Anyone who has been involved in a task force, an athletic team, a committee or even a book club is familiar with aspects of Group Dynamics. You probably belong to several formal or informal groups and see the principles of this scientific focus at work, though you may not recognize the individual components of group behavior. Scientists have studied groups for a long time, however, and have identified several interesting and defining characteristics of the way groups form and interact.
Defining Group Dynamics
A definition found on Wikipedia says this: It is a “system of behaviors and psychological processes occurring within a social group or between social groups.” In other words, it is the study of the behavior of individuals in groups, how they become members and how they react to others in the group. The study is based in both psychology and sociology.
What is Involved in the Study?
Nineteenth century psychologist Wilhelm Wundt was one of the fathers of the study of groups. He believed that groups possessed “phenomena” that did not exist in an individual. Some of the traits he identified are common language, customs and religion.
At the core of the study is the concept that groups cannot be understood by merely studying individual members. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Other components that develop within a group are “public knowledge” and a group mind. Groups seem to form when there is a common bond like a goal or a shared identity. Artists, for instance, form guilds and bridge players form clubs.
The first condition that must exist in a group is the assembly of two or more people. Groups form because of social cohesion, the attraction between members or because of social identity, for instance as football fans, members of a labor union or church committees. Once formed, groups identify a leader. In formal groups like a trial jury this is a defined role. In informal groups one person usually emerges as the stronger personality.
Group members form alliances within the group and the group itself adopts accepted behavior norms. If there is a positive dynamic, they will accomplish their goals, even if those are simply to play cards.
Sometimes a group mindset emerges that is different from what individual members may think. In the old west, lynch mobs formed as temporary groups with leaders and accepted normal behavior that deviated from that outside the group.
Why Study Group Behavior?
Understanding groups can help governments predict how communicable diseases will spread and foresee and prepare for societal trends. The website MindTools.com identifies practical uses for the study in business too. Corporations often have teams of managers or others that are assigned to work on significant issues. Understanding the dynamics of such a group helps businesses identify strong leaders, avoid “negators” who criticize everyone and “blockers” who dominate discussion and create distractions. Groups that have positive dynamics function better and are more creative.
Another concept relevant to the study of groups is intradynamics, or how groups relate to one another. This is especially important in a business application, for instance in the way management and employee groups interact.
There are other applications for the study of groups as well. Advertising industries and housing developers benefit from the understanding of how social groups act, as do governments trying to predict emigration from a war zone.
The study of Group Dynamics is relevant in every society and wherever groups of people gather.