What are the advantages of working in teams? When might working in teams be a disadvantage?
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Like individual humans, groups and teams are born, grow, change, move through fairly predictable stages of life, and die. They, too, require nurturing and sometimes get sick. When this happens, they need diagnosis and treatment. Their health relies on keeping various systems and subsystems in balance. This chapter is about the process of group formation and development. Formation is more than a one-time event. While there is often an identifiable moment in which groups come into being, they are continually engaged in a process of reinvention as they develop over time. This chapter focuses on what brings people together in groups. It also introduces processes that will be addressed in greater depth throughout the remainder of the book. Group formation—and development over time—is a complex interplay of needs, goals, attraction, and communication. The competent group communicator recognizes these dynamics and works to keep them in balance. Why People Join Groups To all human beings, the formation of groups—from families to teams to corporate boards—is part of a biological imperative that is simply part of the human species; we are, all of us, social animals by nature.1 We are born into family groups and assigned or elected to other groups and committees. Some common dynamics affect all groups. But we also actively choose many of our affiliations. Individuals differ in their motivation for joining a group as well as in their commitment and contribution to it. The reasons why people join groups can be placed into five broad categories: (1) interpersonal needs, (2) individual goals, (3) group and team goals, (4) interpersonal attraction, and (5) group attraction. Interpersonal Needs Maslow’s Theory Abraham Maslow asserted that all humans have basic needs that can be arranged in a hierarchy; that is, people do not concern themselves with higher-level needs until lower-level needs are satisfied.2 Figure 3.1 illustrates how interpersonal needs form a hierarchy. Physiological Needs Maslow termed the first level of needs, at the bottom of the hierarchy, physiological needs. People have physiological needs for air, water, and food. Safety Needs Safety needs are for one’s security and protection. Maslow called the first two levels of the hierarchy survival needs; satisfaction of these needs is necessary for basic human existence. During childhood years, the family satisfies these needs. Once survival needs are fulfilled, the higher-level needs that Maslow called psychological needs—the need to belong, the need for esteem, and the need for self-actualization—become more important. These needs may affect people’s group memberships throughout their lives. FIGURE 3.1 Hierarchy of Interpersonal Needs Source: Maslow, Abraham, Motivation and Personality (New York: HarperCollins, 1954). Belongingness Need People need to feel that they are a part of some group. Here, again, the family provides a sense of belonging for children, but as they get older they begin to look outside the family to satisfy this need. Peer groups gain special importance during adolescence. At that time, people’s need for affiliation is at its strongest. Esteem Need Once people have developed a sense of belonging, Maslow says, they need respect or esteem. They need to feel not only that they are accepted but also that they are considered worthwhile and valued by others. When we are promoted, recognized, congratulated, thanked, and given awards, our esteem needs are addressed. Self-Actualization Need The need for self-actualization differs from the other four needs. Maslow termed the other four needs deficiency needs, because individuals subconsciously perceive these needs as inner voids, which they fill by drawing on the resources of other people. Maslow called the need for self-actualization a being need. This need motivates people to try to fulfill their potential and live life to its fullest. They are ready to function as autonomous beings, operating independently in quest of their own full potential. They no longer need groups to take care of their deficiencies; instead, they need groups in which to find and express their wholeness. Participation in service-oriented groups such as Habitat for Humanity may fulfil self-actualization needs in many. Although this need level is perhaps the most difficult to grasp conceptually, Maslow’s hierarchy is consistent: People need groups to satisfy interpersonal needs. They also differ from one another in their motivations for joining groups. These differing motivations may be reflected in their communicative behavior in a group. Those who simply want to belong may interact differently from those who need the group’s esteem or respect. The higher we move up Maslow’s hierarchy, the more important communication becomes in need satisfaction.3 Schutz’s Theory In an elaborate theory of interpersonal behavior, William Schutz suggested that three basic human needs influence individuals as they form and interact in groups: the need for inclusion, the need for control, and the need for affection.4 Individuals’ needs vary, but groups often provide settings in which such needs can be satisfied. Inclusion Need Just as Maslow postulated a belongingness need, Schutz said people join groups to fulfill their need for inclusion. They need to be recognized as unique individuals and to feel understood. When people try to understand someone, the implication is that the individual is worthy of their time and effort. In this respect, Schutz’s inclusion need is also related to Maslow’s esteem need. Control Need People need control to gain status and power. They need to have some control over themselves and others, and sometimes they need to give others some control over them, such as when they seek guidance and direction. There is wide variation in peoples’ control needs. Such needs are often observed as bossiness or, conversely, submissiveness. Affection Need The need for affection drives people to give and receive emotional warmth and closeness. Some people are natural care givers and exercise their need to nurture others in groups. Others (and sometimes the same people) need to feel the acceptance, warmth, and love that groups can provide. In a broad sense, groups are more than collections of people with common goals; they are arenas in which individual needs are satisfied or frustrated. Schutz asserted that people’s needs for inclusion, control, and affection influence group development throughout the life of the group. He observed that in the initial stages of group formation, communication aims primarily toward fulfilling members’ inclusion needs. Group members are friendly but cautious as they try to evaluate one another and be accepted by other members. As the group develops, control needs become more evident; members contest issues and vie for leadership. Schutz observed that as conflicts resolve, people turn toward affection needs. Members characteristically express positive feelings in this phase. The progression, Schutz says, is cyclical. Repeating Cycles of Group Development From Schutz’s perspective, the process of group formation is not limited to the initial coming together of the group members. Rather, formation patterns repeat themselves as the group develops over time. Group decision making involves a series of smaller decisions on the way toward achieving the group’s primary goal. For example, a group of engineers planning to construct a bridge must make decisions about the location and frequency of their meetings as well as the design and materials for the bridge. A group progresses through developmental phases throughout its life (as will be discussed in Chapter 10), and this cyclical pattern of formation and re-formation occurs whenever the group approaches a new meeting and a new decision. If this process could be visualized, it might look something like a large jellyfish moving through the water. The jellyfish floats in the water in a relatively aimless way until it needs to move forward. Then it organizes itself, contracts, and propels itself through the water, after which its movements again become less organized. A group progresses through a similar series of contractions until it reaches its ultimate goal. A group is defined, in part, by a common purpose. That purpose contains several smaller goals. As a group reaches each of these goals, it momentarily loses a bit of its definition until a new goal replaces the old one. As people accomplish each new goal, they begin a new cycle of inclusion, control, and affection behaviors. The following example illustrates this point: Harv: Well, it’s been hard, but we’ve finally found a date for the banquet that we can all agree on. Juanita: Yes, finally! For a while I thought we’d never agree, but I think we’ve made the best decision now. Betsy: Yeah. We’re over the major hurdle. Feels good, doesn’t it? Phil: Amen. We’re organized now and ready to go for it! This is getting to be fun. (Laughter, followed by a pause) Juanita: Well, here we are. What do we do next? Phil: I guess we ought to talk about the theme and the speakers. Harv: Hold on there! The speakers are irrelevant if no one is there to hear them. We’ve got to talk first about how we’re going to publicize. Phil: C’mon, Harv. How can we publicize if we don’t even have a theme? Betsy: Here we go again. In this example you can see the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next. Members express positive feelings about the group and its accomplishments, then pause a little in their conversation before regrouping for another attack on a new facet of their problem. The sense of cohesiveness peaks during the affection phase and then falls off, only to rebuild around the next task. Like the jellyfish, which organizes its efforts around its task of propulsion, the small group does not end up back where it started. The whole process moves forward. To say that the phases are cyclical, then, is somewhat misleading. Certain types of communicative behaviors recur, but the whole process moves forward. Frank Dance captured the essence of this process when he described human communication as being like a helix.5 A helix is both linear and circular. It turns in on itself and yet always moves forward. Seen in this light, group formation does not cease but pulses throughout the life of the group. Individual and Group Goals © Nick Downes/The New Yorker Collection/www.cartoonbank.com Theories of psychological and interpersonal needs explain some of the bases for group development. So, too, do individual goals. Goals have a more tangible and obvious effect on your selection of group memberships. What do you want out of life? Happiness? Status? Power? Fame? Recreation? Education? Personal growth? In other words, what goals do you have that exist apart from any particular group membership? REVIEW: SCHUTZ’S THEORY Individuals join groups in part to satisfy three needs: Inclusion: They want to be recognized and feel included. They also have needs to share and want to include others in their activities. Control: People have varying needs to control or to be controlled that groups can satisfy. Affection: Individuals satisfy their affection needs through giving and receiving emotional support in groups. Groups pass through observable, cyclical phases of these needs. Individual goals are instrumental in determining which groups people join. Obviously, if people enjoy arranging flowers and wish to improve their skills, they’ll join garden clubs. If artistic expression is an aim, people will join arts groups. If they desire status and power, they’ll seek membership in elite social or professional groups. Sometimes the prestige associated with a particular group is enough to make membership attractive. Whatever their individual goals may be, people bring those goals with them when they join groups. Sometimes individual goals are group-centric; that is, an individual goal may be significant for the group’s or team’s success. Consider, for example, a basketball player with the goal of helping her team be successful in any way possible. Her behavior on the court will be different—and more helpful—than that of the player whose individual goal is to score as many points as possible, which may negatively affect her defensive play or her tendency to pass the ball to a teammate.6 When individual and group goals coincide, greater productivity often follows. Sometimes people choose a group because its goals coincide with their own. For example, Habitat for Humanity—which builds homes for the working poor—attracts members and volunteers for whom this goal is consistent with their own values. But not all groups are self-selected. Group and team goals are identifiable future achievements that transcend the group members’ individual goals. This is the paradox of group membership: we often join groups to meet personal goals, which must then be made secondary, in part, for the group to succeed. But there’s a payoff: in the workplace, group or team goal achievement is related to greater group attraction, individual satisfaction, and employee job satisfaction.7 When personal goals conflict with group goals, the results can be counter-productive. Especially when high levels of commitment are required, groups should question their participants’ mutuality of concern—the degree to which members share the same level of commitment to the group or team—during the early stages of group formation.8 Establishing Mutuality of Concern When people join groups, they often assume that other group members share their commitment to the group’s task. If a problem is to be solved, they take for granted that others view the problem the same way they do. However, each person brings a different perspective to a group. Some group members are invariably more conscientious than others. Studies have shown that the more dissimilar team members are in this respect, the less satisfied they are likely to be with their team.9 Conversely, strong conscientiousness within a group is strongly related to group performance.10 People also bring different levels of commitment or concern to groups. Suppose you have been appointed to a student-government group whose task is to recommend whether your college should institute a plus/minus grading system or continue with a traditional A, B, C, D grading policy. If you are a first- or second-year student, this policy change could have a direct effect on your grade-point average over your four years in college. If you are a graduating senior, this policy change would have little or no effect on you. Hence, the level of concern over the problem can vary from member to member. Once again, individual goals interact with a group goal. Those affected directly by the problem will probably become more active in the group than those who are not. The degree to which members are concerned with the group’s task should be clarified at the outset. All group members should clearly state their personal commitment, needs, and goals regarding the topic area. Clarifying mutuality of concern can resolve much misunderstanding and avoid needless conflict. Although individual needs and goals may bring a group together in the first place, they can also break a group apart. The success or failure of a group depends, in part, on the degree to which its goal is adopted by individuals as their own. Unsatisfied or unclarified individual needs and goals can become hidden agendas—private goals toward which individuals work while seeming to work toward the group goal. Such hidden agendas can be extremely disruptive to the group. Establishing mutuality of concern can help reduce this negative influence. People often form groups simply because they enjoy the same activities. What groups do you belong to for this reason? COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? We often join groups to satisfy personal needs or to accomplish personal goals. But is it ethical to join groups to promote personal objectives? Is it selfish? Imagine that you are part of an important team preparing to launch a new project. All of you know that the project will involve hard, time-consuming work, but if it succeeds, it will bring great benefits to your organization. A position opens up on your team because one of the members moves away. On several occasions one of your best friends has indicated that if a position on the team ever became available, she would like to be considered. You know that your friend is intelligent and capable and could make a contribution to the team’s efforts if she can truly commit to it. The problem is, you know that she has already spread herself too thin. She is ambitious and has already accepted leadership positions in several organizations, as she builds her résumé while applying to prestigious graduate schools. She says that appointment to your team would mean a lot to her and could make the difference in her graduate school acceptance. Would you recommend your friend for an appointment to the team? Another variable in establishing mutuality of concern is the introduction of technology—communication in virtual teams. While virtual teams have the advantage of crossing time and space, they are also often the site of social loafing, defined as the tendency for people to hold back from contributing (to loaf) in a group because they assume someone else will do the work. Social loafing is more prominent in virtual groups than in face-to-face groups because the technology-supported environment makes such behavior easier to engage in. Combatting social loafing is a matter of fostering cognitive engagement.11 In any given situation the interaction of individual and group needs will cause one of four possible outcomes: 1. Individual and group needs may be so diverse that they interfere with each other, with no positive effects accruing either to individuals within the group or to the group as a whole. 2. Group interaction may result in the realization of group goals, while individual needs are not met. 3. One or more group members may have their needs met, to the detriment or destruction of the group. 4. Individual and group needs may blend so completely that the needs realized by the group as a whole are the same needs individuals wish to realize.12 In the ideal, fully integrated group, this fourth alternative is realized. Mutuality of concern can merge individual and group needs and goals. Aside from the relationships among interpersonal needs, personal goals, and group goals, two other factors influence people’s selection of groups: interpersonal attraction and group attraction. Interpersonal Attraction Often people are attracted not to groups but to the people in the groups. Of the many factors that influence interpersonal attraction, four are especially significant: similarity, complementarity, proximity/contact/interaction, and physical attractiveness. Similarity One of the strongest influences in interpersonal attraction is similarity. Remember your first day on campus? That feeling of being new and alone? You needed a friend, and with luck you found one. In looking for a friend, did you seek out someone you perceived to be very different from you? Most likely not. As the principle of similarity in interpersonal attraction suggests, you probably looked for someone who appeared to be in the same situation—another lonely newcomer, or perhaps someone dressed as you were. Who are your closest friends? Do you share many of the same attitudes, beliefs, and values? Do you enjoy the same activities? People are often attracted to those they consider to be like them. A probable explanation for such attraction is that similar backgrounds, beliefs, attitudes, and values make it easier to understand one another—and all people like to feel that others understand them. The converse of the similarity factor may also be true: People may be repelled by those whose attitudes differ from theirs.13 One danger of the similarity factor in group formation is that our tendency to be attracted to people like ourselves may result in a group that is too homogeneous to approach a complex task effectively. Indeed, research on classroom groups found that by a two-to-one margin, students reported their worst experiences occurred in groups they had formed themselves. Their best experiences most likely occurred in groups to which professors had assigned them.14 Complementarity In reading the previous section on similarity, some of you probably shook your heads and said, “No, that’s not the way it is at all. My best friend and I are about as similar as an orchid and a fire hydrant!” No generalization is entirely true, and so it is with the principle of similarity. While birds of a feather may flock together, it is also true that opposites attract. John Thibaut and Harold Kelley suggest that some interpersonal relationships are based primarily on similarity, whereas others are based on complementarity.15 At times people may be attracted to others who exhibit qualities that they do not have but that they admire. For at least a partial explanation of attraction through complementarity, consider Schutz’s theory of interpersonal needs, discussed earlier. According to this theory, a person who has a high need to control, for example, would be most compatible with a person who has a high need to be controlled. The same would be true of needs to express and to receive affection and the needs to feel included and to include others. These are complementary needs rather than similar needs. Proximity, Contact, and Interaction You tend to be attracted to people who are physically close to you, who live or work with you, and whom you see or communicate with often. If you know that you have to live or work close to another person, you may ignore that person’s less desirable traits in order to minimize potential conflict. Furthermore, proximity, contact, and interaction breed familiarity, and familiarity has a positive influence on interpersonal attraction.16 Interaction with another person helps you get to know that person, and through this process the two of you may uncover similarities and discover ways in which you can satisfy each other’s interpersonal needs. The actual physical distance between people, then, does not influence attraction, but the interpersonal possibilities illuminated by proximity, contact, and interaction do. Physical Attractiveness At least in the initial stages of interpersonal attraction, physical attractiveness influences people. If a person is physically beautiful, others tend to want to affiliate with him or her.17 However, evidence indicates that this factor diminishes in importance over time, and that—at least in North American cultures—physical beauty is more important to males than to females.18 In sum, people seem to be attracted to others who are similar to them and thus likely to understand them, who can fulfill their needs and complement their personalities, who are familiar to them because of repeated contact, and who are physically appealing. Those qualities in group members constitute a powerful influence on people’s selection of groups. PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Mutuality of Concern People who join groups often assume that other group members share their commitment to the group’s tasks. Individual needs and goals can bring a group together at the outset, but they can also break a group apart. For groups to succeed, the collective goal should transcend the goals of the individual group members. The degrees to which members are concerned with the group’s task need to be clarified at the outset. All group members should clearly state their own needs and goals regarding the task. They should also acknowledge constraints on their time or interest. Establishing realistic expectations among group members will help minimize misunderstandings and conflict. Real-Life Applications Communication scholar Michael Kramer studied a community theater group to see how its members managed multiple group roles. A community theater is a good example of a group that sometimes requires extraordinary commitments of time and effort over a limited period of time. Kramer found that members had to make their membership in the theater group a priority over their membership in other groups until the production ended, after which they could again devote time and effort to their other commitments. Members of the theater group managed conflicts among their several group memberships in three ways. First, they auditioned for productions only if they thought conflicts would be minimal. Second, they negotiated conflicts (such as being required to attend regular meetings of other groups) in advance, so the theater group could allow for such time conflicts in its planning. Third, they informed members of their other groups of their temporary conflicts.19 While these strategies were noted in a particular context, they translate well to many types of groups and contexts. Consider the following: Try to avoid putting yourself in group situations if you don’t have the time, energy, or interest to commit and do a good job. When you know you have conflicts and other interests that will compete for your time and attention, be “up front” with your group: Explain your situation and work to find acceptable solutions. When you accept new positions or assignments, explain the new demands on your time to those in groups you’re already a part of; in other words, renegotiate your level of commitment to the groups of which you’re a member. Also, as you consider joining new groups and teams, keep the following practical questions in mind: How does participating in the group relate to your overall goals and objectives? Will it, for example, help you with your work or school goals, give your life more meaning or balance, or assist you in developing quality relationships with others? What will you have to give up if you participate in this group? How will your new group affect your existing obligations to your employer, colleagues, friends, or family members? Group Attraction Although individuals may be attracted to a group because of the members who compose it, they may also be attracted to the group itself. Such attraction usually focuses on the group’s activities or goals, or simply on the desirability of group membership. Group Activities Although research is not extensive in this area, it seems fairly clear that people who are interested in the same activities tend to form groups.20 People who enjoy intellectual pursuits may join literary discussion groups. Those who enjoy playing soccer join soccer teams. Beyond these obvious examples, people may be attracted to the activities of a group in a more general sense. Some may join groups simply because they enjoy going to regular meetings and joining in group discussions, regardless of the group’s specific aims or goals. The structure and human contact provided by groups are potentially rewarding in and of themselves. Group Goals A group’s goal is another factor that may attract people to the group. If, for example, people believe that the spread of coal-burning plants must be curtailed, they may join a group dedicated to changing national energy policy. If they believe in preserving and protecting the natural environment, they may join The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, or any organization that professes a similar goal. VIRTUAL GROUPS When forming a group, remember that people from different cultures often have differing views and preferences when it comes to using virtual technologies. You may encounter some of the following attitudes about technology based on five cultural factors identified by researcher Geert Hofstede.21 We’ll discuss cultural differences more fully in Chapter 5. Cultural Factor Technological Considerations Power difference People from cultures with substantial differences in power and status may more freely use technologies that are asynchronous and allow anonymous input. These cultures sometimes use technology to indicate status differences between team members. Uncertainty avoidance People from cultures uncomfortable with uncertainty may be slower to adopt technology. They may also prefer technology that produces more permanent records of discussions and decisions. Individualism–Collectivism People from highly collectivistic cultures (those that value group and team achievement over individual success) may prefer face-to-face interactions. Masculinity–Femininity People from cultures with a more “feminine” orientation (concerned with nurturing, cooperation, and sharing, in contrast to a “masculine” orientation, concerned with earning visible success and possessions) may be more prone to use technology in a nurturing way, especially during team startups. They may also prefer face-to-face meetings to virtual meetings. Context People from cultures in which the context of a message is highly important may prefer more information-rich technologies as well as those that offer social presence (synchronous, real-time communication). They may resist using technologies with low social presence to communicate with people whom they have never met. People from cultures in which the context of a message is less important may prefer more asynchronous communications. Despite cultural differences, several commonalities also exist. If you are the leader of a virtual group, four tactics will enhance team members’ identification with the team: catering for the individual (asserting each team member’s individuality and their rights to different opinions), giving positive feedback, pointing out common goals, and talking up team activities and face-to-face interactions.22 Group Membership Sometimes it is not a group’s members, activities, or goals that attract people but membership itself. Potential members may perceive that membership in an exclusive club or honor society will bring them prestige, acceptance, or professional benefits outside the group. For example, company officials may expect a young executive to belong to some civic group because such memberships provide good public relations for the firm. REVIEW: FACTORS IN INTERPERSONAL ATTRACTION Factors Definition Comments Similarity The degree to which two people are alike You tend to like people who resemble you in their thinking and experiences; they are more likely than most other people to understand you. Complementarity The degree to which two people are compatibly different from each other You tend to be attracted to people who possess qualities that you admire but do not yourself possess. Proximity, contact, and interaction The actual, physical availability of other people Interacting with others reveals their similar and complementary traits and, thus, enhances their attractiveness to you. Physical attractiveness Physical beauty or handsomeness Physical attractiveness is especially important in the early stages of a relationship, though it becomes less important after you get to know someone. FACTORS IN GROUP ATTRACTION Factors Comments Group activities People interested in the same activities tend to group together; for some people, the structure and human contact of group activities may simply provide rewards. Group goals People interested in particular goals join groups dedicated to those goals; civic groups, parent/teacher organizations, and environmental groups are examples. Group membership Some people seek the rewards of membership itself; group membership is often seen as having prestige or status. The need for affiliation—Maslow’s belongingness need and Schutz’s inclusion need—is basic to human nature and can make group membership attractive. In addition to affiliation, group membership also fulfills people’s needs for achievement and identity.23 Indeed, a substantial body of research indicates that the satisfaction provided by group membership is important to people’s happiness.24 Culture and Group Development One increasingly common source of diversity in our global community is interaction among people from different cultural backgrounds. Culture is a learned system of knowledge, behavior, attitudes, beliefs, values, and norms that is shared by a group of people.25 We often think of cultural differences as existing between ethnic groups or nations, but they can also exist between families, organizations, or even different parts of the same country or state. It is not surprising that when individuals of different cultures interact, their differences affect a group’s development. Cultural difference affects the way we relate to others. One obvious aspect of culture is language. But it can also be challenging to work with others with whom you have nonverbal cultural differences. Differences in how people from different cultures respond to context and their attitudes toward personal contact have a direct bearing on group formation and development. Individualism and Collectivism Groups often have difficulty establishing norms and roles because of cultural variations in individualism among group members. As we discussed in Chapter 1, in some cultures (such as among Americans), individual autonomy and initiative are valued; in others (the Japanese, for instance), collective well-being takes precedence over individual achievement. People from collectivist cultures are therefore more likely to view assertive individualists as self-centered, while individualists may interpret their collectivist counterparts as weak. Collectivists are more likely to conform to group norms and to value group decisions highly.26 We caution you, though, against overgeneralization. Although different cultures clearly foster different orientations, there is also ample evidence that there are vast differences among people within any culture. Thus, it is nearly impossible to predict with certainty an individualist or a collectivist orientation based on culture alone.27 Although differences in individualism always exist in groups, these differences can be extreme if group members are culturally diverse, and extreme differences can result in low group satisfaction and difficulty establishing mutuality of concern. High-Context and Low-Context Cultures In some cultures the surrounding context of an interaction or the unspoken, nonverbal message plays a greater role than in others.28 A high-context culture is one in which more emphasis is placed on nonverbal communication. We will discuss the power and importance of nonverbal messages in more detail in Chapter 7. In high-context cultures, the physical environment is important in helping communicators interpret the message. The environment, the situation, and the communicator’s mood are especially significant in decoding messages. A low-context culture places more emphasis on verbal expression. Figure 3.2 shows cultures arranged along a continuum from high to low context. People from high-context cultures may be more skilled in interpreting nonverbal information than people from low-context cultures. Individuals from high-context cultures may also use fewer words to express themselves. Because individuals from low-context cultures place greater emphasis on speech, they may talk more than those belonging to high-context cultures. People from a low-context culture typically are less sensitive to the nonverbal cues in the environment and the situation in interpreting the messages of others.29 In a small group, high- or low-context orientation can play a role in the amount of time a person talks and his or her sensitivity in responding to unspoken dynamics of a group’s climate. Sometimes people from a high-context culture will find those from a low-context culture less credible or trustworthy. Someone from a low-context culture may be more likely to make explicit requests for information by saying, “Talk to me,” “Give it to me straight,” or “Tell it like it is.” In contrast, a person from a high-context culture expects communication to be more indirect and to rely on more implicit cues. FIGURE 3.2 Where Different Cultures Fall on the Context Scale Source: Donald W. Klopf and James McCroskey, International Encounters: An Introduction to Inter-cultural Communication (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2006). High-Contact and Low-Contact Cultures In some cultures, people are more comfortable being touched or being physically close to others; these are said to be high-contact cultures. Individuals from low-contact cultures tend to prefer more personal space, typically make less eye contact with others, and are much more uncomfortable with being touched or approached by others.30 Whether group members are from high- or low-contact cultures can affect preferred seating arrangements and other aspects of small-group ecology. For example, people from some cultural groups, such as the Chinese, prefer sitting side by side rather than directly across from one another.31 Fathi Yousef and Nancy Briggs found that in Middle Eastern countries it is appropriate to stand close enough to someone to smell their breath.32 North Americans usually prefer more space around them than do Latin Americans, Arabs, and Greeks.33 Cultural differences can also be found among ethnic groups within the same country. When we come to a group, our cultures—whatever they may be—come with us. These differing cultures, as well as individual differences, can contribute to a kind of tension in the group that communication scholars Kevin Barge and Lawrence Frey describe as “the product of two ideas being equally valid when considered alone, but contradictory when paired.”34 They give the following pairs of statements as examples: I need to behave consistently in a group. I need to adapt my behavior to changes in the group situation. It is important to fit in with and be like other group members, even when doing so goes against my personal beliefs. It is important to maintain my individuality when I am in a group. Good group members defer their own needs to the larger needs of the group. Good group members act independently within the group and pursue their personal agendas.35 While it may be tempting to make stereotypical inferences about all people within a given culture based on some of the research conclusions, Robert Shuter cautions against making broad, sweeping generalizations about a specific culture.36 His research found significant variations in nonverbal behavior within cultures. Our discussion has been intended simply to document the existence of cultural differences and to warn that such differences may hamper effective communication in small groups. No list of simple suggestions or techniques will help you manage the cultural differences that you will encounter in groups. However, a basic principle can help: When interacting with people from a culture other than your own, note differences you think may be culture-based and adapt accordingly. Become other-oriented. We are not suggesting that you abandon your cultural norms, traditions, and expectations—only that you become more flexible, thereby minimizing the communication distortion that cultural differences may cause. Carley Dodd suggests that if you think you have offended someone or acted inappropriately, you can ask the other person if you have, and if so, find out what exactly you did wrong.37 Being aware of and responding to cultural differences in small groups can enhance your ability to interact with others. Homogeneity and Diversity Earlier in the chapter we noted the dynamic tension created when individual goals and group goals conflict. Each of us seeks to be independent and autonomous, while depending on the groups to which we belong. We need to influence and control, as well as being influenced and controlled by others. Even in the most homogeneous groups, varying levels of these needs coupled with differing views of the group and its goals can make for an interesting time and a fascinating field for study. As we join or are assigned to groups, we are likely to find that those groups include increasing diversity. Research showing that women represent 47 percent and minorities 32 percent of the workforce in the United States is but one indication of this trend.38 What if we have a choice? Are groups that are more homogeneous in terms of race, gender, culture, and general ability more effective or less effective than more diverse groups? Which should we choose? Perhaps, not surprisingly, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. There is some evidence that over time diverse groups can be more effective because they include more potential in terms of skills and approaches to problems. For example, in groups where high levels of difficult cognition are required, diversity in educational specialization and age contribute positively to team identification and team performance.39 However, there is also evidence that differences in age and nationality often contribute to personality clashes, especially in newly formed teams. Such groups tend to fare better if they acknowledge their diversity at the outset and create a supportive climate tolerant of diverse opinions and personalities.40 It is also helpful for highly diverse groups to focus most sharply on the group’s task in the early stages of the group’s development.41 When comparing homogeneous work groups with diverse work groups, researchers find that diverse work groups often have more trouble initially, but over time they become more productive than homogeneous groups. This makes sense. We are more comfortable with people whom we think are similar to us. This makes for easier interaction in the initial stages of group formation. With a little effort, though, diverse groups can find the common ground to make interaction work; their diversity often produces more flexibility, more options, and more ways of looking at a problem.42 Diversity in groups is clearly associated with positive outcomes for groups, particularly with task-oriented or productivity outcomes.43 Group Formation over Time The process of group development is a progressive movement along a continuum ranging from a loose aggregate of people to a high-functioning team. This transformation from nongroup to group includes identification with the group, interrelationship, coordination among group members, and orientation to group goals.44 The previous sections on group diversity and intercultural differences highlight the importance or recognizing, understanding, and adapting to differences from the outset of group formation. Once a group forms, it continues to grow and develop over time. Many researchers observe that group development follows fairly predictable stages. Perhaps the best-known scheme for these stages was advanced by Bruce Tuckman.45 The initial stage is forming, a period characterized by anxiety and uncertainty about belonging to the group and a resulting cautiousness in behavior. In the second stage, storming, competition, individuality, and conflict emerge as group members try to satisfy their individual needs. The third stage, norming, is characterized by attempts to resolve earlier conflicts, often by negotiating clear guidelines for the group. Performing is the fourth stage. Cooperation and productive work are the hallmarks of this stage. Although not all groups neatly cycle through these stages, you will probably be able to detect forming, storming, norming, and performing behaviors in many of the groups and teams in which you participate. Remember these stages as you read this book. Developmental changes in the life of a group relate to many important group dynamics, including conflict management and leadership. We will revisit the phases of group development when we discuss a descriptive approach to group problem solving in Chapter 10. Groups change over time, and sometimes group members leave and are replaced by new members. Socializing these new members to their new group is important. Our discussion of symbolic convergence theory in Chapter 2 showed how, over time, groups develop a “personality” of their own. Group or team members become oriented to one another, they set patterns of behavior and group norms, and they develop a shared collective experience—their own fantasy chains, rules, and systems. But what happens when a newcomer joins the team? Changes in membership alter the group’s dynamics, sometimes profoundly. Continuing success depends on how well the new member adapts to particular group dynamics (is socialized) and how well the group adapts to the characteristics, abilities, and skills of the new member. As group membership changes, groups contain members experiencing different membership phases. One key issue that arises in such groups is trust. Mutual trust takes time to build among newer and more established group members, as new members may not yet be fully accepted by the already established members.46 When new members join a group, the group reforms and will likely repeat the “forming” and “storming” phases of development to some degree. Successful socialization of a new group or team member depends largely on expectations: the newcomer’s expectations of his or her own performance as well as the group’s expectations of the newcomer. The degree to which these expectations are compatible is the primary determinant of a successful transition. Just as a group should spend time establishing mutuality of concern at the beginning of its life, similarly it should revisit these considerations when group membership changes. CASE STUDY: How Do You Manage Conflicting Needs and Goals? The First Church of Roseville has a Building and Grounds committee. This committee, charged with overseeing the regular maintenance and upkeep of the church building and surrounding property, makes sure that the lawns are mowed, the hedges trimmed, the furnace maintained, the roof patched, and so forth. The group convenes for its first monthly meeting. The church custodian has just resigned, and just before leaving, he reported that the roof of the church leaks. The group’s goal is to maintain the building and grounds. All of the members are, to some degree, committed to the goal. However, this commitment means different things to different members. The committee consists of the following members: Roberto Bomblast. Roberto has been an accountant for a local firm for 23 years. He has never felt that his firm has given him a chance to show his true leadership ability. He sees the church committee, of which he is chair, as his big chance to prove himself and show the world what a truly fine administrator he is. He has another ulterior motive: He wants very much to be the new part-time business manager for the church when “Old George,” the present manager, dies or retires. This committee, then, is Roberto’s stepping-stone to greatness. Marmalade. No one is sure of Marmalade’s real name. He was found 10 years ago wandering around the sanctuary, staring at the stained glass, and saying, “Wow . . . wow . . . wowwwww . . . .” The church members took him under their wing, and he has been sweeping floors and doing other odd jobs around the church since then. The pastor thought it would “do Marmalade some good” to get involved with a responsible committee, so he assigned him to this one. Latasha Greene. Latasha is a young attorney who joined the church last year because she enjoys its outstanding music program. She has been dismayed, though, to find church governance still dominated by white males. “What decade are we in?” she wonders. “Don’t they know the millennium has come and gone?” She is annoyed because Roberto Bomblast and Thurman Jester act as if they are in charge of everything. Merry Placid. In all of her 47 years, Merry has not been outside her home state. She loves her country, her state, her community, her home, and her family. She especially loves her church because of the sense of warmth and community she feels there. She has served on every committee in the church. Merry has a high need for inclusion. She is pleased to be on this committee. Thurman Jester. Ever since his vacation trip to Dallas, Thurman wears a white belt and off-white shoes to work every day (and strongly urges his employees at the insurance office to do the same). He is committed to keeping up with the trendsetters, and Dallas, he feels, is where trends are set. Thurman was also impressed by a 40-foot neon cross he spotted outside a church in Dallas. He is highly motivated by control needs. Questions for Analysis 1. Analyze this situation. Where are the most likely sources of conflict? What do you predict will be the outcome of the committee’s next meeting? What does the group need from its members in order to be successful? 2. This chapter discussed the importance of establishing mutuality of concern. Use a rating scale, from 1 to 10—10 being high concern for the group’s task and 1 being low—to rate the level of concern of each of the characters in this case study. Does this help you identify potential conflicts? 3. Using Maslow’s and Schutz’s categories of interpersonal needs, identify the dominant needs of each of these individuals. What are their motivations for being in this group? How compatible are their individual goals with the group’s goal? Which of these committee members do you expect to be most troublesome? Why? 4. If you were a member of this group, what suggestions would you make at your first meeting? In many respects, the group is new each time its membership changes. This re-formation presents its own stages of development. The socialization of a newcomer actually begins with a period of anticipation prior to the first meeting at which the newcomer is present, in which the group formulates initial expectations. These expectations are modified or reinforced very quickly during the initial face-to-face encounter among team members. In the final phase of socialization, adjustment, newcomer and team members adjust to one another and team performance stabilizes.47 It is important to note here that positive team expectations for a new member enhance the probability of a successful outcome. Likewise, viewing changing team membership as beneficial will enhance the probability of a good outcome. Successful integration of new members is especially important in teams in which members have specialized roles and are highly interdependent.48 The dynamic interrelatedness of all the variables that affect small-group processes makes the study of small-group communication challenging and exciting. As you continue through the rest of this book, it is important that you retain what you have previously learned. Only when you have fit all the puzzle pieces together can you see a clear picture of small-group communication. This chapter has highlighted one part of the puzzle: those needs and goals that motivate people to join groups and that influence their behavior within those groups. In the initial stages of group development, uncertainty—about the group, about its goals, and about each member’s place in it—is at its peak. How you communicate at this sensitive stage of group development provides the basis for future interaction. STUDY GUIDE: REVIEW, APPLY, AND ASSESS GROUP COMMUNICATION PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES WHY DO PEOPLE JOIN GROUPS? Objective 1 Explain broadly why people join groups. Group Communication Principles People join groups to satisfy interpersonal needs and to pursue individual and group goals. Sometimes people are assigned or elected to groups. Key Term Interpersonal needs 56 INTERPERSONAL NEEDS Objective 2 Discuss two classification systems of interpersonal needs and describe how they relate to group formation. Group Communication Principles People join groups to satisfy their needs. Maslow’s category system includes physiological, safety, belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization. Schutz’s theory proposes inclusion, control, and affection as primary human needs.
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