Group Dynamics: How to Successfully Work in Groups

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Liana Wiemels

June 23, 2014

Working in groups or amongst a team is sometimes inevitable and at some point, whether it be in school or within your career, you will be required to be a part of a team, group, or committee in order to achieve a specific goal. In all of these situations it is important to recognize group dynamics and how they can support successful group work and group outcomes.

Group dynamics is defined as the process involved when people in a group interact with each other. Interactions can be both positive and negative and altogether they can affect the performance of the team. Poor group dynamics can damage morale, undermine productivity, and lead your team to make bad decisions or possibly be left with unproductive and unsuccessful outcomes.

Bruce Tuckman theorized that there are five different stages involved when it comes to how groups interact in terms of group development or group dynamics. Tuckman theorized that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results. Those stages include:

Forming. Forming is when the group comes together in the beginning to figure out the goals of the group and how this might be accomplished. Members tend to be polite during this period and everyone is trying to figure out his/her role in the group.

Storming. Storming is a phase where leadership may be questioned and group members’ ideas may be challenged. This is often the most difficult stage because this is where group members can feel disconnected or overwhelmed and give up on the overall goal. Some members of the team may not want to do what is asked of them.

Norming. Norming is when the group starts to come together to formulate a single plan for the common goal. Members will often give up their ideas for the better of the group and the individuals of the group start to understand each other better

Performing. In this stage the group is able to work together to accomplish the goal with little need of outside supervision or input. They understand each other’s needs and are able to understand how to work most effectively to accomplish the goal.

Adjourning. Adjourning is the dissolution of the group and the opportunity to reflect on successful or unsuccessful outcomes and how those outcomes can help each member perform in future groups better later.

The next time you work in a group or team, try to be cognizant of how your team progresses through these stages. Group members may move through these stages at different times and they do not have to move through them as they are presented. If the team members know what stage they are performing in, they have a better idea of how far away they are from achieving group success.

There are specific behaviors that can prohibit a group or team from successfully reaching their goals. Both group leaders and team members can contribute to a negative group dynamic. Let's look at some of the most common problems that may contribute to poor group dynamics:

Weak leadership. This occurs when a team or group lacks a strong leader and a more dominant member of the group often takes charge. This can lead to a lack of direction, power struggles, or a focus on the wrong priorities.

Excessive deference to authority. This can happen when group members want to be seen to agree with a leader, and therefore hold back from expressing their own opinions.

Blocking. This happens when group members behave in a way that disrupts the flow of information in the group. People can adopt blocking roles such as:

The aggressor.  A member who is who often disagrees with others or is inappropriately outspoken.

The negator. A member who is often critical of others ideas.

The withdrawer. A member who doesn't participate in the discussion.

The recognition seeker. A member who is boastful or dominates the session.

The joker. A member who introduces humor at inappropriate times.

Groupthink. This happens when people place a desire for consensus above their desire to reach the right decision. This prevents people from fully exploring alternative solutions.

Free riding. In this situation some group members take it easy and leave their colleagues to do all the work. Free riders may work hard independently, but limit their contributions in group situations.

Evaluation apprehension. Team members' perceptions can also create a negative group dynamic. Evaluation apprehension happens when people feel that they are being judged excessively or harshly by other group members, and they hold back their opinions as a result.

If a group seems to be headed in the wrong direction, have no fear! Team members can improve group dynamics and turn a negative group experience into a positive one by taking time to get to know their team members, clearly define roles/responsibilities for each member in the group so that work is equally distributed, tackle problems quickly, focus on communication, and pay attention to how your group is performing so that way you can easily diffuse any negative group dynamics.

Positive group dynamics helps teams to get things done and they can make an impact outside meetings and team activities. When information flows freely between team members, everyone has the chance to make a difference. Next time you work in a group or have to work amongst a team of people, think of how you can make a difference in your next group meeting. Unite as one and help the team to be a success!

**Tuckman, Bruce W. Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 63(6), Jun 1965, 384-399.

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