People join groups for a multitude of reasons. A major reason is that group membership often results in some form of need satisfaction on the part of the individual. Membership into a group can fulfil numerous needs, some which group members may not realize they are benefiting from:
- Companionship – groups provide members to simply be in the company of other people.
- Survival and security – From a historic or evolutionary perspective our ancestors would partake in group experiences for hunting and defence.
- Affiliation and status – membership into various groups can provide individuals with certain socials status’ or security.
- Power and control– with group membership comes the opportunity for leadership roles; individuals who feel they need to exert their power and opinions over others can have such experiences within group settings.
- Achievement – groups have the capability to achieve more than individuals acting alone.
Organizations typically form groups in order to accomplish work related tasks; however, as a member of a work group you may unintentionally reap the numerous benefits independent of the original group construct.
Defining characteristics of groups
Currently there is not a universal definition of what constitutes a group. Groups can have varying numbers of members, communication styles, and structures. Research has identified a few common requirements contributing to the recognition of individuals working in a collaborative environment to be considered a “group”:
- Interdependence: In order for an individual of the collective to accomplish their part in the assigned task they depend, to some degree, on the outputs of other members of the collective.
- Social interaction: In order to accomplish the goal some form of verbal or nonverbal communication is required to take place amongst the members of the collective.
- Perception of a group: All members of the collective must agree they are, in fact, part of a group.
- Commonality of purpose: All the members of the collective come together to serve or attain a common goal.
Some researchers suggest additional characteristics need to be identified in order for a collective of individuals to be categorized as a group such as: working the same shifts, shared physical work locations, and reporting to the same manager. However the commonalities of the multiple definitions reviewed suggest that the definition of a group is based on the interdependence of people who come together to accomplish a common goal.
Types of groups
Group types are routinely distinguished by the work that the groups do:
- Production groups consist of front line employees who produce some tangible output. Autonomous production groups are self-directed or self-managing while semi-autonomous production groups typically have a dedicated supervisor who oversees all operations.
- Service groups consist of employees that work with customers on a repeated basis, such as airline teams, maintenance groups, sales groups, call centres, etc.
- Management groups consist of an executive or senior manager along with managers that report directly to him/her. Management groups are often able to organize themselves towards goals such as policy making, budgeting, staffing, and planning.
- Project groups are generally cross-function groups of individuals brought together for the duration of a specific, time-limited project. Project groups are usually disbanded once the project is complete.
- Action and performing groups are groups that typically consist of expert specialists who conduct complex, time-limited performance events. Examples include musical bands, military crews, surgery teams, rescue units or professional music groups.
- Advisory groups consist of employees that work outside of, but parallel with, production processes. Examples include quality circles, selection committees, or other advisory groups pulled together to make recommendations to an organization.