Through extensive research of formal group functions, this article aims to define the key determinants in the success of a formal group, while also outlining the factors influencing group behaviour. This will be discussed in relation to two management theories: scientific management or behavioural science theory.
Through pinpointing the fundamental principles of scientific management, it is clear that this theory of management was not geared towards the study of organisational groups, but rather as a method of making organisations and workers as efficient as possible through defining the ‘one best way’ for a job to be done (Robbins et al, 2012). The theory, created by Frederick Winslow Taylor, centralises around creating machine-like precision in both workers and management in order to increase efficiency and profitability (Bell & Martin, 2012). This can be seen through his observations in time and motion studies focusing on how long it took workers to perform an operation, the types of work materials they used, methods to help each worker optimise their personal level of productivity, and techniques for achieving efficient division of labour (Bell & Marin, 2012). Furthermore, Taylor developed four central principles of Scientific Management outlined as: develop a science for each element of an individual’s work with efficient methods for all to follow, scientifically select workers with skills and abilities that match each job and train them in the most efficient way to accomplish each task, ensure cooperation through incentives and provide the work environment that reinforces optimal work results in a scientific manner, and divide responsibility for managing and working, while supporting individuals in work groups doing what they do best (Robbins et al, 2012). These principles, combined with his theory of monetary motivation being the ultimate way to motivate workers (Brogan, 2011), illustrates the manner by which Scientific Management Theory is more individualistic in nature, rather than aiding in the study of group functioning and success. That is not to say that these principles cannot be applied in a formal group situation, but rather the suitability of Scientific Management in relation to the study of groups is less relevant when compared to the concepts and ideals of the following Behavioural Science Theory.
Behavioural Science Theory is a study of organisational behaviour whereby theorists rely on objective research of human behaviour in organisations (Robbins et al, 2012). This approach has been paramount in shaping the way today’s organisations design motivating jobs, how they work with employee teams, the ways in which they use open communication channels and current theories on motivation, leadership, group behaviour and development (Robbins et al, 2012). Because of the theory’s roots originating in the field of social science, the fundamental assumptions of the theory centralise around the behaviour of the individual and their interactional style with others. The assumptions can be defined as: individuals are inherently good and infinitely perfectible, people are positively motivated towards others and favour cooperative behaviour, interpersonal harmony is preferred over conflict, and there is an individual desire for a degree of social control or order within any collection of people (Mailick & Stumpf, 1998). It is because of these foundational concerns that it is clearly evident that Behavioural Science Theorists would be more in favour of using groups to accomplish organisational tasks, and with this in mind it is now possible to explore the factors influencing group behaviour and success.
When a formal group is formed within an organisation, there are certain general stages that the group inevitably goes through during development. These five stages begin with the stage of Forming; in which people join the group and define the group’s purpose, structure and leadership, then moving onto Storming in which members accept the group but resist the control that the group imposes on individuality and also dispute over who will control the group, then moving to Norming which is characterised by close relationships and cohesiveness, followed by Performing in which the group is fully functional, and finally Adjourning during which group members finalise the groups activities and prepare to disband (Robbins et al, 2012). At any point during these five stages, the group can be subjected to a number of factors that can influence both behaviour within the group and the success of the group as a whole.
Conditions imposed on the group from outside influences such as the organisation’s strategy, policies, rules and regulations, organisational resources, performance management systems and organisational culture all play a key role in how the group functions and the degree to which it succeeds (Robbins et al, 2012). In using Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. as an example, it is evident from the mission statement from the very forming years of the Apple Company that the organisational culture was one in which innovation and technological advance was central to the group’s purpose. As stated on The Economist website, Steve Job’s mission statement for Apple in 1980 was “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind” (“Mission Statement”, 2009). It is with this organisational culture engrained from the beginning in all of Apple’s employees that enabled the brand to expand and diversify to the present day in order to sell a range of consumer digital products which have been seen as innovative in their field (“Marketline”, 2012).
Group member resources are equally as important in the outcome of a group’s behaviour and success. The individual resources that each member of the group presents, including abilities, skillsets and personality characteristics, all work to determine the fate of the group as a whole. It has been found that individual interpersonal skills including conflict management and communication skills have a direct impact on group success (Stewart, 2006), as well as a group member’s individual belief in their ability to succeed in performing the task which can have a direct impact on their approach and persistence in completing the task (Riggs & Knight, 1994). Examples of these factors can again be seen in the study of Apple Inc., when in 1997, after Jobs had been away from the company since 1985, the company had generated losses of almost $2 billion in two years at the hands of its third CEO in four years, Gil Amelio (“Marketline”, 2012). The internal conflict within Apple and lack of managerial skillsets left the company struggling until the return of Jobs in 1997 appointed as interim CEO eventuating to permanent CEO in January 2000 (“Marketline”, 2012).
In addition to external conditions and group member resources, group structure also plays a vital role in both group behaviour and success. Within each group is an internal structure that influences the actions of members within the group. An individual’s role within the group, group norms, conformity to group attitudes resulting in groupthink, the individual’s status or position within the group, group size and group cohesiveness all have the ability to influence the group as a whole (Robbins et al, 2012). It has been found that social support by fellow team members is likely to increase both motivation and coordination within teams beyond what would be expected based on individual team members’ capabilities alone (Huffmeier & Hertel, 2010). This shows that group cohesiveness or the degree to which team members support one another to work towards the same goal influences the outcome of the group collectively. Furthermore, group members’ perceptions of the demonstrated ability of the group to perform the required tasks are essential to the function and success of the group (Bandura, 1986), illustrating the ways in which group norms and attitude can have an effect on individual’s and therefore group effort and success. This success can also be affected by status disagreements within the group, whereby conflict over hierarchy and individual roles within the group can have a detrimental effect on group performance through reduced contributions to the group by specific members involved in the conflict (Kilduff, Anderson & Willer, 2013). These factors typically arise in the Storming phase of group development previously mentioned.
The findings discussed within this essay highlight the manner by which the characteristics of a formal group and the atmosphere constructed by the sum of all parts involved can amount to either the success or failure of a group; depending on the strength of the resources, structure of the group and the external conditions that need to act as enablers to the succession and positive development of the group and its specified task. Although an organisational group is an incredibly dynamic and constantly evolving structure of people, it is possible to form a powerful sub-set of employees in order to successfully complete organisational tasks. This can be done through the careful selection of the right people for the specified task (through the use of principles established in Scientific Management Theory) paired with the correct theories of leadership, motivation and group behaviour that can be learnt through Behavioural Science approach. Together these theories provide a solid foundation for the understanding of group behaviour and success.
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