The Group and the Organization
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The social-psychological theories that apply to behavior in small groups also apply to behavior in organizations (certainly in principle), as well as to small networks and large networks, including those devoted to social action or conflict resolution. This is especially true when the persons in the network are connected through computer-video communication. Both groups and networks may be either formal, having roles designated by their organization, or informal, with roles developed to satisfy the needs of the members in cliques or cabals or to facilitate the achievement of organizational goals.
The main influence of the organization on the small group is to define the mission of the group. The organization is part of the “external system” of the group that includes the society and the environment. In addition to setting the goal for the group, the organization may also have an influence by providing facilities for the task, including the design of the work space and means for electronic communication, or by setting norms for the types of roles that may be played.
In terms of functional theory, some groups are bound more by their equipment, such as air crews, some by the product, such as manufacturing groups, and some by the rules of the game, such as sports teams. Some groups are not bound by any existing equipment, product, or rules but have a task to develop new concepts and discover new relationships, such as scientific research teams. Within each type of group a further differentiation can be made according to the amount of integration and role differentiation required.
Small groups or informal networks can be the key to increased (or decreased) productivity if they are involved in problem solving or they can develop norms that are counter to those of the organization and decrease productivity. Just as individuals can play different roles in small groups, so small groups can play different roles in organizations. Some of these roles are formal, some informal, and some dramaturgical.
Most of the systems for implementing organizational change involve small groups, for example, by introducing “quality circles” for workers or “team building” for managers.
In the 1990s a major concern in the USA dealt with the influence of “diversity” in the composition of groups with regard to differences in members’ backgrounds in terms of gender, race, age, personality, skills, or other variables. Variance on any of these factors is associated with differences in meaning, resources, integration, and goal-attainment for a group. Members of homogeneous groups may find it easier to get along with each other but diversity in a group may make it easier to solve complex problems.
Leadership is a hardy perennial for research on groups, where a charismatic leader whose power rests upon the devotion to the sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person is contrasted with a transformational leader who can bring followers to move beyond their self-interest and commit themselves to a higher moral responsibility. Charismatic leaders may affirm group members’ identities while transformational leaders may increase commitment.
In the same period there was a sudden interest in group support systems that made it possible, using computers or telecommunications, for individuals to make decisions from different geographic locations. Computerized work organizations typically have fewer hierarchical levels, a bifurcated work force, frequently with race and sex segregation, a less formal structure, and diminished use of internal labor markets with reliance instead on external credentialing. The use of group support systems has positive main effects on decision quality, number of ideas generated, and equality of participation, but negative main effects in terms of time to reach a decision, consensus, and satisfaction.