Distinguishing among groups (Week 1, Lectures 2 & 3)

This is a problem of classification, or taxonomy, also called systematics.

"To the taxonomist, the problem is to determine the natural groups into which things fall, and then to devise some simple key so that anybody else can, without spending the same time in profound study, put them in the right category."

--David Knight (1981), Ordering the World, p. 27

Some existing distinctions and classification schemes:

Forsyth, Ch. 6, p. 165:

Work teams:

Structured, cohesive, high social identity, goal-oriented, typically part of a larger organization

Ch. 16:

Change-promoting groups

Focus is on changing members

Subtypes are:

* Psychotherapy groups
* Interpersonal learning groups
* Self-help groups

Walton & Hackman (1990):

Work teams
Self-enacted groups

Hackman (1990)

Work groups divided into:

* Top management groups
* Task forces
* Professional support teams
* Performing groups
* Human service teams
* Customer service teams
* Production teams

Note: The first is a theoretically driven distinction, the second is an ad hoc classification.

Arrow, McGrath, & Berdahl (in press)

The first division is based on the relative importance of attending to member needs versus attending to the demands/needs of the group's embedding context.

Clubs: Groups in which the main focus is on fulfilling member needs

Work groups: Groups in which the main focus is on creating a group product or service for a larger constituency

Secondly, these groups are distinguished based on the relative emphasis on members, tools, and tasks, the three main elements of groups according to McGrath & colleagues.

"Any classification is ... composed of elements that we impose and elements that we discover." --Knight (1981), p. 27

Subdivision of work groups:

Teams: Members are primary
Task forces: Tasks are primary
Crews: Tools/resources are primary

Subdivision of clubs:

Social clubs: Members primary
Activity clubs: Tasks primary
Economic clubs: Tools/resources primary

Note: This classification is supposed to work for all small groups (not intended for large groups). However, some groups will fit more neatly into one of the types than others, just as a robin fits our prototype for "bird" better than an ostrich does, and a fox fits our prototype for "mammal" better than a duck-billed platypus does. Families, because they are such special groups, are hard to classify: they clearly pay a great deal of attention to member needs, but they also involve the coordination and execution of a great deal of work, and societies relay on families to do this work.

Another complication in applying any classification scheme is that a group that might fall into one category during one period may change into a different type of group during another period. This is one of the ways that human collectives are NOT like biological species: A bird is born a bird and lives its life as a bird, and can't switch to being a mammal.