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Group Psychology: A Meta-analysis of Work-Group Productivity

Updated on May 16, 2013

As with any business the productivity of its employees is crucial for longevity and expansion of that business. I/O psychologists have a unique opportunity to help businesses create and maintain a productive work environment that stimulates growth both as a group and as individuals. This paper addresses the hiring of a consultant to improve productivity for a medium sized furniture design company named Celia Jane. The consultant who is reporting to Li, the CEO, has been tasked with the job of explaining the pros and cons of Li’s preference for work to be done in groups of 8. In addition to this the consultant has been tasked with providing an effective means of communicating Li’s expectations to the group and how Li may increase productivity.

Because humans are social creatures it is inevitable that there will be conflict among interactions. These conflicts can arise for many reasons. Generally, however, they can be classified as intra/interindividual and intra/intergroup conflicts. Intraindividual conflict arises when an individual suffers from a set of “incompatible goals”. In a group setting as is most often the case individuals tend to suffer from conflicts between themselves or interindividual conflicts more often. These two types of conflicts can be applied in a group setting as well. When an intragroup conflict arises there is a conflict between goals of an individual in the group and the remaining members. Lastly the dynamic of intergroup conflict occurs when two separate groups are in conflict with one another’s goals (Riggio E. R., 2008).

These conflicts, although possessing the potential for being a motivational, force can also be detrimental to the productivity of the group in question. Much research has been conducted with regards to various aspects of group psychology and its effect of productivity. In particular specific subjects such as social loafing, free riding, the sucker effect, process loss and groupthink mentality have been a highlight of interest to the field of I/O psychology. The behaviors generally arise from conflicts within the group. These behaviors also have a tendency to exacerbate or create subsequently the others. For example; social loafing occurs when an individual/individuals exert less effort with regards to their work in a group setting than they would individually (Riggio E. R., 2008). This can be a group inclusive phenomenon or may only affect a singular individual. If it is only affective of one or more individuals yet not the entirety of the group situations in which an employee may engage in what is referred to as “free riding” in that they work less relying on another’s hard work to cover their reduced productivity. This can in turn lead to the hard working individual engaging in the “sucker effect”. This occurs when the compensative worker begins to perform at a reduced capacity to try to rectify the imbalanced work load (Sheppard A. J., 1993).

These behaviors in particular have been found to greatly effect productivity in a group setting. Mainly these behaviors are considered to result from the employee perceiving their contributions as not valued, no correlation between their contributions and their desired outcome and/or perceiving the cost of their contributions as being too high. All of these share a close correlation with their being conflict present. There are many instances where these phenomenon could occur. For example; an employee who repeatedly encounters a dominating conflict resolution strategy when expressing a difference of opinion within their group may begin to feel that their contributions are not valued. Or consider the employee who works hard to excel in his department only to be passed over for advancement or a pay raise. This individual will likely experience feeling of dissatisfaction resulting from the low level of reward associated with their job performance. Much like this situation an individual who feels that their contributions are not being fairly considered and/or compensated will likely also feel less job satisfaction.

Regardless of the motivational factors influential to the individuals or groups perceptions and subsequent behaviors a commonality between all of them is their reduced efficiency with decision making and communication. A major area of concern for an employer is the existence of process loss. There are many situations in which a company may suffer from a reduction in information that can have a negative impact on the efficiency and productivity of a business. This usually occurs when information is omitted or altered in an attempt to control its effect on the receiving individual. This can occur when an employee minimizes a situation in an attempt to avoid negative repercussions. As a result the employer is not given all the information required to make an effective assessment of the incident and subsequently is unable to provide the most effective solution resulting the situation taking longer to resolve or the repeated occurrence of it. This can have a severe impact on productivity. This can also happen when an employer omits certain information for the purposes of controlling their employee’s reactions and subsequent behavior (Riggio E. R., 2008). As a result the employees may not have been given all the motivational factors available and feel less involved and crucial to the operation of the business. This can lead to an employee’s reduced productivity and increased job dissatisfaction. In addition to this facet of process loss the previously discussed conflicts can result in process loss among the group as well. Due to the need for the conflicts to be resolved to eliminate the potential for longevity the group processes can be hindered during this period of resolution.

The converse of this occurrence results from a group becoming to cohesive. As conflict can lead to deficiencies in functionality and productivity in groups an exaggerated cohesiveness can do so also. One behavior that has been shown to occur within these types of groups is the phenomenon of groupthink. This occurs when evaluation and ridicule of prospected decisions is forgone so as to maintain cohesiveness. This behavior is usually unrecognized by the participant yet can have drastic effects on decisions being made. In addition to this, due to the high prevalence of highly cohesive groups to be ones of power, these decisions can have a major impact on many people (Riggio E. R., 2008). For example; a board of directors for a company decides to reduce payroll by cutting their employees hours so as to be below the minimum work hours required to be eligible for company provided health benefits. Due to the groupthink mentality of the group the motion is passed without criticism. Yet, as a result of this hasty decision the company lost several employee’s that where working for the company so they could provide those benefits to their family and in their absence had to leave the companies employ. In addition to this the possibility of a higher turnover rate is presented as the incentives for a prospective employee are not as attractive.

There are several perception that can be identified as being of a groupthink mentality. These are inclusive of having an illusion of invulnerability/morality/unanimity, shared stereo-types and collective rationalizations. As a result there becomes a type of group mentality that loses its objectivity and although still productive their productivity is self-serving and not inclusive of the company’s best interest with regards to its functionality (Riggio E. R., 2008). Therefore it is more beneficial to an employer to try and maintain a balance between conflict and cohesiveness. As cohesiveness is crucial to the continued productivity of a group conflict is also essential to facilitate creative thinking, motivation to succeed and to ensure the objectivity of the group. Depending on the stage of development with the group various tactics can be utilized to help maintain this balance.

Three stages of group socialization and development have been presented as anticipatory socialization, accommodation and role management. These stages represent the assimilation of individuals into a work group setting, in particular the individual or groups ability to perform utilizing specific skill sets, attitudes and behaviors that are indicative of the requirements presented by the group or organization (Riggio E, R., 2008). Determining the group’s stage of development is essential to the creation of recommended methods to increase the group’s productivity. For example; if the work-group is newly created then each member is still going through the process of anticipatory socialization them the individuals in the group are still assessing their respective match to the group. However if the group is that of the accommodating stage of development then the employees are beginning to learning to assimilate to the groups norms and what their respective roles within the group. This is also when the individuals begin to form interpersonal relationships within the group. It is at this stage that most Intraindividual conflict arises. Lastly if the group is in the stage of role management then the individuals in the group have become to master their skills and have assimilated to their role and have a working understanding of the group’s norms and expectations. These stages are important to understand and be aware of in that each stage will require different tactics to maintain the group’s productivity (Riggio E. R., 2008).

A particular benefit to a group achieving cohesiveness is the implementation of brainstorming as a means of facilitating creative thinking and new ideas to current or postulated situations and/or goals. The precept behind brainstorming is that ideas flow openly, are free from ridicule, are all considered equally and that each idea presented is used to build upon another (Riggio E. R., 2008). The effectiveness of this however is subject to perception. Although this method of idea creation has been reported by employees to be more successful with regards to output than if the individual was performing alone studies have also shown that there is little difference between group brainstorming and individually based brainstorming. It has been suggested that this is a result of natural conflicts within the group. For example; if one individual feels that their ideas may not be as good as the others of their group they may hold back presenting them for fear of being ridiculed by their peers. One way to combat this that has been under study and current utilization is that of computer mediated brainstorming. The use of computer mediated interaction helps remove the face-to-face dilemmas of communication such as body language, tone, facial expressions etc. All of which can have an influence of an individual’s willingness and propensity to share their ideas (Wang H, Fussell R. S & Setlock D. L., 2009).

To help promote anticipatory socialization an employer can provide comprehensive job descriptions, allow for questions and feedback with regards to a potential incumbents position and provide training for the employees that will help make the transition of being a new employee more efficient. If the group is of the accommodation stage then the tactics would revolve around increasing the cohesiveness of the group through group interaction and tasks. The development of healthy interpersonal relationships is essential for effective communication, cohesiveness and productivity. Individuals that do not develop healthy interpersonal relationships between their co-workers are more likely to impede the decision making process and become a conflicting influence to the group (Sheppard A. J., 1993). The maintenance of the group’s productivity arises in a more comprehensive manor in the developmental stage of role management. It is in this stage that the employer can begin to instill motivational incentives as well as ongoing training to not only help increase the employee’s functionality but to also help drive them to a higher level of success (Riggio E. R., 2008). This in short could be considered an attempt to help facilitate the actualization of the individuals within the group and the group as a whole.

At the base of all of the previously discussed matters is a crucial element in which the success or failure of the company and its employ are contingent. That most crucial of elements is that of communication. Effective communication can quite literally mean the success or failure of any type of business. Whether it is upward or downward communication the effective and efficient transfer of information has a great impact on productivity among workers (Riggio E. R., 2008). Therefor it is important that Li have an effective method with which to encode, channel and receive information. Because Li will be engaging with multiple members of multiple groups one method for communication that exhibits efficiency is that of e-mails. By sending an e-mail the recipient has the opportunity to respond where they may not in a different setting. It also allows for the employer to provide in detail their expectations to the employee. This type of clear communication has been shown to have a positive impact on employee satisfaction and productivity (Riggio E. R., 2008).

Li would benefit from evaluating each position among the groups on an individual level and on a group level. This will give Li the information needed to effectively establish requirements for the jobs to be performed. Li will then be able to create a list of expectations around these requirements. For example; Li is required to increase profits by 3% annually, yet Li also wants to do better than the other stores in his region so Li decides that the bar will be set at 5% annually. By knowing the requirements Li is able to evaluate them based on the goals of his individual location.

The next step in this process would be to encode and transfer this information to the appropriate employees and/or groups. There are many avenues of communication ranging from face-to-face communication to computer mediated communication such as e-mails and instant messenger programs. For Li, although time consuming, it would be recommended that there be a balance between verbal and mediated communication. Studies have shown that employees tend to be more satisfied and productive with face-to-face interaction with their superiors and co-worker. However it is also beneficial to be able to keep a record of communication for both the employer and employee for reference purposes as is created by the use of electronic non-verbal communication. Either way the ability of an individual to effectively encode and transmit information is correlated with their social integration, acceptance, relevance and influence (DeVito A. J., 2008). The utilization of group training in conjunction with individual face-to-face and computer mediated communication will increase the likelihood that the employees will understand and retain the information. This forum also allows for open feedback and questions to be presented by both the employer and employee’s which can greatly increase the interpersonal relationships of, and subsequent effectiveness, of all individuals involved.

Once the information has been transferred it is now the time to evaluate the effectiveness of the transfer. This can be done by evaluating the success with regards to the employer’s expectations of each individual and their respective groups. By assigning performance ratings to each dynamic the employer can then evaluate the results quantitatively. These results can then be used to augment or outright change the delivery methods of the information and allow for greater efficiency of communication and subsequent productivity.

In summation the life and death of a business in centered on effective communication and a balance between conflict and cohesiveness amongst management and employees. Although there are many areas in which either group can misinterpret, loose or fail to validate information the effective communication on an intraindividual and interindividual context as well as intragroup and intergroup contexts in essential to the productivity of the units. The job of managing employees is much like being a relationship counselor in that the mangers job is to maintain the positive perceptions and attitudes of their employees so as to maintain and/or increase productivity. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that Li, or any manager, take special care and attention to the process by which they manage and communicate with their employees.

References

DeVito A. J., (2008). The Benefits of Effective Nonverbal Communication. Non-Verbal Messages, Chapter 7, Interpersonal Messages: Communication and Relationship Skills. Pearson Learning Solutions. p. 152.

Riggio E. R., (2008). Group Dynamic Variables, Motivation, Chapter 7, Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Pearson Education Inc. p. 209

Riggio E. R., (2008). Basic Group Processes, Group Processes, Chapter 11, Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Pearson Education Inc. pp. 314, 319, 321, 332 & 334

Riggio E. R., (2008). The Flow of Communication, Communication, Chapter 10, Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Pearson Education Inc. pp. 290-291

Sheppard A. J., (1993). Productivity Loss in Performance Groups: A Motivation Analysis, Psychological Bulletin, American Psychological Association, Inc., Vol. 113, No. 1, p. 67- 81. Retrieved on May 4th 2013 from http://www.psych.ufl.edu/~shepperd/articles/Loafing%20PsychBull.pdf

Wang H, Fussell R. S & Setlock D. L., (2009). Cultural Difference and Adaptation of Communication Styles in Computer-Mediated Group Brainstorming, Information Science, Department of Communication, Cornell University. Retrieved on May 6th 2013 from http://sfussell.hci.cornell.edu/pubs/Manuscripts/Wang-CHI2009.pdf

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