The tendency of human beings to form groups or teams, even in an unconscious way, is a tenacious aspect of life, following the premise that the combination of individual contributions and work together brings more benefits that just one individual contribution. All of us have experienced somehow this kind of experience at some point in life, whether by just physical proximity, common needs and goals, or simply by the need of individuals to establish interpersonal relationships. Study the concept, nature, development and importance to organisations of groups and teams may become a full-time job due to its subjectivity and difference views of it.
It is important to make some distinctions beforehand of essential concepts for organisations in groups context, in particular between mere aggregates of people and psychological groups, these groups and teams and finally, between formal and informal groups. An aggregate can be defined as a ‘collection of unrelated people who happen to be in close physical proximity for a short period of time' (1) while a psychological group, relevant in organizational behaviour, relates to ‘two or more people in face-to-face interaction, each aware of their membership in the group, of the others who belong to the group and their positive interdependence as they strive to achieve their goals' (1) where exists interaction between members, a group structure and a collective identity.
Teams are usually a label for almost any collection of people who join together for a purpose or period of time but this vision is too simplistic and slyly different from true where a ‘team' is ‘a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable' (2). Hence, a team depends on their mutual accountability, working together to produce an outcome that represents their joint contributions, with specific goals and timescale. Like groups, teams also share a common commitment to a specific purpose but with high interdependence and interaction between members and shared roles. It should be noted that most organisations have working groups that call themselves teams, which relates to the idea of a group of people with a high degree of interdependence geared towards the achievement of a common goal, being an important source of individuals' needs satisfaction and more productivity, according to Likert.
Frank's story at Imago introduces us the organisations informality and the informal groups, as well as possible advantages of this approach. Sometimes, an informal structure develops in organisations which are different from that which is set out on paper, based on the reality of daily interactions. This phenomenon of ‘collection of individuals who become a group when members develop interdependencies, influence one another's behaviour and contribute to mutual need satisfaction' (2) defines informal groups. However, a group that ‘has been consciously created to accomplish a defined part of an organisation's collective purpose' (1) is called a formal group, consciously organized and with a formal structure, created in a task orientated basis where employees work together to complete a particular project defined by the managers of the organisation to achieve the organisation objectives.
Imago's informality and social cohesion within the organization made Frank change his perception about this kind of organizations, starting with his induction and the care of his colleagues and superiors from the beginning, showing us the benefits of informal approach for both organisation and individuals: the organisation solidifies social values and expectations of organisational culture, helps integrate new employees, provides and enforces appropriate behaviour guidelines and sense of identity and possibly status, as well as social satisfaction. Individuals satisfy their social, affiliation and security needs, can enhance status and self esteem if member valued by rest of group and share of group's power to influence and achieve. (2) Indeed, these facts can illustrate the way that the organisation's socialization can create an atmosphere where individuals feel comfortable and have proud to be there, thinking in the quality of the products and concerned with the organization's success, making loyalty and commitment arises.
The experience of belonging to a functional work-group demonstrated by Frank's story is highly drawn from Hawthorne studies about groups at work. These studies discovered that an informal organization and the choice between formal and informal environment affects productivity where the relations that supervisors develop with workers tend to influence the manner in which the workers follow directives. In other words, this studies discovered a group life among the workers that don't follow a formal structure where productivity is strongly influenced by social factors, although the physical and mental potential of the individuals.
Here, there are some concepts that should be noted due to its relation: group norms, group cohesion and ‘groupthink'. Although Hawthorne studies were not the first to recognize that work groups tend to arrive at group norms affecting productivity too, they provided a description and interpretation of those norms, which are expected modes of behaviour and beliefs established formally or informally by the group which specify acceptable reactions in particular situations and standards performances and behavioural guidelines about what is and is not correct in form of rules. The failure to these rules can result in punishments, called norm enforcement. Group cohesion refers to the attraction a group of people have to relate, maintain group membership, and be identified as a group, tending to unify, align efforts and increase team esprit. Hence, groups or teams with high cohesion tend to develop strong culture and norms, have high morale and satisfaction, are loyal and committed and are more productive. ‘Groupthink', defined by Janis, occurs when the norms for conforming in a group become too strong and members are highly concerned about maintaining unanimity that they fail to critically evaluate their options and consequently make a poor decision.
Hence, with time, unwritten expectations about conduct are formed and as cohesion increases, norms are used to set standards of performance, and members exercise sanctions to increase integrity. When a very strong culture is built, group-think can occur. In this story, we can find some traces of norms with the commitment to customer satisfaction, the proud of what they do in the company or in the team-working developed, created by cohesion that clearly exists in Imago. But there are some symptoms of groupthink too such as self-censorship where individuals feel inclined to minimize the significance of their doubts and counterarguments. Frank believes in Imago's honesty and integrity no matter what, and even a huge litigation case didn't affected his thoughts even knowing that a litigation is a shame to any company, even more a market leader.
To sum up, after have been discussed the views or theories about groups and teams within the organizational context, the socialization process of individuals and it's importance, and after applying these theories to the example of Frank's story and his experience in Imago, we can now understand that individuals have primary needs that need to be filled, most of them psychological and related to socialization. Hence, despite his naive way and the signs of ‘Groupthink' related to the high cohesion lived, Frank shows us that this type of informal environment shown at Imago makes individuals more motivated and feeling important with benefits to productivity, being an advantage for all parts. Sometimes this informal structure may conflict with the formal one in the case the organisation may become less efficient, and we can ask yourselves if the litigation case would happen in a formal environment, but in the point of view of the process of individuals socialization, this example prove to be a efficient way of working within a organization, where the commitment to the company and to the costumers are the primary aim.
- Huczynski, A. and Buchanan, D. (2004) Organizational Behaviour: an introductory text. FT Prentice Hall
- Bloisi et al (2003) Management and Organisational Behaviour. McGraw- Hill