Groups form and develop over time, and people join groups because groups meet fundamental needs. According to some researchers, people join groups, by proposing that interactions are evaluated by comparison to certain standards and that the most desirable possibility is the one chosen.
According to this view, each individual has internal standards called comparison levels (CLs) and a comparison level for an alternative (CL/alt). The CL is a subjective standard against which an individual evaluates the attractiveness of an interpersonal relationship. The CL is a consequence of the individual's past interpersonal relationships and will be somewhere near the middle of the range of those relationships, ordered according to how satisfactory those relationships were. Once the CL is established, a person rates as positive any relationship that falls above it in terms of outcomes and as negative any relationship that falls below it. One can assume that each new experience modifies the CL in some way, though the movement of the threshold up or down that results from any one interaction may be negligible.
A person uses the CL/alt to decide whether to stay in a relationship or leave it. Conceivably, a person could choose to enter into or maintain an unattractive relationship if it is the most attractive one available at the time, that is, above his CL/ alt. For example, a person may elect to remain the subordinate of a disliked boss if he works in an industry or region undergoing hard times.
Three facets of interpersonal attraction have been studied in relation to group formation: proximity, similarity, and perceived ability of others. People want to associate with others who are successful or others they judge to be similar in ability to themselves.
Until recently the standard model of group development focused on developmental stages and the interventions that might be appropriate to each stage. Stage one is the formation stage, when relationships among individuals and goals are formed and methods of establishing boundaries for behavior are established. The second stage is a highly involved storming period, when disharmony develops from conflict over leadership and goals. If managed properlyâ€”not suppressedâ€”this disharmony gives way in the third stage, characterized by a standardizing process, which brings about harmony and unity. The fourth and final stage is achievement of an effective, well-integrated group.
This predictable schedule of group development has recently been challenged. It was shown that group development proceeds in interaction cycles, not in some linear order and that there are many possible sequences in which decisions can develop in groups. The initial meetings of groups seem important determinants of the way they will formulate and deal with problems. Groups make quick decisions about their strategies, suggesting that managers should plan initial group meetings carefully because norms will quickly develop.
Managers also need to monitor the group while the task is in progress. In the middle of the time period allotted to the task, groups reverse their frameworks. During the first half of a group's life it shows little progress, possibly because members do not know what the information they gather can be used for. At calendar midpoint groups experience transitions in their "ways of doing business," enabling them to capitalize on the gradual learning they did in the first half of their life.