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Group Dynamics

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. – Helen Keller

We constantly work as groups or teams everyday. Groups are people interacting within a specified time.

Groups become TEAMS when they:

  • Are two or more people that share a common goal and social structure
      • A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and a common approach that they hold themselves mutually accountable (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993)
  • Form
      • Because of commonalities: interests, purpose/goal, organized activities, similar characteristics, needs, values, expectations, etc.
      • For survival - families, communities
      • Because of location or circumstance
      • As a result of relationships, social interactions, chance, etc.
      • Examples include personal and social relationships, work groups, neighborhoods, organizations, committees, sport teams, assignment groups, etc.
  • Are time bound (limited existence)
  • Are in constant flux (dynamic)
  • Require effort to be effective and productive
  • Teamwork is an individual skill, (Avery, 2001)

Strategies for Success

  • Establish clear group/team expectations BEFORE first meeting
      • Group facilitator/leader is critical in helping shape member expectations
      • Create a context for discussion, brainstorming, decision-making and dialogue
          • Bohm's Principles of Dialogue (more on dialogue)
              • The group agrees that no group-level decisions will be made in the conversation
              • Each individual agrees to suspend judgement in the conversation
              • As these individuals "suspend judgement" they also simultaneously are as honest and transparent as possible
              • Individuals in the conversation try to build on other individuals' ideas in the conversation
  • SMART goals
      • Clearly established expectations
      • Activities and experiences must be perceived as meaningful and worthwhile
  • Assigning specific roles and/or responsibilities
      • Utilize team and individual strengths
      • "....clear definition of roles is a hallmark of effective collaboration." (Useem, 2006)
  • Establish mutual accountability for meeting these roles and/or responsibilities
      • A common fate
  • Identify team rules/guidelines for negotiation and decision-making
  • Periodic self-reflection to identify ways to more effectively
      • Contribute and use my skills
      • Support teammates
      • Communicate (speak and listen)
      • Identify methods for individual and group recognition

Inhibitors of Group/Team Development

  • Davenport and Prusak (1998) suggest:
      • Lack of trust
      • Different cultures, vocabularies, and frames of reference
      • Lack of time and meeting places
      • Narrow idea of productive work
      • Status and rewards go to knowledge owners
      • Lack of absorptive capacity in recipients
      • Belief that knowledge is prerogative of particular groups
      • Intolerance for mistakes or need for help
      • Not-invented-here syndrome (own ideas and creations, nationalism, etc.)

Group Dynamics/Team Development Theory

Phase Model

  • Gersick's Punctuated Equilibrium Model (1988)
      • These phases occur regardless of the time bewteen formation and completion
      • Groups transition from a phase of inertia punctuated by a period of concentrated change
      • Time and context are defining characteristics
      • Phase One
          • First meeting is critical and establishes
              • Norms are established quickly
              • Pre-meeting member expectations and context for how the group will operate
          • "A framework of behavioral patterns and assumptions through which a group approaches its project emerges in its first meeting, and the group stays with that framework through the first half of its life," (Gersick, 1988, p. 32)
          • Little progress is made
      • Transition
          • Occurs 1/2 way between first meeting and goal/task completion date
          • Paradigmatic shifts occur from gradual learnings during phase one
          • Is "...a powerful opportunity for a group to alter the course of its life midstream," (Gersick, 1988, p. 32)
          • Alterations to group function beyond this point are unlikely
      • Phase Two
          • Group acts based on strategies/behaviors established during transition phase
          • Goal/task completion is when the group "experiences the positive and negative consequences of past choices," (Gersick, 1988, p. 32)

Linear Model

  • Tuckman, (1965) and later with Jensen (1977), proposed at least 4+ stages for a group/team (this will not apply to short-term teams)
      • Views society from a small group perspective
      • Progression through each stage indicative of group/team effectiveness
      • Involves a variety of skills and behaviors that must be negotiated and compromised
  • Tuckman (1965), and Tuckman and Jensen (1977) stages:
      • Forming
          • High dependence on leader(s) who need to direct and guide
          • Lack of commitment and interest
          • Unclear goals and group member roles
          • Hesitation, frustrations, and conflict are apparent
      • Storming
          • Power struggles
              • Catharsis (purging of emotions)
          • Testing of roles
              • Dissention and negotiation
              • Sub-groups may form
          • Leader coaches
      • Norming
          • Consensus reached
          • Roles are clearly defined
              • Member strengths are identified
          • Commitment and unity are strengths
          • Leader is a facilitator
          • Social bonds begin to establish
          • Challenges include:
              • Social loafing - exerting less effort toward a goal in a group than when performed individually (Karau and Williams, 1993)
                  • Lack of individual recognition
                  • Inability to be evaluated
                  • Increases with group size
              • Social facilitation - "An increase in effort in effort by a person working in a group," (Gagne and Zuckerman, 1993, p. 525)
                  • Typically only in easier tasks?
                  • Higher arousal or motivation
      • Performing
          • Shared vision and strong intra-team relationships
          • Seek delegation from leader
          • Creativity and confidence
          • Cohesion:
              • Cohesion – "the dynamic process that is reflected in the tendency of a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its instrumental objectives and/or for the satisfaction of member affective needs," (Carron, Brawley, and Widmeyer, 1998, p. 213)
                  • Attracts members, resists turnover, motivates individuals
                  • Correlates with
                      • The presence (or perceived presence) of outside threats (Useem, 2006)
                      • Increased self-esteem
                      • Increased trust and satisfaction
                      • Increased pressure to perform
                      • Drecreased anxiety
          • Attains:
              • Team efficacy - belief in capabilities to attain specific goal (Bandura, 1997)
              • Team potency - global belief in capabilities across multiple domains (Guzzo, Yost, Campbell, and Shea, 1993)
              • Combined, these result in setting higher goals, specific strategies, which persist during setbacks (Collins and Parker, 1993)
          • Challenges include:
              • Overbounding – build boundaries, limits productive outside help or input
              • Groupthink – conformity that suppresses dissent and critical thinking, and lacks tolerance for alternative perspectives
      • Adjourning/Reforming
          • Team, as is, dissolves
              • Recognition of achievements
              • Mourning and decline in motivation levels
              • Need for new goals and challenges for remaining members
          • New team members join
              • Team dynamics and capabilities change
              • New goals and purpose may be identified
  • More on Tuckman's stages - MIT

Performance Curve

Image source: Edison, T. (2008)

Other Factors to Consider


  • Each member MUST have an important and effective role
  • Odd number breaks ties, enables progress
      • 3-7, with the average optimal number being about 5 (Useem, 2006)


  • Diversity is at the heart of being a team
      • Demographic heterogeneity (e.g. gender, race, or age)
          • More likely to categorize/make judgments about others (Stroessner, 1996) particularly early in a teams development
          • Tends to impede the ability of group members to collaborate effectively/lower cooperation (Chatman and Flynn, 2001)
      • Heterogeneity of task relevant knowledge and personality types is more often associated with positive team outcomes (Mannix and Neale, 2005)
  • Seek a balance based on the purpose and/or tasks of the group, to include (Kozlowski and Ilgen, 2006)
      • Varying task-relevant perspectives and experiences
      • Personal task-relevant diversity (e.g., gender, culture, etc.)
      • Task-relevant work styles (e.g., detail-oriented, strategic thinkers, etc.)
  • High diversity of disciplines can improve outcomes

Characteristics of Membership?

  • Higher conscientiousness is positively related to team performance (Koslowski and Bell, 2003)
      • The relationship is stronger for performance and planning tasks than it is for creative and decision-making tasks
  • Higher intelligence among team members is positively related to goal achievement (Devine and Philips, 2001)
      • Team-level collective intelligence factor is related to group performance on a variety of tasks
  • Higher mean levels of extroversion are more effective than teams with lower levels of this personality trait (Kozlowski and Bell, 2003)

More on Group/Team Dynamics

References and Resources

Avery, C. (2001). Teamwork is an individual skill: Getting your work done when sharing responsibility. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efflcacy: The exercise of control. NY: W. H. Freeman and Comp

Carron, A., Brawley L., and Widmeyer, N. (1998). The measurement of cohesion in sport groups. In J.L. Duda (Ed.), Advances in sport and exercise psychology measurement (213-226). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology

Chatman, J. and Flynn, F. (2001). The influence of demographic heterogeneity on the mergence and consequences of cooperative norms in work teams. Academy of Management Journal, 44(5), 956-974

Collins, C. and Parker, S. (2010). Team capability beliefs over time:Distinguishing between team potency, team outcome efficacy, and team process efficacy. The British Psychological Society, 83(4) 1003-1023

Davenport, L. and Prusak, T. (2000). Working knowledge. (2nd ed.) Boston MA: Harvard Business Review Press

Devine, D. and Philips J. (2001). Do smarter teams do better? A meta-analysis of cognitive ability and team performance. Small Group Research, 32, 507–532. 

Edison, T. (2008). Team development life cycle: A new look. Defense AT&L, 14-17

Gagne, M. and Zuckerman, M. (1999). Performance and learning goal orientations as moderators of social loafing and social facilitation. Small Group Research, 30(5), 524-541 

Gersick, C. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. Academy of Management Journal, 31(1), 9-41 

Guzzo, R., Yost, P., Campbell, R.,and Shea, G. (1993). Potency in groups: Articulating a construct. British Journal of Social Psychology, 32, 87-10

Karau, S. and Williams, K. (1993) Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(4), 681–706.

Kozlowski, S. and Bell B., (2003). Work groups and teams in organizations. In Borman, W., Ilgen, D. and Kilmoski, R. (Ed.s). Handbook of Psychology: Industrial and Organizational Psychology (333–375). London: John Wiley and Sons

Kozlowski S. and Ilgen D. (2006). Enhancing the effectiveness of work groups and teams. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7(3), 77–124

Mannix, E. and Neale M. (2006). What differences make a difference? The promise and reality of diverse teams in organizations. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 6, 31–55

Stroessner, S. J. 1996. Social categorization by race or sex: Effects of perceived non-normalcy on response times. Social Cognition, 14, 274-276.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384–99

Tuckman, B. and Jensen, M-A. (1977). Stages of small group development revisited. Group and Organization Studies, 2(4), 419-427

Useem, J. (2006, June 8). What's that spell? Teamwork! Fortune Magazine. Retrieved from

Weimer, M. (May 16, 2018). The benefits of study groups. Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies

May 26, 2022