The Characteristics of Groups in Organizational Behavior

by Jim Molis - Updated October 30, 2018
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Entrepreneurs may build companies, but their people make them go. Businesses succeed when leaders and employees pursue organizational goals together. Recognizing the characteristics of a group can help you form high-performing teams that enable you to grow your company and please your people.

How Do You Define a Group in Organizational Behavior?

Studies have shown that teams can accomplish more than individuals, particularly when a mix of skills, experience and insights are needed to complete tasks or attain goals. A group consists of two or more people with common goals and shared interests. It may be created by an organization or the people within the organization. Group members interact with one another and are interdependent. The group succeeds or fails collectively. It may disband when it has succeeded or when it has failed to fulfill its purpose. Or it may pursue new goals together.

What Types of Groups are in Organizations?

There are two types of groups in organizational behavior:

Formal Groups

Your company may form groups of employees to focus on particular problems or opportunities. These formal groups may take the form of:

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  • Command groups that report to a manager.
  • Task groups that may be charged with a defined purpose like developing a product or establishing new workplace policies.
  • Functional groups that have ongoing responsibilities for departments like accounting or marketing.

Informal Groups

Individuals may form groups independently of the organization, and these groups may take the form of:

  • Interest groups formed around hobbies.
  • Friendship groups that can come about when employees share multiple interests or values.
  • Reference groups that are created when members volunteer to hold themselves to certain standards like in terms of ethical behavior.

How Do Groups Influence Organizational Behavior?

Groups can move your business forward or hold it back. For example, if the group that's comprised of all of your employees follows all of your rules and meets all of your performance standards, then your success is virtually assured. But if groups of employees resist direction or do shoddy work, then your company may struggle.

Encouraging optimal performance while correcting substandard work can usually help your company improve. Employees often like to feel a sense of belonging, but they also value their independence. Properly managing groups can help you optimize employee performance. Factors like group size, resources and dynamics can affect the performance of groups, which in turn influences organizational behavior.

What are the Characteristics of a Group in Organizational Behavior?

Purpose

Whether it's for the company as a whole or for a group in particular, groups have a shared purpose and mission. You may also define specific goals and objectives around the mission and purpose. Then your groups can break work into tasks that they can complete together or through their members as individuals. Members share a commitment to fulfilling the group’s purpose and apply their various competencies in achieving its goals.

Roles

Each group member has a role. Their ability and willingness to fulfill the responsibilities of that role influence the group’s success. Roles may be assigned formally or informally. Members may have multiple roles simultaneously.

Task-oriented roles are associated with how members work for the group. Examples include clarifier, information seeker or provider, informer, initiator, reality tester and summarizer.

Relationship-oriented roles apply to how members interact with one another. Examples include compromiser, consensus tester, encourager, gatekeeper and harmonizer.

Individual-oriented roles relate to how a member behaves. Such roles include aggressor, avoidance, blocker, cavalier and dominator.

Norms

Norms govern how group members behave. There may be written rules like for attendance or just known expectations like for punctuality. Aligning norms with your company’s goals can improve organizational effectiveness. Norms can change as the group evolves.

Pivotal norms are required for membership while peripheral norms are wanted. The extent to which a member accepts the group’s norms is called individual adjustment. Members conform by accepting both pivotal and peripheral norms. If they reject both types of norms, they're considered to be in open revolution. A member is considered to be expressing creative individualism if they only accept the pivotal norms but not the peripheral. Acceptance of the peripheral norms but not the pivotal norms is considered subversive rebellion. The group may exert pressure to make nonconforming members conform.

Cohesiveness

Cohesiveness describes the members’ willingness to stick with the group. The greater the group’s cohesion is, the more committed its members are to belonging. Cohesive groups tend to have charismatic leaders and support each member’s growth. They also have goals that are aligned with members’ goals.

Groups with high cohesiveness can persevere through conflicts that would scuttle teams whose members are less committed. Cohesiveness typically increases over time as members develop stronger relationships built upon shared experiences. Employees who are in cohesive groups are often more satisfied and engaged than counterparts who aren't.

Tasks

The tasks you assign to a group can affect the productivity and satisfaction of its members.

Task Type

Tasks can be classified by activity. Production tasks require a group to produce an outcome, such as ideas, while discussion tasks require it to evaluate issues. Problem-solving tasks require a group to provide direction for resolving an issue.

Performing Requirements

Group members complete disjunctive tasks through their individual efforts, while the completion of conjunctive tasks depends on their combined work. Additive tasks measure productivity by combining the outputs of each group member.

Status

Status is also one of the characteristics of a group. It assesses the worth and respect accorded to an individual by their fellow members. A member’s status may be derived from their standing within the group as well as their position within the organization. A manager will be perceived to have a higher status than one of her employees, for example.

A group usually is more effective if its highest-status members contribute the most, thus leading by example. But a group’s effectiveness could diminish if the members with the highest statuses don't contribute as much as they could or should.

Structure

Groups have leaders, whether they're appointed or not. When you put someone in charge of a group, its members may or may not follow them based on their leadership. Look for leaders who members will respect, see as capable and work for out of loyalty.

A group also has systems and processes, such as for communication. You may have distribution lists for emails among group members, for example. Members require resources as well, like time and money to accomplish their purpose. They also should have all of the necessary skills collectively. You can increase a group’s effectiveness by giving it more resources and helping it to make the most of what they get.

What's Group Dynamics?

Group dynamics addresses the behaviors and attitudes of groups, looking at issues like how they're formed, structured and operate. Studying group dynamics can help you learn what influences how groups perform and to discover how members interact.

High-performing groups share characteristics like the willingness to connect to one another without going through the team leader and conducting all conversations within the team. Members also are energized through face-to-face communication and alternate talking and listening equally. Other positive examples of group dynamics in organizational behavior include comfort among its members, candid sharing of opinions and feelings and decision-making by consensus.

About the Author

Jim Molis has more than 20 years of experience writing for and about businesses. He has been a business reporter for the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, a managing editor of the Atlanta Business Chronicle and an editor of the Jacksonville Business Journal. He also has written for management consultants, professional services firms and numerous publications as a freelancer.

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