Introduction to Group Dynamics

In Community Studies courses, you will be part of a small working group. In many ways, your group is a task group although there will be some social aspects too. As you experience being part of a group, you will learn about how to work more effectively on group projects.

Usually early in the group’s formation, the group may be described as a collection of individuals. But as the group members get to know each other better, they work out guidelines to improve their group effectiveness. Some groups develop a contract or a set of guidelines for group work. Often groups decide how they will make decisions so everyone has input and there is agreement in principle. This is known as consensus decision making.

Each group develops its own way of working through group projects and determining how group members will interact in a productive way. Each group develops patterns and actions known as “norms’. Often group members sit in the same seating pattern at each class and this becomes the norm. Or it may be usual for the same members to start the session by saying, “So what do we want to do today?” Or another group member may always ensure that each group member’s opinion is sought by asking. “What do you think, Jim?” These are examples of task and maintenance roles and norms.

By using actions and words that encourage group members to stay on topic you will learn about the importance of task roles. You might ask the question, “Why are we doing this project, this way?” Although task roles are very important in keeping the group focused and moving the group to task completion, group maintenance roles are also essential. Maintenance roles are those actions and words that measure the group’s “climate”. Each group member’s voice must be encouraged and heard. Conflict or bad feelings in the group must be resolved. Community Studies courses are about process, about “doing” in a thoughtful way in a group format.

Group members continually critique their effectiveness in regard to achievement of results in task assignments and effective relationships in maintaining the group. They may refer to the group’s contract and assess the team’s climate, productivity and processes. Their discussions often lead to suggestions for improvement. Being an active member of a COMS group gives you an opportunity to try out new roles, to solve problems and to resolve conflict. You will be given the opportunity to evaluate your new skills and those of your group members through peer and self evaluation forms, usually at the end of each term.

In COMS courses, a great deal of emphasis is placed on group learning. Many of these lessons are transferable to employment situations. Strong interpersonal skills and being able to work as an effective team member are valued by employers and organizations today.