Group and Team Communications

Cite this article as:"Group and Team Communications," in The Business Professor, updated October 1, 2019, last accessed August 3, 2020,

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Communication in Groups or Teams

We form self-identities through our communication with others, and much of that interaction occurs in a group context. A “group” may be defined as three or more individuals who affiliate, interact, or cooperate in a familial, social, or work context. “Group communication” may be defined as the exchange of information with those who are alike culturally, linguistically, and/or geographically. Group members may be known by their symbols, their use of specialized language or jargon; by their proximity, as in gated communities.

A group, by definition, includes at least three people. We can categorize groups in terms of their size and complexity. The larger the group grows, the more likely it is to subdivide. A “microgroup” is a small, independent group that has a link, affiliation, or association with a larger group. With each additional group member the number of possible interactions increases.

One person may involve intrapersonal communication, while two may constitute interpersonal communication, and both may be present within a group communication context. “Group norms” are customs, standards, and behavioral expectations that emerge as a group forms. “Norms” involve expectations that are self and group imposed and that often arise as groups form and develop.

Types of Groups in the Workplace

Groups may be defined by function. They can also be defined, from a developmental viewpoint, by the relationships within them. Groups can also be discussed in terms of their relationship to the individual and the degree to which they meet interpersonal needs. Functional groups may be assembled at work to solve problems, and once the challenge has been resolved, they dissolve into previous or yet to be determined groups.

Relationships are part of any group, and can be described in terms of status, power, control, as well as role, function, or viewpoint. Relationships are formed through communication interaction across time, and often share a common history, values, and beliefs about the world around us.
Struggles are a part of relationships, both in families and business, and form a common history of shared challenged overcome through effort and hard work. Through conversations and a shared sense that you and your coworkers belong together, you meet many of your basic human needs, such as the need to feel included, the need for affection, and the need for control.

Primary and Secondary Groups

There are fundamentally two types of groups: primary and secondary groups. The hierarchy denotes the degree to which the group(s) meet your interpersonal needs. “Primary groups” meet most, if not all, of one’s needs. Groups that meet some, but not all, needs are called “secondary groups”.
Secondary groups often include work groups, where the goal is to complete a task or solve a problem. Secondary groups may meet your need for professional acceptance and celebrate your success, but they may not meet your need for understanding and sharing on a personal level.

Group Communication

Group communication within a business can be organized in a flat or hierarchical structure. This organization primarily concerns the flow of information or communication paths. Hierarchical structures rely on information to be transmitted upward from subordinate to superior, or downward from superior among any number of subordinates.

Flat organizational structures organize to distribute decision-making power throughout the organization. It eliminates functional or departmental boundaries and reorganizes in cross-disciplinary teams that perform broad core processes. Communicating across organization becomes most important. Roles expand as more important tasks are assumed The power and authority of the position may surpass the individual’s status in the organizational chart.

Characteristics of Effective Groups

  • Synergy – pooling effectors to allow groups to achieve more collectively than they could individually.
  • Common Goals – Participants share a common goal, interest, or benefit.
  • Role Perception – Members play a variety of necessary roles and seek to eliminate non-productive ones.
  • Longevity – Short-term assignments, groups spend more time on the task than on maintenance.
  • Size – Larger groups diminishes the ability to communicate effectively. However, larger groups are desired for situations requiring broad input.
  • Status – Groups generally require balance in status and expertise. Individuals tend to speak up to those in higher status and down to employees.
  • Group Norms – People conform to norms because conformity is often easy. Conformity also leads to acceptance by other groups members and creates communication opportunities.
  • Leadership – The ability of a group leader to work toward task goals while contributing to the development of group and individual goals is often critical to group success. Leadership activities may be shared and leadership may be rotated formally or informally.

Group Roles

In healthy groups members will fill multiple goals. Positive Roles add to group purpose:

  • Facilitator (Gatekeeper) – Makes sure everyone gets to talk and be heard.
  • Harmonizer – Keeps tension low.
  • Reporter – Assumes responsibility for preparing material for submission.
  • Leader – Assumes a directive role.
  • Initiator-Coordinator – Suggests new ideas or new ways of looking at the problem.
  • Elaborator – Builds on ideas and provides examples.
  • Coordinator – Brings ideas, information, and suggestions together.
  • Evaluator-Critic – Evaluates ideas and provides constructive criticism.
  • Recorder (Record Keeper) – Records ideas, examples, suggestions, and critiques.

Negative Roles detract from the group’s purpose:

  • Isolate – physically present but fail to participate.
  • Dominate – Speaks too often and too long.
  • Free Rider – Doesn’t do fair share of work.
  • Detractor – Constantly criticizes and complains.
  • Digresser – One who deviates from the group’s purpose.
  • Airhead – One who is never prepared.
  • Recognition Seeker – Relates discussion to their accomplishments; seeks attention
  • Special_Interest Pleader – Relates discussion to special interest or personal agenda.
  • Blocker – Blocks attempts to consensus consistently.
  • Joker or Clown – Seeks attention through humor and distracts group members.

Group Problem Solving

John Dewey’s proposed a reflective thinking sequence, which is a seven-step process for forming an organizational structure.

  • Define the problem – Allows the group to set boundaries of what the problem is and what it is not and to begin to formalize a description or definition of the scope, size, or extent of the challenge the group will address. A problem that is too broadly defined can overwhelm the group. If the problem is too narrowly defined, important information will be missed or ignored.
  • Analyze the problem – Trying to gather information and learn more.
  • Establish criteria – Information is coming in from diverse perspectives, and each group member has contributed information from their perspective, even though there may be several points of overlap.
  • Consider Possible Solutions – The group has listened to each other and now starts to brainstorm ways to address the challenges they have addressed while focusing resources on those solutions that are more likely to produce results.
  • Decide on a Solution – They’ll complete a cost-benefit analysis, which ranks each solution according to its probable impact. It is easier for the group to decide which courses of action are likely to yield the best outcomes.
  • Implement the solution – Applying planning to the situation.
  • Follow up on the solution – This scenario allows us to see that the problem may have several dimensions as well as solutions, but resources can be limited and not every solution is successful.

Becoming a Team

A team can be distinct from a group. The major distinction is member’s attitudes and level of commitment to the group. A team is typified by a clear identity and high level of commitment on the part of members. Work teams are typically given the authority to act on their conclusions, although the level of authority varies, depending on the organization and purpose of the team.

Putting individuals together doesn’t make a team; individuals must undergo a developmental process to become a functional team.

  • Forming – Become acquainted with each other and the assigned task.
  • Storming – Dealing with conflicting personalities, goals, and ideas. “Uncertainty theory” states that we choose to know more about others with whom we have interactions in order to reduce or resolve the anxiety associated with the unknown. The more we know about others and become accustomed to how they communicate, the better we can predict how they will interact with us in future contexts. In the storming stage, members sort out their differences. Leaders can anticipate the storming stage and help facilitate opportunities for the members to resolve uncertainty before the work commences.
  • Norming – Developing strategies and activities that promote goal achievement. In the norming stage is when a group establishes norms, or informal rules, for behavior and interaction. The norming stage is marked by less division and more collaboration. The level of anxiety associated with interaction is generally reduced, making for a more positive work climate that promotes listening. Tensions are reduced when the normative expectations are known, and the degree to which a manager can describe these at the outset can reduce the amount of time the group remains in uncertainty.
  • Performing – Reaching the optimal performance level. In the performing stage the group accomplishes its mandate, fulfills its purpose, and reaches its goals. Productivity is often how we measure success in business and industry, and the group has to produce. It is generally wiser to focus on the performance of the group rather than individual contributions. The performing stage is where the productivity occurs, and it is necessary to make sure the group has what it needs to perform.
  • Adjourning – Members leave the group. In the adjourning stage, members leave the group. The group may cease to exist or it may be transformed with new members and a new set of goals. It is important not to forget that groups can reach the adjourning stage without having achieved success.

Team may never reach the full development, often settling for acceptable performance at the norming stage. To maximize team development, it is important to develop the three Rs.

  • Roles – The roles of employees need to be predetermined.
  • Rules – There needs to be a set of rules.
  • Relationships– Efforts should be directed towards building congenial and mutually benefitting relationships.

Group socialization involves how the group members interact with one another and form relationships. Those who are in leadership positions may ascend or descend the leadership hierarchy as the needs of the group, and other circumstances, change over time.

In the same way, groups experience similar steps and stages and take on many of the characteristics we associate with life. A model proposed by Bruce Tuckman, specifies the usual order of the phases of group development:

  • Commitment – Focus on mission values, goals and expectations of the team and organization.
  • Cooperation – Shared sense of purpose, mutual gain, and teamwork.
  • Communication – Information must flow smoothly between top management and workers – willing to face confrontation and unpleasantness when necessary.
  • Contribution – Share their different backgrounds, skills, and abilities with the team.

Just as groups go through a life cycle when they form and eventually adjourn, so the group members fulfill different roles during this life cycle.  Richard Moreland and John Levine proposed the following ”Life Cycle of Member Roles”.

  • Potential member – curiosity and interest.
  • New Member – Joined the group but still an outsider and unknown. Learn to fit into the group.
  • Full Member – Knows the rules and is looked to for leadershi
  • Divergent member – Focuses on differences
  • Marginal Member – No longer involved
  • Ex-member – No longer considered a member.

Some strategies for businesses to effectively organize groups to become teams include:

  • Task Force – Create a single goal for the group and limited time to achieve it. For example, a Quality Assurance Team focuses on product or service quality and project can be either short or long-term.
  • Cross-functional Team – Brings together employees from various department to solve a variety of problems (multi-disciplinary activity). For example, a Product Development Team concentrates on innovation and the development cycle of new products, and is usually cross-functional in nature.

Here are the communication aspects relevant to a team.

  • Open Communication – Communication needs to be open-ended
  • Listening – there needs to be an increased effort in listening
  • Problem Solving – concerted efforts should be deliberated towards solving problems
  • Conflict Resolution – Efforts should be directed to prevent and resolve conflict
  • Negotiation – There needs to be some mutual effort towards agreement.
  • Consensus – There needs to be agreement or collective harmony.
  • Establishing Team Roles – Team roles need to be established
  • Distributed Leadership – Leadership needs to be evenly distributed
  • Shared Goals and Expectations – There needs to be collective goals and set experience.
  • Information Flow – There needs to be flow of information through proper channels to facilitate co-operation.

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