Group dynamics refers to the patterns of behavior within a group and interpersonal relationships between group members.
It can include the ways in which the group members interact with one another, their chosen communication styles, the structures in place to facilitate decision-making, and the assigned group roles.
A positive group dynamic can have a significant impact on the performance and effectiveness of the group. It requires group members to be able to effectively work together for the common good and common goals.
Often, the group dynamic is highly influenced by the group leader, who sets the tone for the group’s interactions.
Positive Group Dynamics Examples
1. Positive interdependence
A good group has a sense of positive interdependence. This is a term used to describe a group dynamic wherein individual and group goals are aligned.
In other words, what’s good for the individual is also good for the group.
Positive interdependence is necessary for positive group dynamics because it means each group member finds individual benefit in being part of the group; and at the same time, the group as a whole benefits from each other individual member’s membership.
In this sort of group, group members rely on one another. I would rely on you, and you would rely on me. By being interdependent, we’re both going to work toward the group’s shared goals.
One of the first things a group lays out when it comes together is its purpose.
For example, a new restaurant might want to put together a restaurant mission statement that helps to guide the decisions of leadership and let all employees know the purpose of their work.
With shared purpose, the group members can all get together and work in the same direction.
By the same token, without a shared understanding of your group’s purpose, there will be a sense that the group is rudderless. Group members won’t have a guiding light when making decisions, which may prevent the group from being successful.
Common goals come after the group has set up a shared purpose. Goals are more specific than purpose per se.
For example, an elephant sanctuary’s purpose may be to save elephants. But its goals would be to save 50 elephants by the end of the year, to raise funds from wealthy donors, or set up a profitable marketing plan within 6 months.
Agreeing upon common goals is central to establishing the group dynamic. Without shared goals, the group may work in different directions and with different intentions. It may lead to conflict and a great deal of inefficiency, which are hallmarks of a poor group dynamic.
To set clear shared goals, a team could use the SMART goals framework.
For this example, we might imagine two groups: an inclusive and an exclusionary group. By looking at these two hypotheticals, we can gain insights into why inclusion is important for group dynamics.
The first group is a group of eight people. Four have been members of the group for several years. The remaining four group members are relatively new. The four members who have been around forever tend to make most decisions. The new group members are not consulted or allowed agency within the group.
The second group is the same eight people, but the original four do not have a sense that they are the ‘owners’ of the group. The new four group members speak up in group discussions and don’t feel like their views are lesser than the established group members’ inputs.
In the second group, a wider range of opinions may improve outcomes because it allows the group to pre-empt problems and include good ideas that would otherwise have been excluded. Furthermore, the new group members will feel like they’re learning far more from the four established group members, which gives them greater sense of belongingness.
A team with a positive dynamic will be open-minded to new ideas. It will allow space for brainstorming, critical insights, and divergent thinking.
We see in many groups with poor teamwork a failure to think outside of the box. This often happens at times when groups fear failure or lacks motivation for self-improvement.
An open-minded group might use strategies like blue skies brainstorming or simply willingness to invite people from other disciplines into meetings to provide new insights.
Without open-mindedness, the group may fall into mediocrity and exclusionary behaviors to group members who have divergent viewpoints.
6. Consensus building
While diverse viewpoints within a group is often a great thing, there needs to come a time when consensus is achieved in order for progress to be made.
This often takes place in the goal-setting phase but after the brainstorming phase. Team members identify areas of agreement and overlap in opinions and try to build upon those areas of consensus to form a shared course of action.
Consensus building may help ensure that all team members feel heard and considered, even if they don’t get everything they want out of a project.
It can also help to develop a sense of shared ownership over the processes, tasks, and results.
7. Democratic Groups
Not all teams are necessarily democratic, and sometimes it’s best if a team not be fully democratic. If you own a small business, you may want to have the final say – after all, it’s your business on the line!
But often in large workplaces and school projects, democratic processes are extremely valuable in a team.
One benefit of democratic teams is that democratic decision-making seems fair. All members get an equal vote and equal inclusion.
However, democratic values are more than just one-person-one-vote. One other form of democracy is participatory democracy, whereby group members are all given the chance to participate in the development of policies and be present throughout decision-making meetings.
Good teams have team members who are supportive of one another. By supporting each other, team members feel like they are not alone on an island doing their tasks.
Supportiveness will also lead to enhanced collaboration. If a team member knows that other members of the team are supportive, then they will approach them (i.e. supportiveness leads to approachability). When one team member approaches another, there are opportunities for one team member to provide inputs to another team member that will lead to better results at the end of the process.
A team with a poor dynamic, on the other hand, may be unsupportive of one another. A team member might tell the other to “stay in your lane”, “not interrupt me”, or “figure it out yourself”. In this situation, there is less supportiveness, and therefore, less group interaction.
Teams that trust one another will be more include to collaborate and less inclined to work behind one another’s backs.
These teams are likely to be more effective and successful than those that do not because trust may lead to enhanced collaboration.
When team members trust each other, they are more likely to share ideas without a perception that they’ll steal each other’s ideas, leak them, or otherwise betray their trust.
Trust will also lead to increased team cohesion, enhanced team morale, and a supportive work environment.
Collaborativeness refers to the willingness of team members to put their brains together to meet the team’s common goal.
Team members don’t work in isolation. Instead, they share works-in-progress, bounce ideas off one another, and create a shared product that is the result of everyone’s inputs.
To be collaborative, you need to be willing to share knowledge and resources, and also share the rewards (or consequences) of the finished product.
Generally, we think of good collaboration as leading to a product that’s better than what any one individual could complete alone. For example, we look at the band The Beatles as better than the sum of its parts: there is some magic that happens when these four bandmates came together to create music. Their music was a product of an amazing collaborative group dynamic.
11. Social Facilitation
Social facilitation is a concept in psychology where people perform better or work harder in groups than when on their own.
This can be due to a range of factors, such as a sense of a need to perform for the group, or a sense of motivation that comes from being in a group setting. We notice this, for example, when a person struggles to give a presentation on their own during practice, but when presenting in front of the group, they “put on their game face” and perform significantly better.
Group dynamics refers to how groups work together. Components such as shared purpose and a shared goal can facilitate positive group dynamics. Softer skills, like collaborativeness, trust, and positive interdependence are also essential examples of positive group dynamics factors.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.