Group dynamics refers to the interactions, attitudes, and influences of people when they are grouped together either through accident or intentional association.
Group dynamics applies to the study of two different situations. Intragroup dynamics studies the behaviors and psychological effects that result from belonging to a group, for example, a committee at work. Intergroup dynamics studies the interaction between different groups, for example, between two rival gangs or rival creative teams in an advertising agency. The foundational theory of group dynamics is that individuals when in a group act differently from lone individuals and that individuals in a group exert influence on the attitudes and behaviors of other group members.
Groups can develop for any number of reasons. They can be a formal group where members are appointed and are expected to accomplish a particular goal within a set time frame. Formal groups may also be formed to advance specific professional interests. Other groups form around faiths and beliefs (e.g., religions and political groups), hobbies, friendships, and shared experiences (e.g., grief support groups, addiction support groups). Groups built on mutual aid often develop out of shared trauma, as after a natural disaster. Groups can be as small as two people (e.g., a research team) or as large as thousands (e.g., alumni of a particular university). In large groups, subgroups often develop (e.g., alumni who were football players, alumni who were fraternity members). Belonging to a group (or many groups) helps the individuals define their self-identity and where they feel they fit into their environment.
The term group dynamics was coined by Kurt Lewin (1890–1947), a German-American psychologist who is considered the founder of social psychology. He was one of the first people scientifically to study the way groups of individuals act and react. He formulated the idea that a group is always more than the sum of its individual members, highlighting the influence of group members on each other. Next, he devised a way to quantify member interactions. He then used the results of these interactions and the influences the group members had on each other to explain the actions and reactions of the whole group. His idea that the group is greater than the sum of its members was initially rejected. Nevertheless, his research explained many aspects of group behavior, and it later came to be accepted as fundamentally true.
Bruce Tuckman (1938–) formulated a model for stages of group development that is applicable to all groups but is especially useful in the workplace. This model has five stages:
Understanding group dynamics is important in understanding racism, gender discrimination, religious discrimination, altruism, and decision-making. The basics of group dynamics can be applied to the fields of business, psychology, political science, education, social work, and athletics as well as purely social interest groups. An understanding of group dynamics is especially important in the corporate world where teams are often designated to tackle specific problems.
Former Harvard professor Richard Hackman (1940–2013) was a leader in developing models for forming and managing teams in the workplace. He proposed five requirements for teams to be successful. These can be summarized as follows:
Intergroup dynamics often come into play in conflicts involving race, religion, and gender identity but can also be a factor in the workplace; for example, when unionized workers are in conflict with management. One effective way of reducing tension between groups is to involve them in a situation where there is mutual dependence. For example, after natural disasters two groups that would not normally associate or that are hostile to each other often work together to overcome obstacles and improve conditions for everyone.
See also Lewin, Kevin; McDougal, William.
Forsyth, Donelson. Group Dynamics, 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2014.
Levi, Daniel. Group Dynamics for Teams, 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.
Forsyth, Donelson, R. “Group Dynamics.” https://www.cengagebrain.com.mx/content/forsyth68220_0534368220_02.01_chapter01.pdf (accessed August 16, 2015).
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Research Center for Group Dynamics, PO Box 1248, Ann Arbor, MI, 48106, (734) 764-8360, Fax: (734) 647-3652, http://www.rcgd.isr.umich.edu .