Group dynamics refers to the interactions and behaviors or people within a social collective. As our world continues to change, grow, and evolve, we find ourselves very naturally forming groups. Groups can be formally created, such as in work or school groups, or informal collectives, such as hobbyists, groups with common values, or social groups.
Groups tend to have unique cultures, made up of the dynamics and personalities within the group, and unwritten social rules and guidelines. We have all likely had experiences of being in a group where we feel that someone is dominating the discussion, not letting others’ voices be heard. We’ve also likely had experiences of social loafing, or experiences where group members aren’t carrying their weight.
Within groups, there may also be group disagreement. This is often a healthy experience, disagreement leads to critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, and acceptance of diverse perspectives. How we disagree within a group, and how we manage these disagreements, are often among the trickier aspects of group dynamics.
Jeff Atwood, co-founder of several online communities, discusses the need for empathy in group dynamics, even when, or particularly when, you are not necessarily face-to-face within the group. He discusses several behaviors that can corrode group cohesiveness and group dynamics.
Several strategies can be helpful in managing group dynamics – even if you are not necessarily the group leader. In fact, this is one of the most helpful techniques – outline group roles and responsibilities. This is often easier in a more structured, organized group. An informal group, such as a book club or board game group, might not have a designated leader. Yet personality factors and dynamics usually emerge early, and a natural leader will want to organize meeting times and locations – something that a more passive or shy group member may not find as appealing.
It is also important to solve problems early. Conflicts and disagreements can spread quickly within a group, and are best to be addressed within the group. When splinters and factions form, a group can quickly fall apart.
Sometimes, a group is no longer helpful or beneficial. Knowing how to end group relationships can be an important way to maintain individual relationships and resources. Projects come to an end, schedules change, and it is ok that a group comes to a close. Sharing your decision to leave a group honestly, and authentically, can help preserve relationships within the group.
Groups, and the dynamics that occur within the groups, are variable. Understanding your own strengths, and learning the strengths that are within the group population, can help make the group more useful and enjoyable. For more information on structure group skills, contact us! We can help.