The relevance of group work is visible in various work environments, including in the academic environment, where the sense of unity and feeling of belonging to a group proves to be a significant element in successfully delivering projects. The current paper is a reflection regarding my experience within the group, developed within the term of the course, compared to the concepts and theories retracted from the textbook. This reflection paper will describe the stages that marked the evolution of the group, the dynamics that defined the group, the group structure that was formed, as well as discussions about intergroup and intra – group conflicts, inherent in groups.
Evolution of the group/team over the term
Gibson, Ivanchevich, Bonnely & Konipaske (2009) underline five stages in the process of the evolution and development of a group, from the incipient stage to its maturity: forming (in which the team members get acquainted with each other), storming (in which the conflict is emphasized as the group members are arguing and experimenting roles, attempting to attain leadership positions, defining like this the hierarchy within the group), norming (where the members of the group start to collaborate and group cohesion is enhanced in this stage), performing (where the members of the group develop a structure, a hierarchy and norms, focusing on accomplishing goals efficiently) and adjourning (where the group accomplished its goals and prepares to disband).
The experience within the group that I have worked in the term of this course is quite similar with this model proposed in the textbook, but not entirely. In the first phase there was acknowledged that two of the four group members knew of each other from previous courses, but we were formally introduced with all our group members in a face to face meeting. Previous to that meeting we were informed that we will be part of a group, composed of various members, and a description of each individual that was to be part of the group was available as the support materials that we received regarding the group formation. This gave us time to already find out more about all the members and get accustomed with them, beyond the actual interaction with them from previous courses. In the formation phase we got to know each other better, beyond the sheets of papers that described our experience, our abilities or our likes and dislikes. The dynamics of the groups rapidly lead to argumentation over various subjects, which also conducted to the proliferation of the leader or the group, of the support team members assuring academic proficiency, accuracy and the talent (creativity and original thinking). In the stage that followed, we passed over our arguments and due to a strong leadership we were set and persuaded to follow the same goals, which developed the cohesiveness within the team. However, in this stage the storming stage popped out again, as several disputes appeared over the goals that needed to be followed in the group, defining distinct visions that described the fight over the leadership position within the group. Nevertheless, this dispute never outburst into a conflict due to inspired leadership traits, as the initial selected leader pursued no leadership interests and solely advised on what was the best strategies to be pursued for attaining the objectives and goals that the group had to meet and because he showed logic of argumentation and he inspired the other group members, the dispute was closed. In addition, the team became more focused on the goals, and all team member understood properly their roles. This episode actually brought us closer to the maturity phase in the group evolution, as the group started to perform in unity, accomplishing goals due to a solid vision, but also to the innovative talents, of proficient academic writers or accurate researchers that were part of the team and of the great group cohesion that appeared within the group. Finally, we had reached also the adjourning stage, where we completed all our goals, which also meant the end of the team, which came with sadness but also with achieving a great group working experience.
Gibson et al. (2009, p. 230) define the group as a “collection of individuals in which behavior and/or performance of one member is influenced by behavior and/or performance of other members”. Within our group we were influenced by each other to absorb more theories and concepts regarding leadership and organizational behavior that eventually underlined our group behavior, characterized by the criticality with which the group members were receiving the gathered information.
When analyzing the group/team dynamics, there are various aspects that need to be considered, such as the group type, the group structure, the group behavior that develops according the type and structure that define them, or the group conflict (Gibson et al., 2009).
Levin (1939, in Kellerman, 1996, p. 10) defines the group dynamics as “social forces in the group-as-a-whole that disturb the interpersonal relations between members of a group, depicting the group as an entity in itself, being something more than the composition of its members, having unitary (concealed, often), goals, values, behaviors, communication styles or power and developing various interpersonal conflicts or constraints.
Nevertheless, as the theory revealed, within groups there can be much hatred, or certain team members can have a slower rhythm of learning or of keeping up with the rest of the team. These challenges can act as factors that can determine a subjective opinion about one’s involvement in the team, impacting his/her individual performances, but also the group’s performances. This can interfere with the motivation, as the group members might feel as they have been treated fairly for their efforts or not, hence, being further motivated or not to continue working. We did come across this type of situations during our work together as a group, where some group members were considering that their contribution to the project was disregarded, generating tension within the group and because of this they were not motivated to continue working, letting the other colleagues work more. When they understood that this was not fair for the others, they got back in the game and contributed further to the development of the project.
Referring to the dynamics from within groups and teams, Lumsden, Lumsden and Wiethoff (2010) observe that the individuals’ opinions and attitudes regarding their association or involvement in groups or teams differ greatly: while some are very excited at the opportunity of working in groups and teams, other reject this idea, and sometimes there is even a lot of group hate. Group hate was never the case within our case, but differences in opinion did appear here and there.
In my team work experience in a group, I have encountered various dynamics in the group and between the group members. First of all, the group that I worked in was a formal type of group, where all the members had clearly defined responsibilities and positions within the group and they all accomplished mainly task activities, defined by each member’s actual involvement in the project (researching, writing, communicating the findings or the advancement within the project) meaning that it was a task group most of the time; task group, along command group are subtypes of formal groups, as described by Gibson et al. (2009) and as our group was mainly performing task activities, it was a task group.
Researchers found that the characteristics of a team (such as the team members’ relations, the communication that they develop (social and electronic communication), team leadership) have a significant impact on the team dynamics, affecting its effectiveness (Kalantzis & Cope, 2003). The relations between the team members within our group were friendly and collegial and we developed a good collaboration, both socially and virtually, coordinated by an effective leadership. Regarding the communication and working relations, we met on campus during and after classes and developed constant communication through emails for developing our project, hence, according to Kalantzis and Cope (2003) we met all the requirements for achieving effectiveness.
Being a young group and sharing most of the times similar interests in terms of music, movies, sports or leisure time activities, within our group, there were also developed informal relations, defining informal groups, characterized by discussing about other subjects than the ones that defined our project. We developed, therefore friendship groups, but there were not proliferated interest groups (Gibson et al., 2009).
Maintaining good relations, both in formal and in informal environment can determine the cohesion of the team, visible through the a good and effective communication, but also through a compact and integrated working environment, which encourage initiatives and motivates the group members to proactively engage in the group’s activities (Kalantzis & Cope, 2003).
Besides the actual fun we had in spending time together, we also contributed to maintaining good working relations and the informal nature of our relations helped us in formally working together and contributed to an effective communication.
As Gibson et al. (2009) perceives it, a group structure is defined by the pattern of relationships that are formed among the group members, holding certain positions within the group, either a formal or informal group and within a group there are various types of structures that can evolve through time, in terms of members’ expertise, aggressive impulse, power, leadership abilities or status, given by the prestige of the position occupied within the group.
A group is composed of people who have various experiences with the team setting, coming from their previous expectancies, their investment (time and effort), personal characteristics, gender, culture, or the ability to deal with the pressure (Lumsden, Lumsden & Wiethoff, 2010) and this impacts their involvement or commitment in the current or future groups that they will be parts of. Whatever the individuals’ likes or dislikes and regardless of their attitudes about the idea of working in a group, groups need leaders, for defining the constants from within teams, for determining individuals to act towards the same direction (not in opposite or chaotic directions), committed to the goal that they need to achieve together, doing whatever they can for reaching the needed work conditions for getting the jobs done (Yarbrough, 2009).
In my group, being a formal study group, the structures evolved not on the basis of status, given by the prestige of the position held in the group as Gibson et al (2009) indicated, but based on the involvement of the team members, and on the abilities and aptitudes of each group member. The structure of our group imposed a group leader, who demonstrated great coordination abilities, but also academic proficiency and accuracy, hence he benefited of a great prestige within the group, being highly respected and having authority exercising control over all the members of the group who perceived him as a leadership figure, as he also expressed great leadership skills. The group I worked in developed structural tendencies in terms of experience, as also indicated in the textbook, but also in terms of developing a critical analytical thinking, which was a distinctive characteristic of our group, which encouraged autonomy and decision making processes and accustomed the group members with the idea of analytically evaluating facts and information. Within the informal groups, as Gibson et al. (2009) indicate, there were created structures based on the internal initiatives of the group members (mostly regarding the informal organization of free time activities).
Kellerman (1996) indicated that a specificity of the groups is the fact that the structuring that occurs within the group as a result of the power exercised by its members can generate tensions, constraints on conflicts. Within my groups there were not generated conflicts because of the power structure, and there existed actually no conflict, therefore, we worked from the beginning to the end of the project relaxed and in a good atmosphere, generated by relaxed relations among the team members, which allowed our group to develop effective work.
As Gibson et al. (2009) observe, as companies grow, increasing the number of individuals working there and the number of groups from within the company, so does the organizational effectiveness, fostering either cooperation or conflict, where the conflict appears as a result of the difference in the goals followed by various groups from the company.
Discussing about intergroup conflict, the authors also distinct between functional and dysfunctional conflict, wherein the functional conflict appears as a confrontation between groups from which the organization can benefit and which needs not being removed, and the dysfunctional conflict appears also as a confrontation between groups that contravenes the organizational performances, hence, it needs to be removed (Gibson et al., 2009).
The dysfunctional conflicts that appear between groups have various sources, such as different goals (that appear mostly when having to use the same resources or in the case of the reward structures) or different perceptions and they can generate changes within the groups (either increasing coherence and loyalty within certain groups, while rising the authority and the focus on activity), changes between groups (manifested through distorted perceptions about the significance over a group over the other(s), negative stereotyping of other groups and miscommunication) (Gibson et al., 2009).
In the work context where I activated, my group had several silent competition with other groups, however, there was no dysfunctional conflict among our group and other groups, as we encouraged competition and we liked to be challenged, and maybe the other groups liked it too. Compared to what Gibson et al. conceptualized, there was no avoidance in communicating with other groups, on the contrary, we knew that effective feedback is significant both for the other groups and for our group and we engaged in constructive critic of each other groups’ activities, proposing even new approaches. This friendly competitive environment engaged us, and we managed to avoid the stress and the tension that Gibson et al. (2009) presents as a consequence of the intergroup conflict.
This produced a positive energy within our group, determining us to proactively become more involved in our tasks, defining an effective environment for the successful completion of the project, as there appeared a sense of unity and a feeling of belonging to a group. Regarding the intra-group conflicts Gibson et al. (2009) gives little significance to this subject, noting solely that it represents a source of stress. Tsuno et al. (2009) define it as a context where disagreements or differences appear among the members of the same group regarding the goals, the functions or activities of the group, and it has been associated with health related problems such as burn out, depression, insomnia, even heavy drinking or organizational problems such as underperformance, group ineffectiveness or job dissatisfaction.
Stress, tension, burnout where never issues within our group, as we did not experience conflict. Because we aligned our visions towards following the same goals and because we agreed on how we will meet the set goals by defining the responsibilities of each group member, we cooperated in a professional manner, developing our project in a smooth way, as no stress or tension factors were impacting our work. Our working together implied collegial meetings during the courses and friendly reunions after courses for evaluating our work and further establishing the steps of the project. We developed good face to face communication, as all the team members where both active listeners and assertive communicators, and our virtual communication was also professionally handled, therefore there was no reason for stress to appear as a result of the conflicts, because there were no conflicts within our group.
As Tsuno et al. (2009) further state, according to a recently underpinned research, intra – group conflicts causes a reduction of the work engagement and it mostly appears because of various inter-personal conflicts. All the members of the team got along very well, and there was sensed an attractiveness (Gibson et al., 2009) for working together, therefore there were no interpersonal conflict among us and we were all very much engaged in our activities.
Working in a group can be a challenging experience, but in the same time a very rich one for the personal development of an individual. From my experience as a member of the group that evolved during the term, I have gained the experience of developing a project, defining a structure and milestones, working with other people, developing the sense of togetherness, and understanding that the group is an entity in itself. We all contributed to developing the group and we influenced the dynamics of the groups through our interpersonal relations and/or our group activities, formal or informal. I also understood the significance of separating tasks and activities for the effective progress of the unfolded project and that there is no such thing as a dysfunctional conflict when we have the same goal, good interpersonal relations and effective communication. Now, in the adjourning phase of the project, I look back with pleasure to what I have learned and look ahead with enthusiasm into putting my gained group experience into work within a new similar activity.
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Kellerman, P., F. (1996) “Interpersonal conflict management in group psychotherapy: an integrative perspective”. Group Analysis, vol. 29, pp. 257 - 275
Lumsden, G, Lumsden, D, L & Wiethoff, C, 2010. Communicating in groups and teams: sharing leadership.Boston: Wadsworth.
Tsuno, K., Kawaka Mi, N., Inoue, A., Ishikazi, M., Tabata, M., Tsuchiya, M., Akiyama, M, Kitazume, A., Kuroda, M. & Shimazu, A. (2009) “Intragroup and intergroup conflict at work, psychological distress, and work engagement in a sample of employees in Japan”. Industrial Health. Vol. 47, pp. 649 – 648.
Yarbrough, B, T, 2009. Module 1: leading groups and teams. Mason: South – Western Cengage Learning.