Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Characteristics and Significance of Groups



Introduction
All day long we interact first in one group and then in
another. We live in a dwelling as part of a group, we
learn in groups contained in the same classroom, we
work in groups, we interact with friends in groups, and
we spend much of our leisure time in groups. Our family
life, our leisure time, our friendships, and our careers
are all filled with groups. In fact, if a person from outer
space conducted a study of the people of Earth, group
membership would probably be the dominant
characteristic noted. We are born into a group called
the family, and we would not survive the first few
minutes, the first few weeks, or even the first few years
of our lives without membership in this group. It is within
our family and peer groups that we are socialised into
ways of behaving and thinking, educated, and taught
to have certain perspectives on ourselves and our world.
Our personal identity is derived from the way in which
we are perceived and treated by other members of our
groups. We learn, work, and play in groups. As humans
we have an inherent social nature. Our life is filled
with groups from the moment of our birth to the moment
of our death. All these make groups one of the most
important factors in our lives. In business, government,
and the military there is great interest in improving
the productivity of groups. There is great concern in
our society with strengthening the family. Educators
are striving to better understand how the classroom
functions as a group. Drug abuse, delinquency and
crime, and mental illness are all being treated through
group procedures, and there is continued concern with
making those procedures more effective. As the
effectiveness of groups goes, our quality of life goes.
The more effective our family, career, and educational
groups, the higher the quality of our lives.
Definition of Groups
Not every collection of people can be considered a group.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines group as a
number of persons or things regarded as forming a unit
on account of any kind of mutual or common relation or
classified together on account of a common degree of
similarity. There are three criteria suggested by this
definition to call a group as a group:
a) Number of persons – more than one
b) Mutual or common relation
c) Similarity
Groups may be contrasted with aggregates. An
aggregate is a collection of individuals who are present
at the same time and place but do not form a unit or
have a common degree of similarity. Individuals standing
on a street corner, the members of an audience at a
music programme are aggregates, not groups.
While the Oxford definition has captured the basic
essence of a group, different social scientists have put
forward their own views on what is a group with
emphasis on the various aspects of a group. We can see
some of the definitions below.
Interpersonal Interaction
A group may be defined as a collection of individuals
who are interacting with one another. According to this
definition, the individuals are not a group unless they
are interacting with one another. Three psychologists
who have defined group in this way are Bonner, Stogdill,
and Homans. They stress that the primary defining
characteristic of a group is interpersonal interaction. It
is questionable that a group can exist without its
members interacting with one another.
Perceptions of Membership
A group may be defined as a social unit consisting of
two or more persons who perceive themselves as
belonging to a group. According to this definition, the
persons are not a group unless they perceive themselves
to be part of a group. Two psychologists who have defined
group in this way are Bales and Smith. They stress
that the primary defining characteristic of a group, is
that the members perceive themselves to be part of a
group. It is questionable that a group could exist without
its members being aware that they are members of a
group.
Interdependency
Group may be defined as a collection of individuals who
are interdependent. According to this definition, the
individuals are not a group unless an event that
affects one of them affects them all. Four psychologists
who have defined group in this way are Cartright and
Zander, Fiedler, and Lewin. These authors stress that
the primary defining characteristic of a group is that
the members are interdependent in some way. It is
questionable that a group could exist without its
members being interdependent.
Goals
Group may be defined as a collection of individuals who
join together to achieve a goal. According to this
definition, the individuals are not a group unless they
are trying to achieve a mutual goal. Three psychologists
who have defined group this way are Deutsch and
Freeman.
They stress that the primary defining characteristic of
a group is the craving of its members to achieve a mutual
goal. It is questionable whether a group would exist
unless there was a mutual goal that its members were
trying to achieve.
Motivation
Group may be defined as a collection of individuals who
are all trying to satisfy some personal need through
their joint association. According to this definition, the
individuals are not a group unless they are motivated
by some personal reason to be part of a group. Two
psychologists who have defined group in this way are
Bass and Cattell. They stress that the primary defining
characteristic of a group is that its members belong to
the group in order to obtain needed rewards or to satisfy
other personal needs. It is questionable that a group
could exist without its member needs being satisfied
by their membership.
Structured Relationships
A group may be defined as a collection of individuals
whose interactions are structured by a set of roles and
norms. According to this definition, the individuals are
not a group unless their interactions are structured by
a set of role definitions and norms. Two sets of
psychologists who have defined group in this way are
McDavid and Harari and Shel and Sherif.
They say that the primary defining characteristic of a
group is that the interaction of its members is
structured by role definitions and norms. It is doubtful
whether a group could exist unless role definitions and
norms structure the interaction of its members.
Mutual Influence
A group may be defined as a collection of individuals
who influence each other. According to this definition,
the individuals are not a group unless they are affecting
and being affected by each other and therefore, the
primary defining characteristic of a group is
interpersonal influence. Shaw defined group in this way.
One solution to the profusion of definitions is to combine
them all into one definition. A small group may be
defined as two or more individuals who:
a) pursue common goals
b) are interdependent
c) interact with each other
d) share norms concerning matters of common interest
and participate in a system of interlocking roles
e) influence each other
f) find the group rewarding and
g) define themselves and are defined by others as
belonging to the group
Not all these characteristics are equally important and
although it is impossible to gain consensus among social
scientists as to which characteristics are most important
we can arrive at a definition of group for the purpose of
group work as follows.
A group is two or more individuals in face to face interaction,
each aware of positive interdependence as they strive to
achieve mutual goals, each aware of his or her membership
in the group, and each aware of the others who belong to the
group.