Organizational Behavior Course Notes – Groups


Class notes from my core MBA Organizational Behavior (OB) course. These focus on groups.

Advantages and disadvantages of heterogeneous groups vs. homogeneous groups


  • Heterogeneous groups have a competitive advantage in terms of cost, resource acquisition, marketing, creativity, problem solving and organized flexibility.
  • Markets are becoming increasingly diverse and global and a heterogeneous group will adapt better to this new climate and will increase productivity and profitability.
  • Heterogeneous groups respect, value and learn from one another.
  • Prejudice and discrimination are absent.
  • Minimum inter-group conflict based on race, gender and nationality.
  • Solutions are well thought-out and thorough but take longer time to reach consensus.


  • Increased turnover and absenteeism.
  • Lower job satisfaction.
  • Frustration over career growth and cultural conflict.
  • Costs of attracting and training heterogeneous groups are higher.

Do groups make better decisions than individuals?

The answer to this one is an unequivocal “sometimes’. It depends on the type of task/problem (routine or complex), and the make-up of the group. Groups tend to do well on the following types of tasks:

Disjunctive Tasks – Tasks which require a group to develop or choose a single “best” answer. The group decision is as good as the best answer/best person.

  • Benefits – The larger the group, the better the odds that someone will suggest the optimal solution.
  • Drawbacks – the person with the best idea might not be able to express it properly, or might not be able to gain group consensus. Also, as with any group decision, there is potential for “group-think”.

Compensatory Tasks – Tasks which do not have a single “best’ answer. Typically these are very complex problems.

  • Benefits – A heterogeneous group usually arrives at the right answer, but it takes them a while.
  • Drawbacks – A homogenous group is able to develop a solution quickly, but it is usually the wrong answer.

If so, under what conditions?

Use a group when:

  • the problem is uncertain or complex and has potential for conflict
  • the problem requires interdepartmental or inter-group cooperation and coordination
  • the problem and its solution have important personal and organizational consequences
  • there are significant but not immediate deadline pressures. (Widespread acceptance and commitment are critical to successful implementation)

Any group project should begin with a decision on the PROCESS (i.e. how you will attack the problem) to be used. Group problem solving has numerous benefits and costs.


  1. Resource pooling – allows the group to draw from the combined physical and mental assets of the group members.
  2. Synergy – allows members to build upon ideas that they would not have developed on their own and perform at higher levels of accomplishment because of the group dynamics.
  3. Decision-making benefit – group agreement on the solution creates a sense of “ownership” and helps to alleviate tension during implementation.


  1. Time constraints – it takes longer because various options have to be discussed.
  2. Potential Dysfunctionality – Someone regarded as an “expert” might be wrong and lead the group to the wrong decision.
  3. Over-conformity/group-think is also a potential problem.

Framework for Analyzing Work Groups

Contextual factors: background factors out of which a group arises and in which a group operates.

Social capital: credibility, acquired over time, and recognized in the group and the firm.

Three design factors of groups:

  1. People- characteristics that are important to analyze are skills and interests, members learning styles, values and assumptions, and individual tendencies (loose structure? Varying activities?)
  2. Task requirements- interactions required, activities variety, novelty of tasks, and work pace
  3. Formal organization- hierarchy, reporting relationships, reward systems, selection and recruitment procedures.

** Proper management requires setting up these three to maximize the group’s abilities. Emergence of the group is dependent upon these managerial decisions.

Group Patterns Emerge

  • Patterns of behavior and values that members create constitute culture. Made to meet task requirements.
  • NORMS are expectations and guidelines shared by group members for group’s individuals’ behavior.
  • ROLES are the characteristic and expected social behavior of an individual (informal leaders, social deviants, etc.)
  • RITUALS, stories, language- group-specific behaviors.
  • MAPS- what members notice in the world around them.

How does group culture affect performance of the group? Of the individual?

The foundation, composition, and functional aspects of the group will affect the performance of the group as a whole (i.e., quality of solution and length of time to arrive at best workable alternative) and individual (ability to express unique opinions through framework of forum for discussion)

  • If groups interact well on a personal basis, can lead to accountability of actions
  • Group can serve to break down bureaucracy and expedite process of problem solving

Structure of the group

  • Context: the environment in which the group exists or mission on which it is founded
  • Tasks: the group’s goals, control mechanism in place (external vs. internal)
    • additive
    • disjunctive
    • conjunctive
    • compensatory

Homogenous vs. heterogeneous

  • if culture is typified by group comprised of people with like experiences and biases, then will inhibit decision making process through lack of innovative thinking. Group may move quickly to solution, but will often be the wrong one
  • if culture is made of people with varying backgrounds, education, belief systems, then term to reach a decision may be longer, but will more often produce the best answer

What are the advantages/disadvantages of conflict within groups?

Advantages: Conflict and disagreement might lead to evaluation of alternatives that would not be considered otherwise. The most important benefit of conflict is to avoid group-think or over-conformity on an incorrect answer/solution.

Disadvantages: The group might spend so much time and energy on conflict resolution that it is unable to come up with an optimal, or even a decent, solution.

How can the conflict be managed?
Modes of Conflict Resolution:

  • Smoothing and Avoidance:
    • group is more interested in maintaining harmony than confronting the problem
    • group members assume that conflict is destructive
    • group members are “accommodators”
    • outcome is that status quo is maintained
  • Bargaining and Forcing
    • group defines the problem in terms of what each person, subgroup or dept. stands to gain or lose;
    • group members assume that conflict is necessary, inevitable and even desirable. It’s good to win and bad to lose
    • group members are “adversaries”
    • outcome is win/lose
  • Confronting and Problem Solving
    • group defines the problem relative to what is best for the organization as a whole
    • group members feel that being open about differences of opinion and needs will lead to a better solution; conflict is healthy is handled right
    • group members are “collaborators”
    • goals are interdependent; all benefit when total group benefits

What factors influence whether or not a group is cohesive

Contextual factors such as the background out of which a group rises and in which a group operates is an important factor. Another important factor is social capital i.e., credibility acquired over time and recognized in the group and the firm. The three major design factors of a group are

  • Characteristics of the group members in terms of skills, interests, learning styles, values and assumptions, and individual tendencies must be analyzed in terms of the work force structure and activities of the group.
  • Requirements of the task to be accomplished by the group in terms of interactions, activities involved, novelty of tasks and pace of work must be defined.
  • Organization structure of the group in terms of hierarchy, reporting relationships, reward systems, selection and recruitment procedures must be well defined and understood by the group and the person(s) creating the group.

To maximize a group’s abilities to function as a cohesive group, the above three factors must be properly managed through sound decisions.

Once a group is formed the culture, norms, roles, rituals and maps of the group that emerges will further influence the cohesiveness of the group.

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