How to define a group & transform them into high performing teams

Vaughan and Hogg (2002) defines group as two or more people who share a common definition and evaluation of themselves and behave in accordance with such a definition. It is basically a collection of individuals who interact with one another; accept rights and obligations as members; contribute to some common aim under the direction of a leader, and share a sense of common identity (Forsyth, 1990).

Groups are said to follow certain criteria such as: formal social structure; face-to-face interaction; 2 or more persons; common fate; common goals; interdependence; self-definition as group members and recognition by others (Vaughan and Hogg, 2002). They provide stimulus, protection & other Psychological requirements to its members. They are characterized by members’ engagement in frequent interaction; sharing of common norms and mutual interests; identification with one another and sharing of values; feeling a sense of collective responsibility; and acting in a unified way towards the organization.

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Groups are divided into formal and informal task groups. The former is set up by the management of an organization to undertake duties in the pursuit of organizational goals. They are created to fulfill specific goals or undertake specific tasks; have a formal status and role conferred by the organization; have definite structures with prescribed leadership and established rules, processes and roles; and tend to be permanent. The latter refer to those grouping which the employees themselves have developed in accordance with their own needs. Every organization has these kinds of groups and is considered very important to the organization’s effectiveness. They are created by the individual members for the purpose of sharing a common interest or meeting a shared need. They emerge from organizational interactions and may be contained within formal task groups. They exist for as long as they serve a common interest or fulfill a common need and their form of communication tends to be flexible and rapid. A good example of this is grapevine, commonly known as GOSSIP. (Brown, 1999)

            Group functions are classified into two namely task and maintenance. Task functions include initiating tasks and defining group problems; information/opinion seeking; information/opinion giving such as beliefs, ideas or facts relevant to the group problem; clarifying, which includes identifying issues and alternatives arising and interpreting    contributions; summarizing e.g. bringing group ideas together and offering conclusions and potential decisions; and consensus testing involving ‘trial balloons’ to test agreement. On the other hand, maintenance roles are focused on promoting and maintaining group relationships by encouraging, i.e. being friendly and responsive to others and accepting their   contributions; expressing group feelings; harmonizing, e.g. reconciling disagreements and encouraging members to explore differences; compromising, e.g. being prepared to give ground to maintain group cohesion; gatekeeping, e.g. facilitating the participation of others; and setting standards for the group to achieve and applying them in assessing group performance. A balance of both functions is required to strengthen the group. (Forsyth, 1990)

            Groups follow set of rules governing appropriate behavior, opinions and attitudes called norms. Norms exert considerable influence over group members and continued group membership may depend on their observance. They drive expected behavior, maintain group identity and regulate social interaction. They can cover such matters as dress code, social behaviors and output limits. Task norms govern work performance and acceptable quality standards, which may diverge from those expected by the formal organization while maintenance norms promote group cohesion and identity (Brown, 1999).

            Norms include group rituals as means of defining the group. Relationship norms establish common ways of responding to outsiders e.g. set attitudes and behavior. The process of acquiring norms is known as socialization while the strong pressure to abide by the expected norms is termed conformity. Groups develop both positive and negative sanctions to ensure conformity (Forsyth, 1990).

            Group cohesion, also known as team spirit or esprit de corps, is very important in an organization. The longer a group is together the stronger the cohesiveness. The degree of group cohesiveness is determined by factors such as size of the group, wherein small is considered more cohesive; degree of mutual dependency – e.g. workers from close knit communities; incentives attaching to successful task completion; and commonality through gender, faith, skills, experience; strength of the leader. Cohesive groups will only be effective if their goals are complementary to the organization’s (Forsyth, 1990).

            In the process of group development, new groups go through a formative process before they can gel and become fully effective. According to Tuckman (1965), there are five stages involved in this process namely: forming, storming, norming, performing & adjourning. Forming concerns on finding the situation the group faces and the types of behavior and interaction that will be appropriate. Members test out attitudes and behavior to establish acceptability and agreed ground rules. A powerful leadership personality can assist this anxious process. Storming is the stage where different opinions and styles emerge, creating possibilities for competing sub-groups, leadership challenges and resistance to meeting task requirements. Issues must be resolved at this stage in order to move on and develop. Norming occurs when resistance is overcome and conflicts are resolved. Mutually acceptable task and maintenance norms are established and members begin to internalize them, thus building up cohesion. Group roles are clarified and the leader is established in this stage. Members begin to feel included. Recognition of the value of different contributions grows and real performance begins. Performing is the final stage when the group’s energy is available for effective task completion. Adjourning is when group disperses on completion of tasks (Tuckman, 2001).

            Group behaviors are affected by various elements, which include size of the group; group leader; nature of group members and their motivation; group norms; individual roles; environment; and the task itself.

            As earlier defined, a group is a collection of individuals, sharing a common identity and contributing to a common aim under the direction of a leader. However, in reality many groups are so driven by pressure to meet deadlines that the relevance of process and relationship issues is often overlooked. Because of these realizations, the goal of transforming groups into teams has become necessary. Oftentimes, the two are used interchangeably. John Adair (1986) identified major differences and similarities in both teams and groups. According to him, a team is more than just a group with a common aim for all its members are seen as complementary. There is strong collaboration, togetherness and commitment from its members, accompanied with genuine support for each other. What makes a team even special is its ability to work as one even if the individual members are apart, like in the case of organizations operating from various places.

            The following attributes were identified to be very much visible in a team: clear objectives; good leadership; openness and confrontation; support and trust; cooperation and conflict; sound procedures; regular monitoring (review); individual development; and intergroup relations.  According to the results of the study conducted by Meredith Belbin (1988) and his team, a leader or manager may be playing one or more of the following roles: Chairman’s role (coordinates and controls other team members); shaper (shapes others thinking and decisions); innovator (provides creative thinking); monitor/evaluator (monitors and analyzes); company worker (translates ideas into practice); team worker (maintains team spirit and works with others); resource investigator (looks for resources and ideas outside the team and helps the team with those); and completer (looks forward to complete the given job on time).

            Belbin (1988) observed team-working in practice and discovered certain combinations of personality types performed more effectively than others. The ideal team embraced a number of functions such as coordination (clarifies goals/facilitates decisions); shaper (dynamic and challenging); teamworker (builds relationships/resolves conflict); completer (painstaking/delivers to deadline); implementer (turns ideas to action); investigator (explores opportunities); specialist (contribute scarce skills/knowledge); and monitor/evaluator.

            Studies on team effectiveness emerged basically for a common purpose and that is to increase productivity. Being composed of individuals with varying personalities and goals in life, calls for unity in order to achieve targets. Findings of the survey conducted by the Accenture Institute for High Performance Business revealed that senior executives in 14 industry sectors including energy and water utilities reported that the benefits of major change initiatives in their organizations had been delayed substantially or even negated altogether. The results show that the inability to profit from the effort was related to factors such as management “misreading the need for change”. The results of this survey showed that transforming a team into a high performing one is about leadership (Accenture, 2008). The top management teams failed to recognize that culture plays an essential role in high performance and should therefore take the responsibility in building the culture and behavior of the people in the organization. Oftentimes, the responsibility of implementing cultural change is entrusted and executed by the human resources department or managed by an external programme director instead of from the very top. Other reasons that contributed to the failure of organizations major business change initiatives are the lack of strategic clarity, too much focus on symbols and slogans, lack of follow through and an inconsistency between executive talk and actions; and insufficient buy-in and lack of engagement by middle managers in the transformation process, combined with unrealistic expectations and failure to carry staff along with the process (Accenture, 2008).

            A very good example of a group transformed into high performing team is that of a leading Fortune 500 company, which had dispatched a team of IT engineers to conduct a Customer Telephone Integration (CTI) project for one of the top two market leaders in the Italian mobile telecommunication industry. The replacements of team members over a six-month period created misalignment, in what once represented a strong unit. Furthermore, as the company’s customer-centric

culture evolved, relationship management was becoming every employee’s responsibility. This went beyond the sound technical expertise of the IT engineers whose usual method of communication was through email. The group commissioned to transform this dysfunctional group into a high performing team observed the culture and environment, gathered business intelligence, and reviewed performance profiles. They designed and implemented an ad hoc program to promote the rapid transformation. One strategy was alternating classroom instruction with stimulating outdoor events. Series of challenges were designed that fostered the emergence and mastery of conflict. These activities offered team members the opportunity to build trust and commitment. This hastened the process of strengthening the team by producing higher levels of synergy, accountability, and camaraderie, while focusing on results. Through individual coaching, the team members rapidly acquired a sound business perspective and customer-centered focus.

            The CTI Project received merited acknowledgement for the accomplished goals. In less than one year, this high performance team achieved breakthrough results in customer, company, employee, and operational value. The team’s response time shortened, which radically improved communication project delivery. Goal was achieved within budget and on time. As interpersonal relationships began to flourish, first within the project team and then with the customer, so did trust – a primary and essential element of relationship management. The climate of good will positively impacted other work-in-progress and enabled the Client to explore new business opportunities in the earliest of stages.

            The project group’s ultimate proof of transformation was the team’s unanimous decision to distribute among all seven members annual performance bonuses assigned to a select few due to provisional company policy. This presents evidence that high performance teams not only impact the organization and marketplace, but above all, the gratified individuals that constitute them (Richardson, 2005).

            Having the above concepts, research findings and concrete example would tell us that the key to transforming groups into high performing teams is to make the employees more engaged in order to make the workforce more innovative and productive, thus translate into a profitable company.


Accenture. (2008, December 31). Leadership Trade-offs for High Performance. Retrieved          January 2, 2009, from      4727-9300-D42BCEF35C4E/0/transformation_humanfactor.pdf

Brown, R. (1999) Group Processes 2e, Oxford: Blackwell.

Forsyth, D. R. (1990) Group Dynamics, Pacific Grove CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing.

Neill, James. (2007). Group Dynamics, Processes & Development. Journal of Experiential          Education, 15, 22. Retrieved January 1, 2009 from Wildercom database.

Richardson, Joan. (2005). Transform your group into a TEAM. TOOLS for School for a Dynamic Community of Leaders and Learners. Retrieved January 3, 2009 from

Tuckman, Bruce W. (2001) Developmental sequence in small groups.  Group Facilitation: A      Research and Applications Journal, 3. Retrieved January 2, 2009 from Dennis    Learning Center database.


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