Chapter 1 : Small Groups at the Heart of Society

Chapter 1 : Small Groups at the Heart of Society


Hi and welcome to the lecture for chapter
one, “Small Groups at the Heart of Society.” Over the next several minutes, we’ll go over
some introductory issues that are going to be important for you as you progress through
the rest of this course. Let’s dive in. So, one of the most important things to understand
at the offset of this class is the importance of groups in your life. As you’ve gone through
your life, you’ve actually been a member of a variety of groups. One of the most important
groups that you’ve been affiliated with is your first group–and that was the group that you
were born into. For most of us, that’s our family group. The family group is a very influential
group in that that is the group where we learn most of our morals and our values and our
ideas about the world. As you go through your life, you’re going to enter a wide variety
of groups including primary groups, such as friends, professional groups, such as the
individuals you work with. The key thing is that most of our life is spent in groups.
The goal in this course is to gain better insights into how to communicate effectively
with those groups. People participate in groups for a wide variety of reasons. Groups can
actually be beneficial to individuals for a wide variety of reasons as well. One of
the key things that we look at is that groups can be really good at demonstrating effective
problem solving. The basic idea here is that individuals that are members of groups can
typically accomplish more and have a wider selection of ideas available to them. So when
we break down the functions of groups–specifically in regards to group communication–we can
kind of see two separate areas that are starting to appear even at this early point in the
course. The first aspect is task accomplishment. This means that groups tend to work towards
common goals and common ideas to accomplish tasks. The other side of the coin is group
connection, and this has to do with the relational aspects of being in a group, the friendships
and the connections that you make as being a member of a group. Something to keep in
mind as we move forward is that being in a group tends to be a game of give and take.
Specifically, this means that you’re going to be putting yourself into the groups that
you’re part of. This means your time, your resources, and your emotional investment inside
of that. The goal is to have an effective group experience, meaning that–at the end
of the day–you get as much if not more than you put into the group. Over this course,
we’ll talk about conflict and how those things arise, addressing tensions effectively, and
how ultimately you can put all of these things together through communication to be successful
in the groups. So, an important concept that’s covered in this first chapter is the idea
of how groups versus individuals function as problem-solvers. Let’s start with looking
at groups as problem-solvers. One of the reasons that groups can be an effective structure
to be a part of is that they’re a really good source of alternative ideas. You in yourself
are a sum of your parts and a sum of your experiences; however, when you come together
in a group it allows you to have a wide variety of ideas that ultimately can lead to better
decision making. Groups can also be really useful for conjunctive tasks. This means accomplishing
things that have lots of moving parts to them. You and your group members can come together
to ultimately accomplish things more effectively than an individual trying to accomplish the
same task would be able to. Groups can help facilitate active learning; working together
and teaching and learning at the same time can be a good construct to gain insight and
understanding as you go throughout your life. And finally, there is some research to show
that certain cultures and certain backgrounds and different lived experiences tend to prefer
groups over the others. We’ll discuss more of that in chapter five. When you find yourself
in a situation where a group is a good choice, you can gain some good net-benefits from this.
First is that increased source of ideas. When you’re in a group, you’re going to be able
to get more ideas than you would have access to just as an individual. Secondly, groups
tend to be self-correcting. The process of being in a group is a communicative one, meaning
that as you and your group members work through processes and problems and just every day
work processes, that ultimately you’re going to have to communicate with each other about
those things. The end result of this is that as problems arise, you’re more likely to be
able to identify them than if you were just working as an individual. Again, kind of as
a spin-off on this is problem identification. Having to communicate and discuss problems
out loud with other group members means that you’re more likely to identify problems sooner
and more often than you would if you were just going it alone. Groups in general tend
to be investigative, meaning that they tend to focus on exploring and understanding things
better, which tends to lead to things being more positive as you work through issues.
Finally, more often than not, groups tend to be solution oriented, meaning that as a
result of going through the process of being in a group, you’re going to look for solutions
to problems instead of just getting caught up in things. There are a few times, however,
in specific situations when, perhaps, a group is not the best choice. This can be, for example,
when you just need an expert to provide input and influence. Now, there are situations where
having an expert in a group can be really useful, but often-times on hyper specific
tasks, it can be more useful for one person that has the expertise just to take that task
on. Groups tend to be more difficult when conditions are considered dynamic, meaning
conditions are fast-changing. The reason for this is that when groups work together, while
they might come up with better ideas and have more variety of solutions to draw upon, they
are more static in nature–meaning that they are more difficult to adapt to changing conditions.
So, if things are changing fast, it might be more useful in that situation to have an
individual that can adapt. The third thing that kind of pops up is that sometimes you
see huge chasms on certain issues. So if there is a huge ideological divide between individuals,
putting those individuals in a group won’t necessarily lead to a solution and in fact
might lead to more issues. I think that you can almost always look at current political
situations in the United States to see an example of this. Last, whenever there is a
situation where one or more group members experience the concept of grouphate. This
is a concept that describes a severe loathing of group life. If people hate groups to that
extent, it’s unlikely that the group is able to be successful. That said, if there’s just
some mild grouphate, there are strategies that we will talk through over the course
that will help you alleviate these things. All right, just a brief note on some terminology.
In this class, you’re going to hear us use a couple of different terms. Groups, small
group, teams versus groups and the like. When we talk about a group, what we’re talking
about is three or more individuals and we separate this for reasons of the communicative
aspects of being in these types of numbers. If there’s less than three people, you’re
dealing with dyadic communication meaning communication between two people and that
is a whole other specific thing. So, when there’s more than three people, we start to
see connections and we call that a group. Specifically, in this course, we’re going
to be more interested in small groups, and these are groups of between three and eight
people. The reason that we focus on these groups is that when you have small groups,
you have the emergence of a concept known as interdependence–meaning that everyone
is mutually influenced and impacted by other people. And this is where the group is small
enough for people to connect and have connections with one another. Just a last note before
we move on in terms of terminology. Teams versus groups. While there is some research
to show that teams might be more highly structured and fall into a set of hierarchies, in this
class we’re going to go ahead and use the term “team” and the term “group” synonymously.
Basically, in other words, they’re going to mean the same things as we move through this.
All right, so communication. What is communication? There’s a lot of different definitions and
we’re going to get into that more in chapter three, but kind of a basic introductory understanding
for you right now. When we talk about communication, we’re talking about the perception, interpretation,
and response of people to signals produced by others. Basically, we’re interested in
what people say and do intentionally to one another. When we bridge that into small group
communication, we’re kind of putting that into the connection of that three-to-eight
person group that we were talking about before, but more specific than that, we’re talking
about the verbal and nonverbal interaction among members of a small group. We’ll go into
more specifics about how influence takes place in there, the requirement of interaction between
those individuals, and then again in small groups versus groups there tends to be more
informality and spontaneity than in public communication or large group communication
inside of that. A brief note, especially since you’ve already experienced some of this by
watching this lecture in a mediated format. Technology is a growing thing that we’re seeing
more of in society. Throughout this course, you’re going to have a lot of exposure to
technology specifically as it relates to groups. Briefly, just a couple of things here. It
is very possible for technology to be a positive force on groups and can actually help groups
go throughout their work. Specifically, tools that allow face-to-face conferencing such
as Skype and Google + hangouts can be really useful for groups to get together when they
cannot do so in the same physical space but still be able to have a high degree of connection
and that kind of face-to-face interaction that you would see in a more traditional setting.
But there are also a wide variety of tools that we’ll discuss over the course that could
help groups collaborate through digital spaces. These can include things such as Wikis as
well as file sharing tools such as Dropbox. Now, that said, there are certain situations
in which technology can actually be harmful for groups. Specifically, one of the things
that I’ve seen in recent years is that more students are using cell phones and text messaging
and email and Facebook to connect with one another. And while that can be convenient,
it’s important to understand that those asynchronous technologies have a lack of social presence,
meaning that there might be less connection between individuals and ultimately that might
hurt the relational development. There’s a lot that goes into this and we’ll be discussing
this in more depth as we go out, but just kind of a warning early on to make sure that
you’re balancing the mediated portion of interacting with groups in your life with the actual face-to-face
interaction, because both of those things can be important. Another definitionary thing
that we want to talk about before we move on here is classifying groups by their main
purpose. Two definitions that we talk about here: primary versus secondary groups. So,
when we talk about primary groups we’re talking about groups that are formed to meet primary
needs for inclusion and affection. The most obvious example of this is your family group.
While your family might have secondary things–like you might have a family business and the like–primarily,
your family serves an interpersonal need. For the most part, what we talk about in this
class and what we will practice and experience in this course is secondary groups. Secondary
groups are formed to meet secondary needs for control and problem solving and other
things. Now, it’s important to notice here at the offset that no group is really completely
primary or completely secondary. They both accomplish those aspects to a certain extent.
But we do break secondary groups out into more categories, so we might talk about support
groups that support people going through specific issues or specific tasks in their life. We
talk about learning groups–we obviously see a lot of those in education–and then we go
into more specifics about organizational groups. Specifically, because organizational groups
tend to have a large impact in your life. As you leave college and you go on, or for
those you who already have, you’ll notice that you spend a lot of your time in different
organizational groups and different work groups. There are even specific subgroups of organizational
groups that we’ll talk about, such as serving on committees, self-managed work teams, or
even quality control circles as we progress throughout the semester. So, briefly it’s
important to talk about what it means to be ethical inside a small group. First off, let’s
start with the definition. What the heck is ethics? When we talk about ethics, we’re talking
about the standards that we use to judge and enact appropriate behavior. This basically
has to do with what is socially acceptable inside society. Now, what we’re really interested
in here is what it means to be an ethical group member. Over the course of this class,
you and your group members will be working together, you will be going through throughput
processes and trying to accomplish things. To be an ethical group member, this means
that you need to communicate and share ideas. You don’t want to remain quiet more than necessary,
but you want to be able to get your ideas out there so other people can understand your
perspective and point of view. You want to try and create a culture of respect inside
your group. That way, even when things get difficult, as you work through your processes
that you’re able to communicate and work. You want to be a good critical thinker, which
means that if you see something wrong, speak up! Share about it. Point out your ideas;
don’t suffer from something that we’ll call “groupthink” later on in the semester. And
finally, make a commitment to the group. If you’re going to join a group specifically
for a task completion concept like you will in this course, you need to show your group
members that you’re committed to the group, you’re committed to the team, and you want
to be able to accomplish the goals that you set out. Last, one thing that we want to touch
on before we wrap up the chapter is a concept called the participant-observer perspective.
The goal of this class is for you to have a chance to join a group and do some experimentation
of the ideas and the concepts that we talk about. To do that effectively and learn from
that experience, you want to put yourself in what’s called a participant-observer perspective.
So, first off, what is a participant-observer? A participant-observer is a combination of
engaging and participating in activities while maintaining the ability to take a step back
for a second and observe and reflect on those things. So the skills that you need to be
effective in this are being a good listener, paying attention, taking notes when necessary,
and making sure that you engaging with other group members. All right, well that wraps
up our first chapter discussion. I want to thank you for watching. As always, if you
have any questions, please feel free to contact me in any of the variety of ways that have
been made available to you. Thanks for watching.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 1 : Small Groups at the Heart of Society

  1. Using your 10 part series as a primer for our website www.socialmediacommunityoutreach.com, and curious if we could speak to you.

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