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Group Work and Their Goals

Updated May 2, 2022
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Group Work and Their Goals essay

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Introduction

Human behavior is defined and exists around groups. Groups play a vital role in helping us thrive within diverse settings, achieve goals, solve complex problems, and provide unique perspectives while decreasing stagnation of new ideas. In order to further analyze the importance and theories of groups, this paper will take an in-depth look at complex aspects of groups by examining our seven member class group project. Our group was assigned a topic and asked to give a short lecture paired with an interactive activity in class. Over the course of this paper I will cover this group experience from eight different aspects of group work including formation and development, goals, roles and responsibilities, patterns of communication, group power, decision making, conflict and conflict resolution, and group performance. Over these eight aspects I will tie in the use of theory and evidence to examine specific group experiences during the six week span and describe key takeaways from the experience.

Group Formation and Development

The initial phase in our group commenced the day we formed in class. This represented the first of the four Sequential Stage Theories, defined as forming. Tuckman, Humphreys and Lloyd (1965) note, “During the initial stage, task development is characterized by indirect attempts to discover the nature and boundaries of the task, i.e., what is to be accomplished and how much cooperation is demanded” (p. 388). Initially, we were assigned our group at random, given the Normative Model of Decision Making and some directives on the assignment.

Our group formed with all members present, with the exception of S, who was absent that day. Members included S, J, C, F, V, K, and myself. We pulled our desks into a circle, introduced ourselves and one of our natural leaders, J, first emerged. She began working on facilitating a decision on our name, suggested we brainstorm ideas, and we came up with our group name as S.E.E.D. Our own strengths were discussed, and our names and contacts were exchanged in a group text thread. By the time our first meeting was over we had split roles into subgroups with a loose understanding of our individual responsibilities.

Our group skipped from the initial phase of forming into further relational development called norming, which is defined as the development of group cohesion (Tuckman, Humphreys, & Lloyd, 1965). We morphed from strangers on our first week of school to team members in an academic group setting. As Bales Equilibrium Theory examines the ideas that groups continue to seek equilibrium by vacillating between task-oriented focus and an emotional needs focus (Kirst-Ashman, 2010), our group developed over time into this ebb and flow.

The classroom meetings were primarily focused on individual tasks and neglected the emotional focus possibly because of time constraint and also due to the formal classroom setting. The group hit some speed bumps which slowed us down due to confusion of roles and lack of cohesive involvement, which is defined as the storming phase (Tuckman et al., 1965). It wasn’t until K organized our weekly library meetings that the group had additional time to get to know each other beyond the task sphere. This point is when we became the most cohesive and developed what Johnson would describe as entitativity, “the perception that a group is a unified and coherent whole in which the members are bonded together” (Johnson & Johnson, 2009, p. 108-109).

To bolster the idea that focusing on a groups emotional needs causes greater group cohesion, researchers Moore & Mamiseishvili found that, with 157 graduate students group cohesion went up when group members presented higher emotional intelligence and spent time tending to emotional needs (Moore & Mamiseishvili, 2012). In the library we learned about F’s role as a mom, K’s recent wedding, and J’s other job for a publishing company to name a few examples. We had a longer time frame to define roles, accomplish tasks and connect on an emotional level within the four meetings held two hours each. This led to successful preparation and presentation of our lecture and activity. Tuckman defines this phase as performing (Tuckman et al., 1965). Moving through these phases of formation and development allowed us to establish positive interdependence as a group because we shared common goals and each of our outcomes effected each other (Johnson & Johnson, 2009, p. 91).

 Group Goals

Group goals ultimately provide a harmony and a common fate among members (Johnson et al., 2009). These goals have five key elements. First, group goals should be specific. Secondly, goals should be easily trackable and measurable. Thirdly, all goals should be achievable but still provide a challenge. Additionally, they should be relevant to the specific group. Lastly, they must be transferable to the end results of the group. These goals can be defined as operational because they create ways in which to follow and execute them effectively. (Johnson et al., 2009)

Group S.E.E.D. followed goal setting in a nonlinear fashion. Initially, overarching goals were loose and assumed to be accepted by the group. For example, it was assumed we all want to do well on the presentation and activity, but we failed to set down specific operational goals, like we want to complete 3/4 of the powerpoint slides by week three. We did track task centered goals each week which included individual goals to be accomplished for the next meeting. We did not set more measurable goals like we want to score a 95% on our grade. Some of our goals fell short of being both achievable and challenging, such as F’s goal of formatting slides. The task proved to be menial to F and as a result she spent little time or effort on the formatting. Conversely K’s goal of editing the video proved to be challenging which resulted in an edited video that exceeded our expectations. This reiterates that goals should be challenging and not too easy in order to be effective. Our weekly task oriented goals were relevant, pertained to completing the task, and moved us towards our goal of successfully preparing and presenting the class activity.

Roles and Responsibilities

Roles define behaviors for individuals, help create structure, and can lead to cohesive groups. In Systems Theory, roles are defined as a culturally expected behavior patterns for a person having a specified status or being involved in a designated social relationship (Dale, Smith, Norlin & Chess, 2009 p.47) Roles tend to change constantly within a group system and can be either formal, like the role defined to K as the video editor, or roles are informal and not as clearly definable, like S as the free thinker (Kirst-Ashman, 2010). Certain formal leadership roles emerged such as J in the first meeting and K when we needed to produce the group video. Originally in our first meeting we divided responsibilities for the project into pairs and placed F and S with the role to define and explain the theory/concept, V and K with the role of presenting evidence supporting the theory or concept, C and myself with the responsibility to critically analyze the evidence.

After discussion in our third class meeting, F, myself, and C expressed a need to reorient and develop more appropriate roles. During our first library meeting we were able to restructure our goals. I created an agenda template to use as our structure for each meeting. K, J and my role fell into the creative task of coming up with the activity and finding videos. Group members F, V, S and C worked on more structural tasks such as the slides and definition aspects. We hit the norming phase when our roles changed to align with our strengths and we met together in person to collaborate. Tuckman (1965) explains this phase, “when resistance is overcome and feelings of cohesiveness develop, new standards evolve, and new roles are adopted” (p. 396). Face to face communication aided in defining our roles for the presentation where it was determined that S would the be time keeper, J, K, and C would be presenters, V and F would be facilitators, and I would be the activity facilitator.

Patterns of Communication

Communication in groups is key to creating a successful and inclusive environment. Kirst-Ashman highlights four effective aspects for communication in groups. First, there must be an open communication structure that encourages everyone to participate. Our group created a group text to allow information and communication to flow freely as well as library meetings to allow feedback in an open and cooperative environment. Secondly, groups seek out feedback from members. Our group did not actively seek feedback from other group members, but J would check in occasionally at weekly meetings. Thirdly, members provide feedback to the group. Our group provided feedback but it was not presented in a succinct and organized way, for example S did not like the idea of videos and her feedback was listened to but not formally considered for revisions. Lastly, the group can effectively utilize both internal and external feedback to improve group functioning. (Kirst-Ashman, 2010)

Our methods and platforms of communication consisted of group texts, Google drive docs, one Skype session before our presentation, in class discussions, and in-person weekly meetings. Our communication patterns represented an “open communication structure” (Kirst-Ashman, 2010) encouraging members to participate through texts and weekly dialogues. The leaders of the group, such a J, would reiterate the feedback and discussion during these meetings. Our communication was also written down in our weekly agendas to clarify discussions and clearly express goals and assigned tasks facilitated by C. In class we formed into our circle but due to the loud environment and class size we broke out into sub groups with others sitting closer to us. Over the course of the group project the most communication happened face to face.

Group Power

Power can be defined as having influence over others and is further defined as having influence over psychological change (French & Raven, 1959, p. 150) Group power dynamics can mold and change the way a group functions together and the way they think. The dynamics within our group were ever changing depending on who was pulling for resources and what task we were working on. A dynamic interdependence was developed, meaning our power shifted and influence changed depending on where the focus flowed. (French & Raven, 1959) According to French & Raven, expert power is implemented when a group member presumes power over the group because they have information that other members may not have. This type of power became the major player in our group power dynamics (French & Raven, 1959). For example, when the entire group met on our fourth meeting, K was tasked with filming, directing and editing our sketch She held the power within the group because she had the knowledge of how to work the camera, edit the video, and create the video content. When I was working on the group activity and assigning facilitator roles the power shifted towards me.

Not all power was spread evenly, and more assertive members tended to take leadership roles where they held the power in the group. Members with non-dominant personality types such as V who didn’t feel confident to self assign roles contributed to some free-riding. This explanation of involuntary free riding occurs when low-status group members become more inclined to defer to other team members or not express opinions at all. (Hall & Buzzwell, 2013) J, K, and myself ended up taking on more and V did less possibly because of this phenomena. It is also interesting to note that in research done on small groups in a college setting, 40% of members reported that only a few people dominate in the group setting (Hillyard, Gillespie, & Littig, 2010). In order to create a more inclusive environment groups can look at ways to transfer power to non-dominant members and given them space to speak up, described as group-directed leadership (Kirst-Ashman, 2010).

Decision Making

Together, groups can make constructive and well informed decisions or they can produce ill informed and destructive decisions. The Functional Theory of Decision Making explains that skilled groups will utilize procedures that will enhance the way they gather, analyze and weigh information to make decisions. The theory mobilizes four areas including orientation, discussion, decision, and implementation. (Forsyth, 2009) For this section we will look at how our group made decisions and implemented them throughout the group process.

The first decision our group made together was to decide on a name. This was utilized through a form of brainstorming. Our group utilized the skill of what Forsyth defines as brainwriting, where new ideas are generated writing ideas down as a group (Forsyth, 2009). J pulled out a piece of paper and we wrote out things that define us, after looking at the paper in which we all wrote words we pulled out the top ideas of social change, empathy, empowerment, and diversity to spell out the acronym S.E.E.D. This initial way of making a decision as a group set a normalized process for some of the brainstorming techniques we would utilize down the line.

The second bigger decision of roles in the group was originally guided by J who split the roles up in our first meeting and we decided to work in pairs. This became a conflict within our group because we decided on roles very swiftly and created bolstering, which is defined as making decisions too quickly without having all the information (Forsyth, 2009).

Smaller and more individualized decisions existed within our subgroups, and mobilized the use of what Fosyth defines as delegating decisions. This is a way to make decisions where single group members or subgroups of the larger group make the decision for the whole (Forsyth, 2009). Examples of this in our group including F choosing the Google slide format, K picking the room and scheduling it for our meetings, and my role of creating the activity worksheet. Allowing members to make more autonomous decisions on lesser tasks helped with time management and allowed individuals to work more efficiently on their specialized task.

Another primary decision to be made was deciding what we would do for the group activity. Utilizing what can be defined as the Consult Group Method from Vroom’s Normative Model of Decision Making (Forsyth, 2009), I consulted with the group as a whole through group text messages to receive feedback in order to land on the activity. After the initial text messages, I created the zombie survival activity and reviewed with the group again in our meetings to get more feedback and approval of how the activity would be run. This proved effective to weed out bad ideas and make the best decision on the activity. Feedback allowed for group buy-in and J came up with the idea of the leader card which I implemented in the activity, proving that new ideas from members can lead to a more holistic and better group process (Forsyth, 2009).

Overall, mirroring the Functional Theory of decision making, our group evolved through the stages of orientation, discussion, decision and implementation. The most powerful processes we focused on were the areas of orientation and discussion phases. From the weekly library meetings, to the Google docs agenda and group text messages, we kept dialogue going to make well informed decisions. The group implemented several different methods in decision making which allowed for implementation of goals.

Conflict

Conflict in groups can create a competing or cooperating environment depending on how it is utilized. In the first initial phases in our group before knowing what was fully expected of us, our roles were confusing, and we did not yet know each other we presented intragroup conflict. In this theory, there are three types of conflict, the third being process conflict which occurs when there are disagreements about assignments of roles and resources (Behfar, Mannix, Peterson, & Trochim, 2011) We didn’t make time to meet the first few weeks, we had very limited time, and our roles were vague. This prompted us to correct the original conflicting dynamics with communication, setting down specific meeting times, and creating an agenda with weekly roles. Our group needed to have cognitive closure, which Forsyth describes as a need to have definite answers on roles rather than a vague uncertainty (Forsyth, 2009). Once this was defined our conflicting attitudes shifted and our goals began to align to work together cohesively. Behar found “There is evidence that process conflict can prompt group members to ask for help, clarify roles, revisit assumptions about the use of resources, set and plan for deadlines and timelines, and allocate work more effectively” (Behar et al., 2011) This initial conflict ultimately led us to adjust and work better towards our goal.

Group Performance

Much of what the group experienced aligned with the theories underlying Forsyth’s explanation of Social Facilitation Theory. This theory finds that groups tend to perform better when they are being observed or in the mere presence of others (Forsyth, D.R., 2009) Our group was the most productive and performed at a higher level when we met in the library study room and could observe each other’s work. An example is when we sat down to go over the slides on my computer which was plugged into the large screen, the group observed together and we went through slide by slide to edit and organize the information in a logical manner. We seemed to accomplish more than working individually at home or outside of the group meetings in the presence of each other.

The group performance was ultimately tested during our group lecture and group activity. The Evaluation Apprehension Theory by Cottrell assumes individuals have learned that other people are the source of rewards and punishments, and we associate social situations, like giving a group presentation in front of the professor and the class, as a situation of evaluation, which will cause some apprehension and create motivation to enhance the performance of the group (Forsyth, 2009, p. 288). The thought of an evaluative judgment for our group, such as the grade, caused us to work towards positive outcomes and perform at a higher level. Pulling from Uziel’s Social Orientation Theory, the individuals in our group like J, K, and myself who naturally display more outgoing personalities demonstrated a positive orientation during the group presentation when speaking or presenting in front of the class. The more socially apprehensive members of our group, or those that demonstrate a more negative orientation, like F, V, and C didn’t perform as well. Particularly C tended to stumble a little more over her words when presenting her piece of the presentation, where J was more calm and collected when presenting her portion. (Forsyth, 2009, p. 289)

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