Group Structure

Group StructureWhen a group comes together for them the first time and begins to interact, various differences between the members begin to appear. differences in status, influence, role, ability, and so on. The pattern of relationships that is thus established is known as the group structure.

The pattern will, of course, change according to the nature of the task or the stage of discussion and the most influential person for one purpose may not be so for another.

A group’s structure defines the formation, arrangement, and articulation of the members of that group.

The group’s formation is its overall “design” or “architecture,” meaning its general configuration for unifying the constituent elements into a single unit-the group’s basic shape. The structure is the underlying pattern of stable relationships among the group members.

What are some of these structural variables?

They include:

  • Formal leadership.
  • Roles.
  • Norms.
  • Status.
  • Group size.
  • Composition of the group, and
  • The degree of group cohesiveness.

Formal Leadership

Almost every work group has a formal leader. He or she is typically identified by titles such as unit or committee chair. This leader can play an important part in the group’s success – so much so, in fact, that we have devoted an entire chapter to the topic of leadership.

In leadership chapter we review the effect that leaders have on individual and group performance variables.                 ,


Great English essayist William Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.

Using the same metaphor, all group members are actors, each playing a role. By this term, we mean a set of expected behavior patterns attributed to someone occupying a given position in a social unit.

The understanding of role behavior would be dramatically simplified if each of us chose one role and “played it out” regularly and consistently. Unfortunately, we are required to play a number of diverse roles, both on and off our jobs.

Role Identity

There are certain attitudes and actual behaviors consistent with a role, and they create the role identity.

People have the ability to shift roles rapidly when they recognize that the situation and its demands clearly require major changes. For instance, when union stewards were promoted to supervisory positions, it was found that their attitudes changed from pro-union to pro-management within a few months of their promotion.

When these promotions had to be rescinded later because of economic difficulties in the firm, it was found that the demoted supervisors had once again adopted their pro-Union attitudes.

Role Perception

One view of how one is supposed to act in a given situation is a role perception. Based on an interpretation of how we believe we are supposed to behave, we engage in certain types of behavior.

Where do we get these perceptions? We get them from stimuli all around us – friends, books, movies, television. Many current law enforcement officers learned their roles from reading books, while many of tomorrow’s lawyers will be influenced by watching the actions of attorneys in law and order or the practice.

Role Expectations

Role expectations are defined as how others believe you should act in a given situation. How you behave is determined to a large extent by the role defined in the context in which you are acting.

For instance, the role of a University teacher is viewed as honesty, dignity, calm and quiet, while a football coach is seen as aggressive, dynamic, and inspiring to his players. In the workplace, it can be helpful to look at the topic of role expectations through the perspective of the psychological contract.

There is an unwritten agreement that exists between employees and their employer. This psychological contract sets out mutual expectations – what management expects from workers, and vice versa.

Role Conflict

When an individual is confronted by divergent role expectations, the result is role conflict. It exists when an individual finds that compliance with one role requirement may make it more difficult to comply with another (Peterson, 1995).

At the extreme, it would include situations in which two or more role expectations are mutually contradictory.


Group norms are rules or guidelines that reflect expectations of how group members should act and interact. They define what behaviors are acceptable or not; good or not; right or not; or appropriate or not.

Norms may relate to how people look, behave, or communicate with each other. Some norms relate to how a group as a whole will act. By defining what social behavior lies within acceptable boundaries, norms can help a group function smoothly and face conflict without falling apart.

Group norms vary based on the group and issues important to the group. All groups have established norms, that is acceptable standards of behavior that shared by the groups’ members.

Norms tell members what they ought and ought not to do under certain circumstances. From an individual’s standpoint, they tell what is expected of you in certain situations.

When agreed to and accepted by the group, norms act as a means of influencing the behavior of group members with a minimum of external controls. Norms differ among groups, communities, and societies, but they all have them.

Common Classes of Norms

Without group norms, individuals would have no understanding of how to act in social situations. A work group’s norms are like an individual’s fingerprint each is unique.

Yet there are still some common classes of norms that appear in most work groups.

Performance Norms

Performance norms are centered on how hard a person should work in a given group. They are informal cues, if you will, that tells a person or helps a person understand how hard they should work and what type of output they should have.

Appearance Norms

This type of norm informs or guides us as to how we should look or what our physical appearance should be – what fashion we should wear or how we should style our hair or any number of areas related to how we should look.

Social Arrangement Norms

When we talk about this type of norm we generally do not equate it to a business setting. This norm is centered on how we should act in social settings. Once again, there are cues we need to pick up on when we are out with friends or at social events that help us fit in and get a closer connection to the group.

Resource Allocation Norms

For this type of norm we’re focusing on the allocation of resources in a business environment.

This can include raw materials as well as overtime or any other resource found or needed within an organization.


As a member of a group, you desire acceptance by the group.

Because of your desire for acceptance, you are susceptible to conforming to the group’s norms. There is considerable evidence that groups can place strong pressures on individual members to change their attitudes and behaviors to conform to the group’s standard.

Do individuals conform to the pressures of all the groups to which they belong? Obviously not, because people belong to many groups and their norms vary. In some cases, they may even have contradictory norms.

So what do people do? They conform to the important groups to which they belong or hope to belong.

The important groups have been referred to as reference groups and are characterizes as ones in which the person is aware of the others; the person defines himself or herself as a member, or would like to be a member: and the person feels that the group members are significant to him or her.

The implication, then, is that all groups do not impose equal conformity pressures on their members.

Deviant Workplace Behavior

Mr. Xisan is frustrated by a co-worker who constantly spreads malicious and unsubstantiated rumors about him. Ms. Yesmin is tired of a member of her work team who, when confronted with a problem, taken out his frustration by yelling and screaming at her and other work team members.

And Ms. Zakia recently quit her job as a dental hygienist after being constantly sexually harassed by her employer, What do these three episodes have in common? They represent employees being exposed to acts of deviant workplace behavior.

This term covers a full range of antisocial actions by organizational members that intentionally violate established norms and that result in negative consequences for the organization, its members, or both. The following Figure provides a typology of deviant workplace behaviors with examples of each. Typology of deviant workplace behavior-


Leaving early

Intentionally working slow

Wasting resources



Lying about hours worked

Stealing from the organization


Showing favoritism

Gossiping and spreading rumors

Blaming Co-workers

Personal Aggression

Sexual harassment

Verbal abuse

Stealing from co-workers


Few organizations will admit to creating or condoning conditions that encourage and maintain deviate norms. Yet they exist.

As with norms in general, individual employees’ antisocial actions are shaped by the group context within which they work. Evidence demonstrates that the antisocial behavior exhibited by a workgroup is a significant predictor of an individual’s antisocial behavior at work (Robinson & KeUy, 1999).


While teaching a college course on adolescence, the instructor asked the class to list things that contributed to status when they were in high school.

The list was long and included being an athlete or a cheerleader and being able to cut class without getting caught. Then the instructor asked the students to list things that didn’t contribute to status.” Again, it was easy for the students to create a long list: getting straight A’s having your mother drive you to school, and so forth.

Finally, the students were asked to develop a third list – those things that didn’t matter one way or the other. There was a long silence. At last one student in the back row volunteered, “In high school, nothing didn’t matter” (Keyes, me).

Status, that is, a socially defined position or rank given to groups or group members by others – permeates society far beyond the walls of high school. It would not be extravagant to rephrase the preceding quotation to read. “In the status hierarchy of life, nothing doesn’t matter.”

Despite all attempts to make it more egalitarian, we have made little progress toward a classless society.

Even the smallest group will develop roles, rights, and rituals to differentiate its members.

Status is an important factor in understanding human behavior because it is a significant motivator and has major behavioral consequences when individuals perceive a disparity between what they believe their status to be and what others perceive it to be. ,

Status and Norms

Status has been shown to have some interesting effects on the power of norms and pressures to conform.

For instance, high-status members of groups often are given more freedom to deviate from norms than are other group members.

High-status people also are better able to resist conformity pressures than lower- status peers. An individual Who is highly valued by a group but who doesn’t much need or care about the social rewards the group provides is particularly able to pay minimal attention to conformity norms (Harvey A Consaivi, 1960).

Status Equity

It is important for group members to believe that the status hierarchy is equitable. When inequity is perceived it creates disequilibrium, which results in various types of corrective behavior (Greenberg, ms).

The trapping that go with formal positions are also important elements in maintaining equity. When we believe there is an inequity between the perceived ranking of an individual and the status accouterments that person is given by the organization, we are experiencing status incongruence.

An example of this kind of incongruence is the more desirable office location being held by a lower-ranking individual. Pay incongruence has long been a problem in the insurance industry, where top sales agents often earn two to five times more than senior corporate executives.

The result is that it is very hard for insurance companies to entice successful agents into, management positions.

Our point is that employees expect the things an individual has and receives to be congruent with his or her status.

Status and Culture

Before we leave the topic of status, we should briefly address the issue of cross-cultural transferability. Do cultural differences affect status?

The answer is a resounding yes (Harris & Moran, 1996). The importance of status does vary between cultures. The French, for example, are highly status conscious.

Also, countries differ on the criteria that create status.

For instance, status for Latin Americans and Asian tends to be derived from family position and formal roles held in organizations. In contrast USA and Australia, it tends to be less “in your face”. And it tends to be bestowed more on accomplishments than on titles and family trees.

Group Size

Does the size of a group affect the group’s overall behavior?

The answer to this question is a definite yes, but the effect depends on what dependent variables you look at. The evidence indicates, for instance, the smaller groups are faster at completing tasks that are larger ones.

However, if the group is engaged in problem solving, large groups consistently get better marks than their smaller counterparts. Translating these results into specific numbers is a bit more hazardous, but we can offer some parameters.

Large groups – with a dozen or more members – are good for gaining diverse input. So if the goal of the group is fact-finding, the larger groups should be more effective.

On the other hand, smaller groups are better at doing something productive with the input. Groups of approximately seven members, therefore, tend to be more effective for taking action.

One of the most important findings related to the size of a group has been labeled social loafing. Social loafing refers to the concept that people are prone to exert less effort on a

. task if they are in a group versus when they work alone. Social loafing is the tendency for individuals to expend less effort when working collectively than when working individually (Comer, ms).

The idea of working in groups is typically seen as a way to improve the accomplishment of a task by pooling the skills and talents of the individuals in that group. But, in some groups, there is a tendency on the part of participants to contribute less to the group’s goal than if they were doing the same task themselves.

In social psychology, social loafing is the phenomenon of people exerting less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when they work alone.

This is seen as one of the main reasons groups are sometimes less productive than the combined performance of their members working as individuals but should be distinguished from the accidental coordination problems that groups sometimes experience.

Social loafing frequently occurs because certain individuals exert less effort than others and this can create an unhelpful group dynamic and individual response. Learn more about how social loafing occurs and what can be done to prevent it in this lesson.

Causes of social loafing include a perception of unfair division-of-labor, a belief that co-workers are lazy, or a feeling of being able to hide in a crowd and therefore not be able to be singled out for blame. Social loafing may also arise if a member believes that others intend to withhold their efforts and thus he or she would be foolish not to do the same – the sucker effect.

Social loafing has negative consequences for both the group and the individuals in the group. The group dynamic is affected when certain individuals are seen as weak contributors to the group purpose. It tends to split the group and fosters a lack of cohesion.

For example, if only five of the eight members of a team are doing most of the work, it will often create an ‘in’ group (those members that are working hard) and an ‘out’ group (those members that are not contributing as much). Individuals in the group can also be affected by social loafing.

While there? is a disparity of effort between members of a group, individuals start to gauge their Own effort based on what others are doing instead of maintaining a standard of excellence towards achieving the goal. This lowers the level of satisfaction for the task in all members of the group.

For example, if a motivated team member repeatedly feels others are relying on them to do most of the work, they might deliberately reduce their workload or even stop collaborating with group members because they no longer want to feel exploited by the less productive members.


Most group activities require a variety of skills and knowledge.

Given this requirement, it would be reasonable to conclude that heterogeneous groups – those , composed of dissimilar individuals – would be more likely to have diverse abilities and information and should be more effective. Research studies generally substantiate this conclusion, especially on cognitive, creativity-demanding tasks.

When a group is diverse in terms of personality, gender, age, education, functional specialization, and experience, there is an increased probability that the group will possess the needed characteristics to complete its tasks effectively.

The group may be more conflict-laden and less expedient as varied positions are introduced and assimilated, but the evidence generally supports the conclusion that heterogeneous groups perform more effectively than do those that are homogeneous.

Essentially, diversity promotes conflict, which stimulates creativity, which leads to improved decision making.

An offshoot of the composition issue has recently received a great deal of attention by group researchers. This is the degree to which members, of a group share a common demographic attributes, such as age, gender, race, educational level, or length of service in the organization, and the impact of this attribute on turnover. We call this variable group demography.

Groups and organizations are composed of cohorts, Which we define as individuals who hold a common attribute. For instance, everyone born in 1960 is of the same age.

This means they also have shared common experiences. People born in 1970 have experienced the information revolution but not the Korean conflict. People born in 1945 shared the liberation war of Bangladesh, but not the Great Depression.

Women in Bangladeshi organizations today who were born before 1971 matured prior to the women’s movement and have had substantially different experiences from women born after 1990.

Group demography, therefore, suggests that attributes such as age or the date that someone joins a specific workgroup or organization should help us to predict turnover.

Essentially the logic goes like this; Turnover will be greater among those with dissimilar experiences because communication is more difficult. Conflict and power struggles are more likely and more severe when they occur.

The increased conflict makes group membership less attractive, so employees are more likely to quit. Similarly, the losers in a power struggle are more apt to leave voluntarily or to be forced out.


Groups differ in their cohesiveness, that is, the degree to which members are attracted to each other and are motivated to stay in the group.

For instance, some work groups are cohesive because the members have spent a great deal of time together, or the groups’ small size facilitates high interaction, or the group has experienced external threats that have brought members to close together. Cohesiveness is important because it has been found to be related to’s productivity.

Studies consistently show that the relationship between cohesiveness and productivity depends on the performance-related norms are high.

For example, high output, quality work, co­operation with individuals outside the group), a cohesive group will be more productive than will a less cohesive group.

But if cohesiveness is high and performance norms are low, productivity will be low. If cohesiveness is low and performance norms are high, productivity increases, but less than in the high cohesiveness/high-norms situation.

When cohesiveness and performance-related norms are both low, productivity will tend to fall into the low-to-moderate range.

What can you do to encourage group cohesiveness?

You might try one or more of the following suggestions:

  • Make the group smaller.
  • Encourage agreement with group goals.
  • Increase the time members spend together.
  • Increase the status of the group arid the perceived difficulty of attaining membership in the group.
  • Stimulate competition with other groups.
  • Give rewards to the group rather man to the individual than to individual members.
  • Physically isolate the group.

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