An Essay by Shane Zentz from 2006
ORGM 452 Group and Organizational Behavior
March 22, 2006
All of us are involved in small groups. Some common small groups can include our friends, our families, our churches, and our co-workers. Small groups are formed for various reasons, but in general they exist and perpetuate because all members of the group obtain some benefit from group membership. This paper examines the various roles in the small group as well as the process of decision making within the small group. This paper also examines the various factors that can affect a small group’s performance. I also discuss some of my own experiences with small groups. Finally, this paper considers the output of the small group decision making process.
The best relationships in life are those that are nurturing and beneficial to all participants. For most of us, our best relationships are the relationships with our families. Most of us also have both close friends and casual acquaintances that we call friends. The relationships with our families and our closest friends have several common factors including mutual trust, respect, understanding, and love. These relationships, which would be called our best relationships, usually develop over long periods of time. Over time, trust and respect are established, followed by understanding, finally progressing to unconditional love and care. In the first class for ORGM 452 we formed small groups to discuss our best relationships. I listed my best relationships as the relationships that I have with my Mother, Father, and Sister, as well as other members of my family. Most of the participants in the small group that I was a part of also listed their families as their best relationships. Other relationships that are special to us were also mentioned, and included relationships with our best friends, teachers, or others. The common thread in all of these relationships is that the participants trust and respect each other, treat each other with respect and care, care about each others feelings, and take an active interest in each others lives. I think that if we all strived to trust and respect everyone and to try to understand and care about everyone we have any kind of contact with that all of our relationships could be our “best relationships”, and the world would be a far better place.
Most of us are involved in many different small groups in our lives. Our families can be considered a small group, our circle of friends can be considered a small group, and our colleges at work can constitute a small group. In the second class for this module, we watched a video on successful small group interaction. The video profiled a concept called “mining group gold” which was pioneered at XEROX. According to the video, to “mine group gold”, you need to have an open atmosphere and a collaborative climate. Group members should be tolerant of any ideas or feelings that are presented; this was referred to as “gate-opening” in the video. The video presented a formula for successful small group interaction. The first step in the formula is to process feelings, in other words the group needs to get beyond emotions before the group can move on to facts. Processing facts is the second step in the formula, this can only be done when the group has moved beyond emotions and feelings. The last step in the formula is to arrive at a solution that is based on facts, while taking into account feelings and emotions. The video claimed that there are more than 20,000,000 group sessions in the United States everyday. The main point of this video was that a small group can achieve far greater success and can accomplish much more than any individual can. This is why group activities are so important in the business world. I was able to see the power of a small group firsthand later in this second class.
The desert survival exercise of class two really demonstrated the power of the small groups to me. We were presented with the crash scenario and told to rank the importance of items first as individuals and later as a small group. I had definite ideas about which items should be the most important. Later, we got into a small group. The other members of my group also had definite ideas about which items were the most important. At the start, all members of my group agreed that the water was the most important item available, so there was really no debate or discussion on this issue. All members of the group had varying ideas as to the importance of the remaining items. I think that our group was very democratic in that every member was allowed to give his or her opinions and input regarding each of the remaining items. After some discussion and debate, we would take an informal vote. Our group seems to have followed the synergistic decision making model, which is a system for solving a problem as a group. The synergistic decision making model is based on two concepts, problem-solving and interpersonal relationships. This model relies on a supportive climate in interpersonal relationships in order to arrive at the best possible solution. Active listening is the main key to the supportive climate. In the synergistic decision making model, members of the group are expected to listen to each other and to explore any and all possible courses of action. After comparing our group score with our individual scores, the power of the small group to make better decisions became clear. Most of the individuals in our group did not do very well on their own, but our entire group had the best score in the class.
As the desert survival activity demonstrates, groups are a very effective way of solving all sorts of problems. Stewart L. Tubbs Ph.D. has developed a model for small group interaction. The Tubbs model of small group interaction is a system which takes into account relevant background factors, internal influences, and consequences. The Tubbs model considers relevant background factors to be inputs in the system, internal influences are throughputs in the system, and consequences are the output of the system. Relevant background factors include the personality, gender, age, health, attitudes, and values of the members of the small group. These background factors contribute to the relationships that are developed in the small group. Personalities and relationships are one important factor in determining a small group’s success.
The strength deployment inventory is an activity for understanding relationships and personalities. There are mainly three personality types identified, assertive-directing, analytic-automizing, and altruistic-nurturing. Assertive-directing personalities (red) are basically ruthless leaders, analytic-automizing personalities (green) are analytical and logical independents, and altruistic-nurturing personalities (blue) are mostly interested in preserving relationships and creating new relationships. According to the Tubbs model, relevant background factors, including personalities, are inputs into the system, which are very important to the overall output of the system. I found it interesting that all of the members of my desert survival group were either analytic-analyzing or altruistic-nurturing personalities. There were no assertive-directing personalities in our group, and yet we outperformed other groups that included assertive-directing personalities. I think that our group was the right mix of compatible personalities that worked very well together to solve a problem.
The throughput of the Tubbs model of small group interaction are internal influences, which include physical environment, group size, status and power of the groups members, group norms, leadership, group task roles, decision making, and conflict. Many members of our class have complained about the physical environment in which we work, the classroom. I, however, have never had a problem with this physical environment. According to Tubbs, “numerous experts advise that the optimum group size appears to be five” (Tubbs 155). In all of the group activities of the class the group size was either four or five members. Too few members can mean a lack of sufficient resources, however too many members can become inefficient.
The status and power of group members is another internal influence in the Tubbs model. All people are members of different groups and may have different statuses within these different groups. I do not think that status was an important factor in our in class group exercises, because we are all of equal status in the classroom. Group norms are the range of behaviors that are considered correct and normal by the group’s standards. Leadership is an important internal influence. Tubbs defines leadership as “influencing others to accomplish organizational goals” (Tubbs 203). There are three main styles of leadership: autocratic, laissez-faire, and democratic. Autocratic leaders are leaders who demand a high degree of control over everything. Laissez-faire leaders are leaders who have no need for control; they tend to be ineffective leaders. Democratic leaders are leaders who delegate some control and allow followers to give their input and opinions. I think that the passage in Tubbs book quoting Lao-Tzu sum up leadership very well: “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him” (Tubbs 214). The democratic leadership style is probably the most preferred and successful style of leadership.
Group roles are internal influences in the Tubbs model of small group interaction. There are many roles that one can play in a small group. I think that the most important roles are initiator-contributor, information seeker, information giver, opinion seeker, and opinion giver. The initiator-contributor proposes new ideas and generally sets the agenda for the small group. The information seeker searches for facts that are relevant to the discussion and decision. The information giver provides the facts that the information seeker and others in the group seek. The opinion seeker is concerned with the values of the groups discussion and decisions. The opinion giver is always willing to assert his or her opinion of the groups activities. In our classroom group exercises I played all of the above roles, at one time or another.
One of the most important tasks for the small group is to make a decision. One method of problem solving that can lead to effective decisions is brainstorming. The most important requirement of the brainstorming technique is that all members of the group consider any idea or proposal, no matter how strange or out of the ordinary. The main goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible. This helps come up with more creative decisions in the decision making process. The synergistic decision making model is also an effective way for a group to come to a decision or solve a problem. This model is similar to brainstorming in that group members are expected to be open to any and all ideas. The synergistic decision making model emphasizes interpersonal relationships in the decision making process. Group members need to be supportive of each other and need to provide both constructive and positive feedback to fellow group members. Feedback to group members should be useful and relevant and should not be based on personality or behavior. When a group member receives positive feedback, they are more likely to contribute to the groups effort in the future. Giving positive and constructive feedback is important in maintaining an open environment that will lead to successful decisions.
Conflict is also an internal influence in the Tubbs model of small group interaction. Many researchers believe that some conflict within an organization or even a small group is desirable, as it can reduce stagnation and group-think, and can sometimes promote creativity and change. However, our society tries to eliminate conflict wherever possible. Stephen P. Robbins has developed a conflict survival model. Robbins believes that organizations require a certain amount of conflict in order to change and survive. The Robbins conflict survival model has four stages, conflict, change, adaptation, and survival. Robbins believes that conflict encourages change, and then change brings about adaptation, which leads to organizational survival. Conflict can sometimes be beneficial but can sometimes be counter-productive.
In our last class for this module we played a game that utilized group decision making and conflict. The class was divided into four groups, and we were told the rules of the game. I was selected as our group’s representative. So it was up to me to meet with the other groups’ representatives. In the first bonus round our group was getting a little behind, so our strategy was to try to get all of the other groups to vote for “y”, this way each group would win $3.00 and no group would lose. All of the other representatives from the other groups agreed that they would convince their groups to vote “y”. When the votes were counted one group voted “x”, so they won and all other groups lost. The group who voted “x” probably thought that they were being smart, but I believe that they shot themselves in the foot from the get go. If they would have been smart, they would have waited until round ten to betray the other groups and would have probably won the game. It was clear after round three that each of the four groups lost all trust for the other groups. The meetings of group representatives for rounds eight and ten were interesting because there was an obvious lack of trust and honesty. In the end every group lost and no group ended up being the clear winner.
Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann have developed a system to determine how an individual acts when facing conflict. The Thomas-Kilmann system is called the conflict mode instrument. Based on an individuals answers to a series of questions, an individual is placed onto one of five categories. The five categories are competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, and compromising. The five categories are based on both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The competing category is assertive but uncooperative. The collaborating category is assertive but cooperative. The compromising category is in the middle ground between assertiveness and cooperativeness. The avoiding category is both unassertive and uncooperative. The accommodating category is cooperative but unassertive. The Thomas-Kilmann system is useful to discover an individual’s style of dealing with conflict.
The outputs of the Tubbs model of small group interaction are consequences. The consequences of this system include solutions, interpersonal relations, improved information flow, risk taking, interpersonal growth, and finally organizational change. In this module I have seen how much more effective a small group can solve a problem than an individual can. I have also learned that when there is a lack of trust and honesty or other conflicts that a groups performance can suffer. As with any system, the quality of the inputs and the quality of the process correlate to the quality of the outputs. Small groups, when functioning properly can be very beneficial to any organization that chooses to utilize them. Individuals can also benefit from the experience of interacting with the small group. It has been proven that small groups can outperform most individuals in the decision making process and in solving problems.
Tubbs, Stewart L. “A Systems Approach to Small Group Interaction”. 8th Edition. 2004. McGraw-Hill. New York, New York.