Understanding Groups and Teams

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As discussed earlier, managers need to have an understanding of behaviour in organisations. This article discusses behaviour of individuals within teams and groups and the behaviour of teams as a whole.

This article is a topic within the subject Managing Organisations and People.


Required Reading

Robbins et all, Managing Organisations and People MGMT1001, compiled from Management (6th ed) and Organisational Behaviour (6th ed), (3rd ed, Sydney, Pearson Australia, 2012), pp. 153-180 (chapter 5) and 362 - 389 (Chapter 10).

Defining Teams and Groups

[1]Before delving into the behaviour of individuals in groups and teams, an understanding of the differences between groups and teams is needed. A group is two or or more people who come together under a shared purpose to achieve a goal. By contrast, a team is a group that has a "psychological contract" where individuals share some level of accountability and responsibility for the outcome. It is important to note that most books and articles use the terms "groups" and "teams" interchangeably when discussing organisational contexts.

Groups and teams are needed for a few reasons. Firstly, complicated projects often require a vast set of skills that one person does not usually possess. Secondly, teams are able to finish large volume of work much more quickly than a single person. In addition, teams offer a variety of knowledge, ideas and opinions that help shape a project as effective and efficient. Moreover, they allow flexibility and the ability to change strategy depending on new information with lower time and financial costs.

Types of Teams

There are many different types of teams depending on the goals that are to be achieved. A few of them are discussed in this section.

Problem Solving Teams

[2]Problem solving teams are those that a set up in order to increase effectiveness in one particular area. Usually the team is made up of individuals from the same department or that have the same skill and knowledge base but are rarely given authority to implement any changes.

Self Managed Work Teams

[3]Self managed work teams are those that have the authority that problem solving teams lack. They often operate without a manager but are accountable and responsible for all solutions and outcomes. As they operate without a manager, they often have to plan and coordinate work schedules, assigning tasks amongst other general administrative and managerial work. These teams are often very successful.

Cross Functional Teams

[4]Cross functional teams are those that are composed of individuals from different specialties and departments. They are very common in organisations today even though they are often very complicated.

Virtual Teams

[5]While many teams work face to face, today's global reach allows for teams to work virtually, through the internet. The advantages of these teams is that they are usually time efficient (as work can be carried 24/7, as well as saving money on travel expenses) and may reduce interpersonal difficulties. The disadvantages however are that the teams are usually less communicative and the relationships are de-personalised. In general, successful virtual teams are those that consist of some social interaction, have clearly defined roles and have positive attitudes and commitment to the team goals.

Group Development

[6]Though there is no one way to describe how groups develop, a general pattern can be observed. This pattern is based on the theory of Tuckman and Jensen (1977) and it involves five stages which are:

  1. Forming- this stage involves the first meeting between group members (or when a new member joins) where individuals are uncertain about each others roles, attitudes and personalities. The stage is ended when members start thinking of themselves as part of a group and when roles and leadership are determined.
  2. Storming- this stage involves conflict where group members see themselves as part of a group but resist the imposition of the group on individuality and on who will control the group.
  3. Norming- this stage is where relationships start forming between individuals and where group identity as a whole is achieved. In addition, procedures and expectations are formed in this stage.
  4. Performing- this stage is when the group starts to perform the task they first set to achieve.
  5. Adjourning- this stage is only applicable for temporary groups and involves the group breaking up.

It should be noted that this model is not linear and the group can be set back stages or even skip some.

Punctuated Equilibrium Model

The punctuated equilibrium model suggests that performance of a group is not constant. Rather at first, a group works very poorly as members feel no pressure to work hard until the punctuated equilibrium point, when the deadline draws near and group members feel very pressured to complete their jobs.

Group Behaviour

[7]In order to understand how groups and individuals within them behave, an understanding of the components of the group environment is needed.

External Conditions

[8]Groups in organisations need to work within the policies and procedures of the organisation. These conditions may be the organisation's strategy, authority structures, formal rules and regulations, availability or resources and culture amongst others. All these affect how the group will work together as well as how the individuals within the group will behave.

Group Member Resources

[9]The knowledge, skills, abilities and personality of the individuals within the group affect how they all work together as well as the overall success. In addition, individual attitudes and personalty traits affect the group's success.

Group Structure

[10]Group structure is an essential characteristic that determines the:

  • Group norms
  • Roles
  • Conformity (related to groupthink, the affect that a group's thoughts have on manipulating individual thoughts to conform)
  • Size
  • Cohesiveness (the degree to which members are attracted to each other and share the group's roles)
  • Leadership

Group Conflict

[11]Conflict in groups nearly always arises. There are three main views of how prominent it is and how it should be treated. They are:

  1. Traditional view of conflict which maintains that conflict can and should be avoided as conflict implies that the group is not working well together
  2. Human relations view of conflict which maintains that conflict is inevitable and has the potential to strengthen the group and contribute to the group performance
  3. Interactionist view of conflict which maintains that some conflict is necessary for a group to perform well

In general however, everyone agrees that conflict should be managed and to do this we need to understand what causes conflict. According to Peterson and Harvey, the reasons for conflict and the way to resolve them is summarised in the following table.

Sources of Conflict Conflict Type Possible Resolution
Differences in information or skills Task based Openness and information sharing
Differences in values Relationship based Most difficult to manage. Compromise is needed
Differences in interests/goals Process based Ensure a fair and transparent process


This is the end of this topic. Click here to go back to the main subject page for Managing Organisations and People.


"Textbook" refers to Robbins et all, Managing Organisations and People MGMT1001, compiled from Management (6th ed) and Organisational Behaviour (6th ed), (3rd ed, Sydney, Pearson Australia, 2012).

  1. Textbook p.364
  2. Textbook p. 382
  3. Textbook p. 382
  4. Textbook p. 382
  5. Textbook p. 382
  6. Textbook p. 364
  7. Textbook p. 366
  8. Textbook p. 367
  9. Textbook p.367
  10. Textbook p.367
  11. Textbook p. 377
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