory.
It seems likely that the finance committee (2) and the parent governors (4) would score high on two of the three groupthink criteria in section 2.2.7 – feeling themselves to be an elite and insulated from contrary opinion. The protest group (3) is a more difficult case. It is unlikely that its members would be insulated from local opinion, but they may be very remote from expert evidence of the dangers of the dump. Additionally, on the information available, there is no way of knowing if they are an elite of some kind, or simply the people who happened to be prepared to take on the work.
Why is it difficult to tell if a group of which you are a member is suffering from groupthink?
A defining characteristic of groupthink is that each member (and that includes you) genuinely concurs in the decisions made by the group; hence it is difficult to take the step of looking at the group's decisions in a fresh light.
References for Reading 2
Belbin, R.M. (1981) Management Teams, Heinemann.
Belbin, R.M. (1993) Team Roles at Work, Butterworth-Heinemann.
Janis, I.L. (1972) Victims of Groupthink, Boston, Houghton Mifflin.
Lewis, R. and Lawton, J. (1992) 'The four functions of organizations -where does the individual fit in?', Journal of Strategic Change, Vol. 1, pp. 147–52.
Stanton, A. (1992) 'Learning from experience of collective teamwork', in Paton R., Cornforth C, and Batsleer, J. (eds) Issues in Voluntary and Nonprofit Management, pp. 95–103, Addison-Wesley in association with the Open University.
Tuckman, B.W. (1965) 'Developmental sequence in small groups', Psychological Bulletin, vol. 63.
Tuckman, B.W. and Jensen, M. (1977) 'Stages of small group development revisited', Groups and Organization Studies, vol. 2, pp. 419–27.