Introduction to Group Behavior in Organizations


Humans are social animals and hence, form groups wherever they are. This is true for organizations as well as familial and friendship networks wherein people tend to congregate in groups and be governed by the norms and rules of the group.

For instance, familial groups impose a certain way of behavior in us as are the friendship groups that we form. Similarly, organizations are collections of people in groups which require the members to conform to laid down or explicit and informal or implicit rules of behavior.

Indeed, organizations have laid down policies and procedures which enjoin the employees to adhere to such rules as part of their employment.

For example, there are certain organizational policies that stipulate the timings, the dress code, following the rules governing work and contractual basis of employment. Moreover, such policies are also formed to ensure that the employees work together as a team to realize and actualize the organizational vision and mission.

What is Group Behavior ?

Therefore, group behavior in organizations tends to follow the organizational norms and rules wherein the employees are expected to be disciplined, follow orders, and work to the requirements of the organization rather than their own whims and fancies.

Indeed, the extreme form of groups conforming to the common codes of behavior is the armed forces wherein all members at whatever level they are in are expected to follow the orders of their superiors. On the other hand, organizations such as Google and Facebook are less hierarchical and less structured with employees being allowed to work on their pet projects for a certain period every week.

The difference here is that in the armed forces and many organizations, the boss is always right whereas in the startups and the new economy or the knowledge sector, the rules tend to be less rigid.

Most organizations fall between these two extremes wherein the employees are encouraged, persuaded, and even ordered to conform to the norms of the group with some latitude and freedom being allowed for them to exercise their independence.

Advantages of Group Behavior

There are many advantages to organizations by ensuring that employees stick to the group rules and norms.

For instance, organizations are formed for a specific purpose and if the employees are allowed free run and the free rein, more often than not, the result is chaos and anarchy. Moreover, employees need to conform to group norms since organizations are not charity shows and instead, the employees are being paid to follow the group norms and in turn, contribute to the success of the organizational principles and procedures.

Further, the very basis of the organizational survival is threatened if the employees do not conform to group norms since the organization exists to make profit and not to let employees be paid to have fun. This is not to say that organizations are like prisons or slave camps. Rather, there are obvious and less obvious benefits when employees conform to group norms. This is the reason why the evolution of the modern and the post modern corporations has been such that they impose and enjoin the employees to follow formal and informal norms of behavior.

Groupthink and its effects

Having said that, it must also be noted that such strict adherence to group norms sometimes robs the individuals of their creativity and passion as they need to subordinate their ideas to the wishes and the needs of the group and this is the phenomenon of groupthink which expressed in layperson terms means the decision reached by the group is not necessarily the wish of all the members but the least common denominator or the consensus that can be both right and wrong depending on the circumstances.

Indeed, in the post modern management literature, groupthink has acquired a negative connotation as many experts believe that the group decision is sometimes arrived at just because it is the safest alternative and not necessarily the best alternative.

Moreover, groupthink also makes the members susceptible to being safe rather than risk the wrath of the group by suggesting better alternatives and indeed, the herd mentality which is another term for groupthink sometimes works negatively.

Though in recent years, the concepts such as the wisdom of the crowd and the crowd decision making representing the consensus and the wishes of the group have emphasized the positive benefits of groupthink, it is our view that unless there is a sensitive and a nuanced leader who can sense the pulse of the group and at the same time not ignore the dissenting voices, groupthink can lead to poor decision making with all the attendant consequences.

Conclusion: The Shepherd is the Key to the Behavior of the Sheep

Therefore, what are we to make of the group behavior in organization? The answer to this question is that unless there are groups and they conform to the norms and rules of conduct, it is impossible for the organizational ship to move forward as otherwise each member would be pulling and steering it in different directions.

At the same time, unless all the alternatives are considered and everyone gets a chance to voice their opinions, the organizational ship might flounder and take the wrong direction as history has shown that though democracy is the best form of decision making, ignoring the minority viewpoint sometimes leads to disastrous consequences.

Hence, at the risk of sounding repetitive, we reiterate the view that just as groupthink can be a force for good; it can also lead to negative consequences as the herd sometimes is like sheep who follow whatever the shepherd tells them to do. This means that the shepherd plays a prominent role and this is the concluding observation for this article which is that as long as the leader does not lose sight of the overall objective and is grounded in what is needed to be done, groupthink can indeed lead to actualization of organizational objectives.

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