Group Dynamics

Section A, Part 6

When you think of school groups, you probably think about student council, honor society, clubs, teams, legislatures, or committees. Most groups, however, are not as rigidly structured as these. Any collection of people, from two to 2 million, constitutes a group when the people in the group have:

  • A common identity
  • A common purpose
  • Common goals

As a leader, you have both a tremendous influence and a responsibility to your group members. The types and extent of interaction among group members are often determined by your ability to perceive, understand, and influence their interactions. This can be a difficult task, because patterns of group interaction are not static. Groups are constantly changing and evolving.

Group Development

(Based on the model developed by B. Tuckman, 1965)

While the precise dynamics of a particular group are determined by many factors, to a large extent all groups undergo five basic stages of development:


A group goes through this initial stage when its members first come together as a collection of individuals unfamiliar with other group members. At this stage, you are instrumental in providing opportunities and a positive environment for initial group interactions.

Start by encouraging group members to introduce themselves. Never assume that people are acquainted, and when you are introducing people, try to think of one or two facts about them that others may find interesting.


Once the group has become acquainted, conflicts may arise over such issues as power, leadership, goals, and attention. These potential problems can be minimized by setting standards and modeling the desired behaviors. Often group members look to each other as guides for standards of behavior, particularly in terms of the acceptable levels of criticism and conflict and the ways in which disagreements are handled.

Make sure that the message you are sending is consistent. Your body language should not encourage behavior that you verbally discourage.


During the third stage, conflicts are resolved and the group begins to function smoothly as a unit. These functions include working out compromises, encouraging participation, maintaining a conducive environment, and handling individual problems.


In the fourth stage, the group experiences maximum productivity and involvement. The group members recognize each other as being important components of the group.


In the final stage, members come to terms with the end of the task/exercise and must decide whether or not to apply their experience to work with other groups in which they may belong and with future activities of the current group.

Functional Roles of Group Members

Individual behavior in a group can be examined from the point of view of its purpose or function. When a member says something, is he or she 1) primarily trying to get the group task accomplished (task roles), 2) trying to improve or patch up some relationships among members (maintenance roles), or 3) primarily meeting some personal need without regard to the group’s concerns (self-oriented roles)?

Several examples of these three types of behavior are:

Task Roles

  • The initiator-contributor suggests or proposes to the group new ideas or a changed way of regarding the group’s problem or a goal.
  • The information seeker asks for clarification of suggestions made in terms of their accuracy and for authoritative information pertinent to the problem being discussed.
  • The opinion seeker asks not for the facts of the case, but for a clarification of the values pertinent to what the group is undertaking or for clarification of values involved in a suggestion or solution.
  • The opinion giver states his or her belief or opinion pertinent to a suggestion. The emphasis is on his or her proposal of what should become the group’s view, not on relevant facts or information.
  • The information giver offers facts or generalizations that are authoritative or relates his or her personal experience.
  • The elaborator spells out suggestions in terms of examples, offers a rationale for suggestions previously made, and tries to deduce how an idea would work out if adopted by the group.
  • The orienter defines the position of the group with respect to its goals by summarizing what has occurred or raising questions about the direction that the group discussion is taking.
  • The energizer prods the group to action or decision and attempts to stimulate the group to greater or higher quality activity.
  • The recorder writes down suggestions and makes a record of group decisions. The recorder is the group memory.

Maintenance Roles

  • The encourager praises, agrees with, and accepts the contributions of others. He or she indicates warmth and solidarity in his or her attitude toward the other group members and indicates understanding and acceptance of other points of view.
  • The harmonizer mediates the difference between other members, attempts to reconcile disagreements, and reduces tension.
  • The compromiser operates from within a conflict in which his or her idea or position is involved. He or she offers compromise by yielding status, admitting error, or disciplining him or herself to maintain group harmony or growth.
  • The gatekeeper and expediter attempt to keep communication channels open by encouraging or facilitating the participation of others or by proposing regulation of the flow of communication. (“We haven’t heard from              yet.” “Why don’t we limit the length of our contributions so that everyone will have a chance to speak?”)
  • The standard setter expresses ideals for the group to attempt to achieve or applies standards in evaluating the quality of group processes.

Self-Oriented Roles
(Excerpt from A Handbook for the Student Activity Adviser by Ron Joekel)

Group members sometimes exhibit behaviors that do not contribute to group maintenance or task accomplishment and interfere with the effectiveness of the group. Examples of such nonfunctional roles are:

  • Dominator: tries to assert authority or superiority or to manipulate the group through flattery, interruptions, or demanding right-to-attention; embarks on long monologues; is overpositive and overdogmatic; constantly tries to lead group even against group goals; is autocratic and monopolizing.
  • Blocker: resistant, stubborn, negative, uncooperative, pessimistic, interferes with group progress by rejecting ideas and arguing unduly.
  • Help-seeker: seeks sympathy; whines, expressing insecurity and personal confusions; depreciates self.
  • Special interest-pleader: claims to speak for a special group, but usually is seeking attention for self; name-drops to impress the group.
  • Aggressor: attacks the group or the stature of its problems; deflates the status of others; may joke, express disapproval of values/acts/ feelings of others, or try to take credit for another member’s contributions.
  • Fun-expert: is not involved in the group and doesn’t wish to be; may be cynical, aloof; often involved in horseplay; behaves childishly; distracts others, makes off-color remarks.
  • Self-confessor: uses the group as audience for expressions of personal and emotional needs; is not oriented to the group.
  • Avoider: withdraws from ideas, from group, from participation; is indifferent, aloof, and excessively formal; daydreams, doodles, whispers to others; wanders from the subject or talks about irrelevant personal experiences.
  • Recognition seeker: exaggerated attempt to get attention by boasting or claiming long experience or great accomplishments; struggles against being placed in “inferior positions.”

How to Keep Groups Working Together

Successful group action in solving problems and addressing the group’s goals often depends on understanding some basic principles about the way people behave in groups and the kinds of behaviors you as a leader should encourage. Start early by communicating your expectations to the group and modeling and reinforcing them throughout the problem-solving process.

  • Identification with Other Members
    Try to find out how the other person feels. Don’t assume that what you want is what others want, too. Discovering common attitudes among group members is productive. Encourage input from all members when setting up ground rules or guidelines for the group.
  • Participation
    Encourage everyone in the group to take an active part. Consensus is much better than an unhappy minority. People participate in their own ways, so be tolerant and helpful in encouraging participation. Help members find roles that fit them.
  • Democratic Climate
    Democratic leadership involves more people than a dictatorship. Your job as a leader is to create an atmosphere of honesty and frankness. Keep things moving but allow the group to make the decisions when they are ready to do so.
  • Individual Security
    People under pressure may call names, get angry, show prejudice, or behave in other ways destructive to group cohesiveness. Security comes as trust develops within a group. Act swiftly to remind the group of the agreed upon guidelines for working together if you observe anyone whose actions or words are out of line with any one of the guidelines.
  • Open Lines of Communication
    Explain and listen. Make your messages honest and accurate. Encourage the flow of listening, talking, and responding.
  • Better Listening
    Attempt to interpret both the literal meaning and the intention of each speaker. You need to hear what other people say, what they intend to say, and what they would have said if they could have said what they wanted to say.
  • Handling Hostility
    Hostility in itself is not necessarily harmful to a group, or even to individual productiveness. People need freedom to express hostility within a group (through channels) because inhibition will decrease the efficiency of the group members. Call a timeout from the exercise if needed to give the group time to work through their frictions and to refocus their efforts on the challenge at hand.

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