Saturday, March 20, 2010

Social Dynamics? In MY workplace? BAH!

Chapter 10 is about the one thing in this world I cannot properly grasp: Social Dynamics.

There are so many things at play in the ways that people communicate and interact, it's enough to make a man crazy. Chapter 10 of our fun-filled-fantasy romp through la-la land Organizational Behavior, by none other than our friends, Kreitner and Kinicki, spells out a dizzying array of how organizational social interactions are formulated and maintained. This chapter covers everything from expectations and group pressure to team size. There are two things in this chapter that really caught my eye, though- the concept of social currencies, and Bruce W. Tuckman's five-stage group development process.

When you think about it, there's no social currency like money (or Duck Tales)
(Image courtesy of

In this case, there are currencies that you and your organization exchange in any and all interactions. Of course, there's the reason most people work, which is money. You exchange your time and skills for a paycheck. That's one kind of currency exchange, but you also exchange your loyalty, positivity, good performance, and other things with your job in exchange for advancement, benefits, continued employment, and other things. You exchange your assets as currency for their assets, which you probably want. How you "pay out" your currency (if you do at all), has a profound impact on how you are perceived within the group and the organization as a whole.

This is a two-way street. If the organization is giving you what you perceive to be a lower value of exchange than you feel you deserve, you will likely give less to make the exchange feel more "equal" in your mind. Conversely, if the company sees that you are giving much more value to the company than the company perceives it is giving to you, then a promotion is probably not far off. This is essentially simple psychology that I have covered in previous blog posts, but it bears repeating, due to its profound importance to group dynamics. If your group isn't giving you what you believe you deserve, you won't give as much to your group or team, and that's not a sustainable relationship.

So, how do groups develop into a collaborative environment where these kinds of exchanges take place? Some dude back in 1965 named Bruce W. Tuckman developed a theory to help explain that very process, making him one of the pimpingest educational psychologists from that decade.

Pictured: The Pimpingest
(Image courtesy of

He broke down his theory into five stages, starting with the formation of the group and ending with the eventual adjournment of the group. I will break down the steps one by one, and give real-life examples.

Step 1- Forming
Forming is the meet-and-greet stage, where nobody knows each other. There is some ambiguity as to who is in charge and what specific group roles are in this stage. During this stage, if there is a formal leader, he'd better step up and take charge or someone else will do it for him. A good example would be a group of motorcyclists. In my time riding my motorcycle all over northern California, I have found that it's super easy to get a group together, but difficult to give that group some direction. There are roles in riding groups that need to be fulfilled. The person in back sets the pace while the person in front watches for road hazards and alerts the group behind them. Usually, the ride organizer is automatically designated the formal leader, but if their leadership is insufficient, another rider (sometimes in mid-ride) can supersede them and take charge if they detect that the group is not enjoying themselves, which is the whole point of riding.

Step 2- Storming
Storming is where group members really feel out the situation with the leader and other members. this is a trying stage for the group, because this is where power blocs are born and politics play a big role. This is the stage where members test the policies of the leader, and where they begin to figure out where they fit into the group hierarchy. Imagine a company of new soldiers fresh out of boot camp joining with their battalion in an overseas deployment. Of course, they're the new guys. Imagine that boot camp is the forming stage. Now, they need to figure out how they fit into the scheme of things by testing their leader's policies and by forming groups. The book points out that this stage can be deadly because some people will try to make power grabs, leading to conflict.

Stage 3- Norming
According to the model, groups that make it this far did so because a member of the group other than the leader stepped up to call on group members to abandon power struggles and come together to work toward organizational goals. This is the part of the equation where team spirit begins to form, and people fall into their roles. Imagine a new online publication. The new team has already formed little groups that made plays for power gains in the office structure, but a member of the office has said that this can't work anymore. All members of the group sit down, hash out the problems, reaffirm their roles, and start to view the group as the vehicle for productivity, rather than a means to an end.

Stage 4- Performing
This is where task problems get solved. The group members won't be stepping on each other's toes in this stage. The group members cooperate with each other and help each other on tasks. The group's goals are now part of each member's commitment to the activity. Imagine an assembly line, where each member counts on other members to do their job correctly. Beyond the expectation, though, is TRUST that the other members WILL do their job correctly.

Stage 5- Adjourning
Unfortunately, the project is over, and the group must disband. A group that has made it to this stage will see it's members experiencing a sense of loss. Members will naturally miss the cohesiveness of the group and the people that they met. Often, there will be celebrations of success, or somber rituals of loss. Leaders will often give talks to the group about lessons learned, great work that was done in the group, and implore group members to prepare for their futures. In this case, think about a class of students at a college. They came into the school without any knowledge of each other, what the expectations were, or what their roles would be. Some of them made power plays in various extracurricular activities like sports and student government, but advisors and teachers were the primary supervisors that they reported to. The students form small groups and play for power (in this case, popularity is a big one). They then grow up a little, reaffirm their roles as students and not partying alcoholics, and everyone starts working together, sometimes forming study groups and other such things that help toward the common goal of graduation. In the end, they graduate, and the group dissolves.

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