The questions involved in this article are related to how we get work doneâ€”how people work together. Why is it important that we examine such issues? After all, we live in an individualistic society that highly values individual ability and effort and places less value on collective activity. We need to study groups because little work in the typical modern organization is done by individuals working alone. A manager who is accountable for the accomplishment of certain tasks will find that he must deal at every turn with groups of anywhere from two to hundreds of people. Numerous studies show that managers spend most of their time dealing with other people, and a lot of that time in some sort of group function.
Indeed, the importance of working together is likely to increase because organizations are becoming increasingly complex. They are often characterized by complicated procedures and interdependencies and the need for cooperative effort by people possessing many functional specialties. In such organizations, no one person or department can work on important matters in isolation. These functions require the interlinking of numerous groups, each possessing specialized skills that no one person can possess. Recently, some writers have focused on electronic groups at work or on groups formed through use of electronic mail systems. Some of the groups seem to behave like social groups.
Despite the obvious importance of groups, some writers believe that management literature has virtually ignored the subject of groups except in studies of organizational development and change. One author argues that it is possible to ignore groups because American industry and American psychologists make individuals the focus of interest. If we took groups seriously, they, not individuals, would be the building blocks of organizations. We would select, train, pay, promote, design jobs for, and fire groups rather than individuals. Groups will not be an important focus of study in organizations until organizations are designed around the group.
What is a group, as far as organizations are concerned? The basic elements of the notion of a group have to do with interdependency or interaction. For a group to exist, its members must be aware that it exists and be motivated to join it (they expect that it will satisfy some of their needs). Over time, groups include role differentiation. Basically, though, a group can be defined as any two or more people who interact with one another such that each person influences and is influenced by the other. Much of what follows will address the subject of groups from the assumption that they are formal structures created by management to accomplish a task. We should bear in mind that informal groupings, which evolve from interpersonal interactions not controlled by management, also appear in all organizations.