Understanding the group to manage

The group and motivation

In this article, we try to shed some light on how a group can come together.
In some companies, the lack of solidarity or collective awareness sometimes becomes a concern for managers and HR directors in particular. Understanding the notion of group creation can be a first lever in understanding how to give birth or revive the notion of collective awareness and a sense of belonging.

A few concepts:

What is a group?

Depending on the author, the group is defined either by the interactions of the individuals who are part of it (Homans, 1950), or as a system of interdependencies (Lewin, 1975), or as a whole, an entity with its own existence (Durkheim, 1976) or, on the contrary, as the sum total of multiple individual actions which have a meaning for each person and which do not exist apart from the individuals (Sartre, 1960).

Generally speaking, we can think of a group as a set of people who act and interact around a common objective.

Group components: relationships, objectives and representations

According to Bion (1965), a group can be defined in two ways: explicitly and implicitly.

Explicitly

The group is made up of a multiplicity of relationships between its members, structured around a common objective (human relationships, community of objectives).

10 characteristics have been identified to identify a group:

  • A certain number of people
  • Direct interaction between each member
  • The pursuit of goals valued by the members
  • The development of a network of emotional ties between members
  • The development of a power structure and the emergence of leadership
  • The interdependence of members, even outside meetings
  • Role differentiation
  • The emergence of norms
  • The development of a group culture marked by beliefs, rituals and a language specific to the group
  • Constant interactions, both symbolic and real, between the group and its environment (social or physical).

Groups that meet these criteria can take many forms. However, be careful not to confuse them with “groupings” (which are not necessarily groups), such as a crowd, a network, a community of thought and action, a category or an organisation.

Implicitly

The group is a pool of representations, whether conscious or unconscious, which drive people’s relationships with each other and with the group leader. These representations (based on values, beliefs and practices) are images of reality shared by the group, which generate positions and develop behaviours that seem consistent with these representations.

They are the reference point from which attitudes, words and looks are interpreted.

Group formation: forms that evolve over time

The group emerges from a collective (a group of individuals brought together in the same place and linked by impersonal relationships) and is transformed as relationships of exchange and reciprocity between individuals are established, passing through the following stages:

Under the pressure of needs and interests, individuals become aware of the possibilities for action that union and cooperation would give them. They then come into contact with each other and discover their common interest: it is a group in fusion which finds its unity in common action.

Once the group has achieved its objective, it must reorganise, or risk disappearing. Each individual then undertakes to maintain his or her membership of the group, and relationships are structured (definition of functions, division of tasks, etc.) to give rise to a statutory group.

The statutory group then becomes an organised group, with official statutes, rules, procedures, rights and duties.

Conditions for group formation according to Sarthe

According to Sartre, five phases are necessary for the creation of a group:

The presence of a need or interest in each individual: a person must experience a need that cannot be satisfied in any other way than by integrating their individual actions into a common action.

Awareness of interdependence: individuals must be able to identify that they need each other’s experience, skills and commitment to achieve the objective they have set themselves.

Awareness of a common purpose: by sharing their interests with others, each individual must discover with them a common purpose that satisfies their personal interests.

The organisation of relationships between individuals: a group exists when a communication network is set up with relationships based on exchange and reciprocity.

The development of a sense of belonging: mobilising personal resources and directing individual actions towards a common goal creates a dynamic that stimulates everyone’s commitment to the chosen project, generating cohesion and a feeling of belonging.

In your company…

If you’re looking for ways to develop the notion of a group and collective awareness within your company, you can try to answer these initial questions to identify some initial avenues of work:

  • How do people interact?
  • Are the objectives clear and valued?
  • To what extent is there room for emotions?
  • Is there a leader?
  • Are there interactions and exchanges between group members?
  • Does everyone have a place, and is it defined and shared by the group?
  • Has an implicit or explicit organisation been put in place?
  • What form of culture has developed?
  • Does the group have a recognisable existence in its environment?

Find out more about corporate culture in this section.

The management styles used by managers in the company influence the life of the group. Which management styles are most commonly used in your company? Or the ones you use yourself?

To go further with Assess Manager