Group Theory


Group Theory Essay, Research Paper

From the beginning of time it has been evident that as humans we function better in groups than individually (Joining pg. 4). The Cro-Magnons discovered early in time that they were more efficient and productive working in groups than when working independently. Once they pooled their resources, people, and knowledge the possibilities were endless.

Until I read the text Joining Together, I had never given the concept of groups much thought. Now I realize that over the course of our entire life we exist in groups. I have learned over these past few weeks dynamics of group structure and the benefits of being in a group. We are born into a group, we live in a group, and we work in a group. Throughout our lives the groups we associate with shape our identities.

The early years of our lives are generally spent in authoritarian models of group structure (Participant Material pg. 48). We are given instruction first by our parents and then later by teachers, with little or no opportunity for disagreement. I found this to be the case in my own home as my father gave the orders and we carried them out. Opinions from my sisters and me were neither asked for or welcomed. He was, without question, the autocratic leader in our home.

Then as we progress in life we discover that there are other forms of leadership where we are not only allowed to have an opinion but expected to have an opinion. Ideally, we are in a democratic leadership with each group member allowed to share ideas rather than an autocratic leadership (the leader controls the group) or laissez-faire leadership (there is a leader but he/she does nothing).

I found the Desert Survival exercise to be quite enlightening. The group that I was in consisted of five women and no men. The first thing we did was to rank our choices individually and then we came together as a group to discuss our options for survival. We found it was fairly simple to rank the least important items and the most important ones, but all the ones that fell in between were a little more difficult. We spent a great deal of time discussing those items that fell in the middle. After weighing the merits of each item, its ranking was chosen by consensus of the group. We did not have any strong disagreements on the choices that were made but I think that was more because our comfort level with each other was not very high. We seemed to want to avoid any conflicts within the group. Two of our members already knew each other and were not afraid to actively discuss the merits of one option over another. Although we did not choose the leader of our group, she was a wise choice. She was a good listener and adopted a more democratic style of leadership. She never voiced any strong opinions about any of our options.

The group next to us had five men and no women in it. We noticed that their group had an Army reserve man in it. Positive that he would know a great deal about surviving in the wilderness, we tried to eavesdrop on them in an attempt to glean some helpful information but to no avail. As it turned out, their group did much worse than ours did.

At the end of the exercise individual scores and group scores were placed on the chalkboard for comparison. Almost everyone scored higher as a group than they did individually, proving that group decisions are more effective than individual decisions. Three individuals scored higher than their groups; I was one of the three. I found that most of the time if there was a ranking that I disagreed with I went with the group’s decision instead of adhering to my own feeling. I enjoyed the exercise as it brought the members of the class together and gave each of us a little insight into our classmates. We were quite disappointed to discover that even though we scored higher than the other groups, we still perished in the desert.

During Week Three, we viewed a video on conflict in the workplace. It was very interesting and brought some good points to light. I could see almost all five of the major causes of conflict in play here: value differences, role pressures, perceptual differences, divergent goals, and status conflict (Class Discussion). Both men needed to step back and look at the problem from the other person’s perspective. They both seemed to lose sight of their common goal. Their boss needed to demonstrate better leadership skills. He could have averted most of the conflict between the two men if he had only shown them some effective ways to resolve conflict. As was illustrated in the video, win/lose or negotiating methods of resolving conflict are really only temporary fixes. Although it is difficult to achieve, the problem-solving method is more effective and it is a long term solution rather than a temporary one (Class Discussion).

I always viewed conflict as bad and something to be avoided but now I realize that conflict is not always bad, it can be very good (Class Discussion). Discussing our differences and concerns can clarify situations between people, opening the way for better communication. Unfortunately, many managers feel that all conflict is bad and should be avoided at all costs. The administration at our school takes the traditionalist view that conflict is bad and should be eradicated (Participant Material pg. 19). Consequently, many issues that need to be dealt with and should be dealt with are ignored rather than resolved. It would be so much more effective to sit down with all parties involved and engage in a little problem-solving.

Competition has no place in most organizations. A business and its employees always benefits from a team effort instead of an “every man for himself” attitude. Cooperative efforts are always superior to individuals that are working for their own benefit. A competitive orientation creates defensive behavior that results in decreased communication between coworkers (Joining Together pg. 147-148). On the other hand, a cooperative orientation promotes increased cohesiveness, better communication, and greater productivity.

I never knew how effective Brainstorming could be until Week Three when we were asked to participate in the Island Survival Exercise. Each group was given a time limit and asked to list thirty things we could do with a leather thong and a metal peace symbol. It sounded like an impossible task to do alone but as a group we were amazed at the many ways we found to use these items. I think if we hadn’t had one group member that wanted to analyze each idea so much we probably could have come up with several more ideas. I learned that in brainstorming no idea is too stupid and that quite often the most logical solutions to a problem can stem from a brainstorming session (Class Discussion).

Virtually all of my decision making experiences have been in the four years since my divorce. As I stated earlier, my father made all decisions in our household and when I married the same was true for my own home, my husband made all decisions. Consequently, my decision making experiences were limited and I lacked the confidence to assert myself. Then four years ago I found myself a single woman responsible for making all decisions in my new household. It was a challenging and learning experience. I didn’t always make the best decision but I learned from those mistakes and now I feel quite confident about the choices I must make.

Growing up I always resented the fact that I was never allowed to make my own choices or asked for my opinion on matters, so I have endeavored to allow my children a voice in their home. Most of the decisions in our home are discussed with Josh and Lauren and they are allowed input into the final outcome. Being on our own we must work together to accomplish the goals we have set, a good example of positive interdependence (Joining Together pg. 245-246). I find that using a democratic approach with them makes them feel more a part of the process and less apt to feel resentful of the eventual outcome. Sometimes I even go with their suggestion, sink or swim. Perhaps if they are allowed to make decisions now they will be more likely later in life to really give their choices some thought. Hopefully, they will be more prepared for a life on their own than I was.

Here at the college and within our community I serve on several committees. I have found there to be a huge contrast between the effectiveness of those groups. The groups here at the college seem to have no clear goals and some members tend to focus on individual roles (Participant Material pg. 40). The Administrative Services Council has no effective leadership and the members are not even sure what purpose they serve on the campus. Many times, even though we have made a recommendation to the administration, the final outcome in no way resembles the committee’s recommendation. Consequently we feel that our input is really not valued by our management. The agenda is rarely followed as certain members focus on issues that are of importance to no one but themselves. It is very hard to get motivated to even attend the meetings. I hope that when we begin to meet again this fall maybe I can provide a few suggestions for improving the focus of the sessions and the outcomes. I would like to put into practice some of the concepts I have learned from this module such as brainstorming and time management.

In contrast, the William Inge Festival Board, composed entirely of volunteers from the community, holds a successful three-day festival every April. The chairman of the board relies entirely upon the efforts of the committees for a successful event. Each committee’s success or failure is dependent upon the other committees defining their tasks and completing them. Without this spirit of cooperation the festival could not continue their high level of achievement. The reason for this success is clear: we have an effective leader and a well-defined common goal. The meetings that are held are very focused with a well-defined goal and a means of achieving that goal. No time is wasted on personal agendas since meetings are very infrequent and there is a lot to be accomplished.

Four years ago when I re-entered the work force and returned to school, I learned the necessity of Time Management. I worked a full-time job, went to school full-time, and was a full-time single mother. I was responsible financially for my children so my job had to come first, otherwise I would not have been able to provide my children with even the basic necessities. After five though, my time was my children’s. Until they went to bed at nine we worked on homework, read books, or played outside. Then after they went to bed I went to work on my homework. I sacrificed a lot of sleep in those days but the time spent with my children was important and well worth the sacrifice. As mentioned in the reading material, I operated with a “To Do” list (Participant Material pg. 10). Each day I listed the tasks that I needed to accomplish for that day and set about doing them. I found that I accomplished a great deal more when I had a list to work from as that lessened the chance that I would forget something important.

I tried to only take one night class a week so that I wouldn’t be gone from my children too much. When they were younger this was hard for them to understand. When we lived with Dad I didn’t work and was home all the time. Now I must work, go to school, and do homework. They have come to understand, though, that in order to achieve a better life for ourselves, this is what I must do and that it must be a group effort. Otherwise, the goals we have set will not be possible.

In Week Four we were divided into two groups, one that observed and the other that was being observed. I was a member of the latter group. We were totally unaware that we were being evaluated by the other group. Given a problem to solve and a time limit, we immediately set out to brainstorm some solutions. I think our group did very well defining the problem and coming up with solutions for solving it, but when it came to ranking the importance of those solutions, we couldn’t quite come to an agreement. We spent so much time analyzing each solution that we ran out of time before we were able to complete the assignment.

Everyone in our group was amazed at the way one of our members whom we had previously perceived as rather quiet, jumped right in and took charge. He was not overbearing, he just got the group process going and tried to keep the group on track. I felt that all members of the group actively participated and had good information to share. There were no conflicts that arose between members.

We were asked to evaluate our group and ourselves. The members of our group were very honest and recognized the problems we had encountered in accomplishing our task. We realized that if we had spent less time analyzing and discussing each solution, we might have completed the assignment. We were a little apprehensive when we discovered we had been evaluated individually by members of the other group. We each sat down with our evaluator and compared the worksheets we had each filled out. I was very surprised to find that the person who analyzed me had ranked me almost identical to my own rankings.

Later in the week when I thought about our group I realized that we had people that had fulfilled almost all of the maintenance functions and task functions. Task functions enable a group to achieve its tasks (Participant Material pg.. 33-34). I could see the task functions of “initiating”, “seeking information or opinions”, “giving information or opinions”, “clarifying and elaborating”, “summarizing”, and “consensus taking” all at play in our group. Maintenance functions are important for the overall morale of the group (Participant Material pg.. 34). A group will work more efficiently and effectively together if the functions of “gate keeping”, “encouraging”, “compromising”, and “standard setting and testing” are interwoven with task functions.

I think that our class is going very well. I am amazed at how comfortable I feel with this group already. The exercises have really helped us to get acquainted with each other and have shown us our strengths and weaknesses as a group and individually. We have some members in the group that are rather quiet and do not actively participate but I’m sure as time goes on that will change. I foresee some minor conflicts developing with one member of our group that does contribute his own ideas but is rather reluctant to accept input from other members of the group. I see about three different people that have really strong personalities and that I feel will be perceived as leaders of our group.

However, I feel we will all really grow together in the coming year. Even though we are a group of great diversity we are working together toward the common goal of a bachelor’s degree. This class will give us the education and experience we need to become effective leaders and group members.

Class Discussion.

Friends University. Participant Material 1992.

Johnson, David W. and Frank P. Johnson. Joining Together: Group Theory and Group

Skills. Allyn and Bacon Publishers, Massachusetts: 1994.

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