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Communicating in small groups principles and practices chapter 1

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Communicating in Small Groups

Steven A. Beebe Texas State University

John T. Masterson Texas Lutheran University

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Principles and Practices

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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Printed in the United States. To obtain permission to use material from this work, please submit a written request to Pearson Education, Inc., Permissions Department, 501 Boylston Street, Suite 900, Boston, MA 02116, fax: (617) 671-2290. For information regarding permissions, call (617) 671-2295 or e-mail: permissionsus@pearson.com.

ISBN-10: 0-205-98083-X ISBN-13: 978-0-205-98083-3

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Dedicated to Sue and Nancy

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CHAPTER 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices 1

CHAPTER 2 Understanding Small Group Communication Theory 36

CHAPTER 3 Facilitating Group Development 55

PART I Foundations of Group Communication

CHAPTER 4 Preparing to Collaborate 76

CHAPTER 5 Relating to Others in Groups 102

CHAPTER 6 Improving Group Climate 129

CHAPTER 7 Enhancing Communication Skills in Groups 148

CHAPTER 8 Managing Conflict 178

PART II Managing Group Relationships

CHAPTER 9 Leading Groups 218

CHAPTER 10 Making Decisions and Solving Problems 240

CHAPTER 11 Using Problem-Solving Techniques 269

CHAPTER 12 Enhancing Creativity in Groups and Teams 301

APPENDIX A Principles and Practices for Effective Meetings 326

APPENDIX B Principles and Practices for Communicating to an Audience 337

PART III Managing Group Tasks

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CHAPTER 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices 1 What Is Small Group Communication? 3

Communication 3 A Small Group of People 5 Meeting with a Common Purpose 5 Feeling a Sense of Belonging 5 Exerting Influence 5

What Is Team Communication? 6 Characteristics of an Effective Team 8 Characteristics of Effective Team Members 10

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Strategies for Becoming a Competent Team Member 12

Communicating Collaboratively: Advantages and Disadvantages 13 Advantages 13 Disadvantages 14 When Not to Collaborate 16 Me Versus We 17

Communicating in Different Types of Groups 19 Primary Groups 19 Secondary Groups 20

Communicating in Virtual Groups and Teams 21 Channels of Virtual Collaboration 22 Differences Between Virtual and Non-Virtual Collaboration 23 Virtual Group and Team Theory 25

How Can You Become a Competent Small Group Communicator? 26 VIRTUAL GROUPS 27

The Essence of Communication Competence 28 The Nine Core Small Group Communication Competencies 28

CASE STUDY: The Battle Over Working as a Virtual Group 29 COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 31

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 32

CHAPTER 2 Understanding Small Group Communication Theory 36 The Nature of Theory and the Theory-Building Process 37 Theory: A Practical Approach to Group Communication 38

Explanatory Function 39

Preface xvii Acknowledgments xxii

PART I Foundations of Group Communication


Predictive Function 39 COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 39

The Purpose of Communication in Small Groups: Making Sense 40 Complexity 41 Small Groups: More Complexity 41

Theoretical Perspectives for the Study of Group Communication 42 Systems Theory 42 Social Exchange Theory 43 Symbolic Convergence Theory 44

CASE STUDY: How Do You Keep a Group on Task? 46 Structuration Theory 46 Functional Theory 47

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Structuration and the Exercise of Free Will 48

A Model of Small Group Communication 49 VIRTUAL GROUPS 50

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 52

CHAPTER 3 Facilitating Group Development 55 Why People Join Groups 56 Interpersonal Needs 56

Maslow’s Theory 56 Schutz’s Theory 57

Individual and Group Goals 59 Establishing Mutuality of Concern 60

COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 62 Interpersonal Attraction 62

Similarity 63 Complementarity 63 Proximity, Contact, and Interaction 63 Physical Attractiveness 63

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Mutuality of Concern 64 Group Attraction 64

Group Activities 64 Group Goals 65

VIRTUAL GROUPS 65 Group Membership 66

Culture and Group Development 66 Individualism and Collectivism 67 High-Context and Low-Context Cultures 67 High-Contact and Low-Contact Cultures 68 Homogeneity and Diversity 69

Group Formation over Time 70 CASE STUDY: How Do You Manage Conflicting Needs and Goals? 71

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 73

Contents ix

CHAPTER 4 Preparing to Collaborate 76 How to Develop a Discussion Plan 77

Get Acquainted with Your Group Members 78 Clarify the Goals of the Group 78 Develop a Plan for Gathering Information and Analyzing Issues 79 Follow a Structured Agenda to Accomplish the Task 80 Share Information with Others 81 Determine How to Present Your Information 82

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: What Should You Do with Group Members Who Don’t Pull Their Weight? 82

How to Formulate Discussion Questions 84 Questions of Fact 85

VIRTUAL GROUPS 85 Questions of Prediction 86 Questions of Value 87 Questions of Policy 88

CASE STUDY: Questioning the Cost of Textbooks 89 How to Use Logic and Reasoning Effectively 90

Inductive Reasoning 90 Deductive Reasoning 91 Causal Reasoning 92

How to Evaluate Evidence in Group Discussions 92 Facts 92 Examples 93 Opinions 93 Statistics 93 Gathering and Evaluating Evidence: A Special Emphasis on Web Resources 94

How to Develop Critical-Analysis Skills 95 Causal Fallacy 95 Either/Or Fallacy 95 Bandwagon Fallacy 95 Hasty Generalization 96 Attacking the Person 96 Red Herring 96


STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 98

CHAPTER 5 Relating to Others in Groups 102 Roles 103

Who Are You? 103 Self-Concept Development: Gender, Sexual Orientation, Culture, and Role 104 Diversity of Roles in Small Groups 105 Group Task Roles 106

PART II Managing Group Relationships


Group-Building and Maintenance Roles 106 Individual Roles 107

Norms 108 How Do Norms Develop? 109 Identifying Group Norms 109

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Establishing Group Norms 110 Conforming to Group Norms 110

COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 112 Establishing Ground Rules 112

Status 114 Privileges Accorded to High-Status Group Members 114 Effects of Status Differences 114 Status Differences in Online Groups 115 Observing Status Differences to Predict Group Dynamics 116

Power 116 Power Bases 116

VIRTUAL GROUPS 117 Effects of Power on Group Process 118 Power and Gender 119 Status and Power: A Cultural Footnote 119

Trust 120 Developing Trusting Relationships 120 Trust in Face-to-Face and Virtual Teams 121

The Development of Group Relationships over Time 121 CASE STUDY: Adjusting to Variable Status and Power 122

Gender and Communication 122 Culture 123 Conversational Style 124 Time 124

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 126

CHAPTER 6 Improving Group Climate 129 Defensive and Supportive Climates 130

Evaluation versus Description 131 Control versus Problem Orientation 131 Strategy versus Spontaneity 131 Neutrality versus Empathy 132 Superiority versus Equality 132 Certainty versus Provisionalism 132

Interpersonal Confirmation and Disconfirmation 133 COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 134

Disconfirming Responses 134 Confirming Responses 135

Group Cohesiveness 136 Composition and Cohesiveness: Building a Team 136

Contents xi

Individual Benefits and Cohesiveness 137 Task Effectiveness and Cohesiveness 137 Communication and Cohesiveness 137 Cohesiveness in Virtual Teams 138

Communication Networks 138 PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Cohesiveness and Productivity at Harley-Davidson 139

Group Size 140 Group Climate and Productivity 141

VIRTUAL GROUPS 141 CASE STUDY: Avoiding Defensiveness 143

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 145

CHAPTER 7 Enhancing Communication Skills in Groups 148 Verbal Dynamics in Small Groups 149

Words as Barriers to Communication 149 Listening 151

Listening Styles 151 Obstacles to Effective Listening 152 A Guide to Active Listening 154

The Importance of Nonverbal Communication in Groups 155 More Time Is Spent Communicating Nonverbally Than Verbally 156 Emotions and Feelings Are Typically Expressed Nonverbally Rather Than Verbally 156 Nonverbal Messages Are Usually More Believable Than Verbal Messages 156

Applications of Nonverbal Communication Research to Groups 157 Posture, Movement, and Gestures 157 Eye Contact 158 Facial Expressions 160 Vocal Cues 160 Personal Space 161 Territoriality 162 Seating Arrangement 162 Personal Appearance 164 Communication Environment 165

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Improving Nonverbal Communication Skills 166

Functions of Nonverbal Cues in Groups 167 Nonverbal Messages Influence Perceived Leadership 167 Nonverbal Messages Influence Persuasion Skills 167 Nonverbal Messages Help Synchronize Interaction 167 Nonverbal Messages Provide Information about Perceived Honesty or Dishonesty 168

Interpreting Nonverbal Communication 169 VIRTUAL GROUPS 170


COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 171 CASE STUDY: Interpreting Indirect Communication 172

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 174

CHAPTER 8 Managing Conflict 178 What Is Conflict? 180

Causes of Conflict 180 Misconceptions About Conflict 181

Types of Conflict 182 Pseudo-Conflict: When People Misunderstand One Another 182 Simple Conflict: When People Disagree about Issues 183 Ego Conflict: When Personalities Clash 184

Conflict and Diversity in Small Groups 186 Conflict in Individualistic and Collectivistic Cultures 186 Conflict in High-Context and Low-Context Cultures 186

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Strategies for Managing Conflict in Diverse Groups: Surface and Deep Diversity 187

Approaches to Conflict When There Are Gender Differences 188 Conflict-Management Styles 188

Avoidance 189 Accommodation 189 Competition 190 Compromise 191 Collaboration 191

Collaborative Conflict Management: Principles and Skills 192 Separate the People from the Problem 192 Focus on Shared Interests 193 Generate Many Options to Solve Problems 193 Base Decisions on Objective Criteria 193

When People Are Not Cooperative: Dealing with Difficult Group Members 194 Manage Your Emotions 194

CASE STUDY: Practice in Applying Principles 194 Describe What Is Upsetting You 196 Disclose Your Feelings 197

COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 197 Return to the Issue of Contention 197

Groupthink: Conflict Avoidance 199 Symptoms of Groupthink 200 Suggestions for Reducing Groupthink 202

VIRTUAL GROUPS 204 Consensus: Reaching Agreement Through Communication 206

The Nature of Consensus 206 Suggestions for Reaching Consensus 206

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 212

Contents xiii

PART III Managing Group Tasks

CHAPTER 9 Leading Groups 218 What Is Leadership? 219 Trait Perspective: Characteristics of Effective Leaders 220 Functional Perspective: Group Needs and Roles 220

Task Leadership 221 Process Leadership 222

Situational Perspective: Adapting Style to Context 224 Leadership Style 225 Hersey’s Situational Leadership® Model 227 Some Observations on the Situational Approach to Leadership 228 Shared Leadership in Teams 228

Transformational Leadership 228 VIRTUAL GROUPS 229 CASE STUDY: Adjusting Leadership Style to Situation 230

Emergent Leadership in Small Groups 231 The Minnesota Studies 231

COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 232 Leadership and Gender 233


STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 236

CHAPTER 10 Making Decisions and Solving Problems 240 Group Decision Making: Choosing among Alternatives 241

Elements of Effective and Ineffective Group Decision Making 242 Methods of Group Decision Making 243

Group Problem Solving: Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve a Goal 246 Problem Solving Defined 247 Barriers to Group and Team Problem Solving 247

Three Approaches to Group Problem Solving 249 Descriptive Approach 249

COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 250 Other Descriptive Models of Group Problem Solving 252

VIRTUAL GROUPS 253 Functional Approach 256

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Real Groups, Real Challenges: The Bona Fide Group Perspective 258

Communication Functions of Effective Group Problem Solvers 259 Prescriptive Approach 261

CASE STUDY: Keep Tuition Low 262 Cultural Assumptions About Group Problem Solving and Decision Making 263

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 265


CHAPTER 11 Using Problem-Solving Techniques 269 An Overview of Prescriptive Problem-Solving Strategies 271

The Origin of Prescriptive Problem-Solving Strategies 271 Finding a Balance between Group Structure and Interaction 271

Groups Need Structure 272 Groups Need Interaction 273

Reflective Thinking: The Traditional Approach to Group Problem Solving 274 Step 1: Identify and Define the Problem 274 Tools for Defining the Problem 275

COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 276 Step 2: Analyze the Problem 278 Tools for Analyzing a Problem 279 How to Establish Criteria 282

VIRTUAL GROUPS 283 Step 3: Generate Several Possible Solutions 283 Step 4: Evaluate Options and Select the Best Solution or Combination of Solutions 284 Tools for Evaluating the Solutions 285 Step 5: Test and Implement the Solution 285 Tools for Implementing a Solution 286 How to Use Reflective Thinking in Your Group or Team 288

Question-Oriented Approaches to Problem Solving 289 Ideal-Solution Format 289 Single-Question Format 290 How to Use Question-Oriented Approaches in Your Group or Team 290

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: When Should You Make a Decision Based on Careful Analysis and When Should You Trust Your “Gut Instincts”? 292

Beyond Technique 293 CASE STUDY: Who Loses Their Job 293

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 295

CHAPTER 12 Enhancing Creativity in Groups and Teams 301 What Is Creativity? 302 Why Study Creativity? 303 Myths about Creativity 304

Creativity Myth 1: Creativity Is a Mysterious Process That Can’t Be Learned 304 Creativity Myth 2: Only a Few Gifted People Are Creative 304 Creativity Myth 3: Creativity Just Happens 305

Barriers to Group and Team Creativity 305 Premature Evaluation of Ideas 305 Poor Physical Surroundings 306 Too Many People 306 Poor Timing 306 Stinking Thinking 306

Principles of Group and Team Creativity 307 Appropriately Analyze and Define the Problem 307

Contents xv

Create a Climate of Freedom 308 Listen to Minority Points of View 308 Encourage People to See Things and Themselves Differently 309

Selectively Increase Group and Team Structure 309 Techniques for Enhancing Group and Team Creativity 310

Brainstorming 311 CASE STUDY: Clipping Negative Thinking 313

The Nominal-Group Technique 313 COLLABORATING ETHICALLY: What Would You Do? 315 PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: Using Your Whole Mind 316

The Delphi Technique 317 VIRTUAL GROUPS 318

Electronic Brainstorming 318 The Affinity Technique 319 How to Use Brainstorming in Your Group or Team 320

STUDY GUIDE Review, Apply, and Assess Group Communication Principles and Practices 323

APPENDIX A Principles and Practices for Effective Meetings 326 Giving Meetings Structure 328

Determine the Meeting Goal(s) 328 Identify Items That Need to Be Discussed to Achieve the Goal 328 Organize the Agenda Items to Achieve the Goal 328

Becoming a Meeting Facilitator: Managing Group and Team Interaction 330 Be a Gatekeeper 331 Focus on the Goal 331 Monitor Time 332 Structure Interaction 332

How to Lead Meetings 333 How to Participate in Meetings 334

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE: How to Make a Meeting Better When You’re Not the Meeting Leader 335

APPENDIX B Principles and Practices for Communicating to an Audience 337 Panel Discussions 337 Symposium Presentations 338 Forum Presentations 338 Planning What to Say to an Audience 339

Analyze Your Audience 339 Have a Clear Objective 339 Identify Your Major Ideas 340 Support Your Major Ideas 340 Organize Your Ideas 340


Presenting Information to an Audience 341 Select Your Method of Delivery 341 Use Effective Delivery Skills 341 Consider Using Visual Aids 341 Using Computer-Generated Graphics 342

Glossary 343 Notes 349 Photo Credits 375 Index 377

F rom our first edition to this, our eleventh edition, our goal in writing this book has remained the same: to write a book students find interesting and practical, and instruc- tors find clear and comprehensive. We are pleased that the previous ten editions continue to be praised and widely used by both teachers and students.

We have written the eleventh edition of Communicating in Small Groups: Principles and Practices to serve as the primary text for a college-level course that focuses on group communi- cation. We continue to seek a balanced approach to presenting the latest small group principles, while also identifying practical practices that bring the principles to life.

New to the Eleventh Edition In this new edition we have thoroughly updated the research that anchors the principles and skills we present, incorporated new pedagogical features to enhance student learning, and added new applications of technology to enhance collaborate. Here’s an overview of what’s new.

Expanded Emphasis on Virtual Groups and Teams. From the first page of Chapter 1 through the final appendix, we have included additional research-based information about the role technology plays in facilitating collaboration in contemporary society. Students who have used technological tools all of their lives are increasingly becoming more sophisticated about the use of technology. We have revised our coverage of technology and the use of new media to reflect students’ existing knowledge while also building on it.

Increased Application of Group Skills. Students take a course in group communica- tion not only to improve their knowledge but also to become more skilled communicators. How to develop a discussion plan, create an agenda, facilitate a meeting, manage conflict, make ef- ficient and effective decisions, lead others, and collaboratively solve problems are just a few of the skill sets that are presented. To help students bolster their communication competence, we have expanded our application of specific group communication skills throughout the book. Our “Theory into Practice” feature has been re-titled “Putting Principles into Practice,” and we’ve added new material and applications to ensure students can increase their group com- munication skill.

Linking Chapter Objectives with Chapter Headings. To help students learn, review, and master chapter content, each learning objective that appears at the beginning of a chapter corresponds to a specific major heading. Students can easily confirm their mastery of each section of the material by reviewing the chapter objectives.

New Chapter-End Study Guide. We have completely revised our chapter-end material to help students assess their understanding of chapter content. Our new Study Guide features use the revised chapter objectives to organize their study. We review information linked to each objective and help them clinch chapter content; we identify key terms and page numbers where students can review their understanding of the term. Finally, we present activities and assess- ment measures—including several new assessment measures—linked with each objective in the book.




Revised Ethics Feature. To help students explore their own values and ethics when col- laborating with others, we have revised several of the “Collaborating Ethically: What Would You Do?” features. These mini case studies can be used for student journal entries or spark insightful class discussions.

Crisp Presentation of Chapter Content. Sometimes less is more. To help students quickly grasp ideas and information, we have looked for ways to structure the text’s content using bullets, new subheads, and streamlined prose to assist students’ mastery of the material.

New Inclusion of Contemporary Group Communication Research. As we have for 30 years, we’ve done our best to find the latest research about small group communication and add it to our already comprehensive digest of small group communication research ap- plications. Each chapter includes new and updated references to the latest applications of and insights into communicating in small groups.

New Diversity Material Integrated into Every Chapter. As we have in previous editions, we continue to integrate research and application of diversity throughout the text. For example, in Chapter 8 we offer new, practical strategies for addressing conflict in diverse groups looking at both surface and deep diversity. Thanks to an increased use of technol- ogy as well as an increasingly diverse society, we ensure students can adapt and respond to others from different backgrounds and cultures. Rather than relegating culture and diversity topics to a boxed feature, we carefully integrate our discussion of culture and diversity into every chapter.

And Much, Much More. Each chapter includes new examples, illustrations, cartoons, and updated pedagogy to make Communicating in Small Groups: Principles and Practices the best learning tool possible. We’ve made a special effort to streamline our coverage of content to make room for new research and additional pedagogical features so as not to add to the overall length of the book.

Chapter-by-Chapter Revision Overview Here’s a brief summary highlighting several specific changes we’ve made to the eleventh edition:

Chapter One: Introducing Group Principles and Practices ■ New material about the importance of virtual groups and teams. ■ Extensively revised discussion of communicating in virtual groups and teams. ■ New research about best practices for virtual group and team collaboration.

Chapter Two: Understanding Small Group Communication Theory ■ Updated, more cotemporary case study. ■ New research on gender and culture. ■ New application and assessment chapter-end materials to help students grasp the theories


Chapter Three: Facilitating Group Development ■ More streamlined discussion of individual and group goals and motivators. ■ Enhanced treatment of formation in virtual teams. ■ New discussion of homogeneity and diversity in groups.

Preface xix

Chapter Four: Preparing to Collaborate ■ Revised discussion on how to develop a discussion plan including a new review box that

lays out specific suggested steps and actions. ■ Updated information about how to ensure that all group members share what they know. ■ New assessment activity to help students review their understanding of types of


Chapter Five: Relating to Others in Groups ■ Expanded treatment of gender and culture. ■ New discussion of structuration and formation of group norms. ■ Enhanced focus on status and power in groups.

Chapter Six: Improving Group Climate ■ New research on the costs and benefits of diversity. ■ Updated material on the relationship of group size to group climate. ■ New research-based recommendations about building cohesiveness in virtual teams. ■ New assessment of group cohesiveness.

Chapter Seven: Enhancing Communication Skills in Groups ■ Updated practical nonverbal skills section. ■ New nonverbal virtual communication feature. ■ New review section on word barriers and how to avoid them. ■ New section on backchannel communication.

Chapter Eight: Managing Conflict ■ New discussion about the causes of conflict. ■ New information about how group members often respond when trust is violated. ■ Revised and streamlined discussion of pseudo, simple, and ego conflict. ■ New research inclusion about conflict in virtual groups and teams. ■ New assessment activity of pseudo, simple, or ego conflict. ■ New assessment activity about identifying advantages of different conflict styles.

Chapter Nine: Leading Groups ■ Updated, more contemporary examples. ■ Expanded coverage of transformational leadership. ■ New research on shared leadership in teams. ■ Additional research on leadership and gender. ■ New material on traits of “servant leaders.”

Chapter Ten: Making Decisions and Solving Problems ■ New discussion of the elements of effective and ineffective group decision making. ■ Streamlined description of group problem solving. ■ New research conclusions about virtual groups and problem solving.

Chapter Eleven: Using Problem-Solving Techniques ■ New discussion of how to conduct a SWOT analysis. ■ Streamlined discussion of group problem analysis techniques. ■ New applications of problem-solving techniques in virtual groups. ■ New material about when to trust “gut instincts” in groups.


Chapter Twelve: Enhancing Creativity in Groups and Teams ■ New revised discussion of principles of group and team productivity. ■ New research on how to enhance team creativity. ■ New references to the value of introverts in solving problems creatively.

Balanced Coverage: Principles and Practices We provide a carefully crafted integration of both principles and practices that provide a strong theoretical scaffolding for the “how to” practical skills needed for communicating in small groups. Theory without application can leave students understanding group principles but not knowing how to enhance their performance. On the other hand, presenting lists of techniques without providing an understanding of the principles that inform their skill would result in a laundry list of do’s and don’ts without insight as to when to apply the skills. The balanced ten- sion between theory and application, structure and interaction, as well as task and process is especially evident in all communication study, but especially in the dynamic context of a small group. We believe that emphasizing theory without helping students apply principles can result in highly informed yet under-skilled group members. And while it’s true that our students often clamor for techniques to enhance their skills, such approaches alone do not give students the underlying principles they need to inform their newfound applications.

When we summarize research conclusions, we hear our students’ voices echoing in our heads, asking, “So what?” In response to those, we ask ourselves how the research conclusions we cite can enhance the quality of collaboration. We seek to provide principles and practices of small group communication that make a difference in our students’ lives.

We both abhor boring meetings that are adrift. Consequently, we draw upon our almost 75 years of combined university administrative and teaching experience as we sift through clas- sic and contemporary group communication research to keep our focus on application while anchoring our prescriptions in principled theory. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive yet laser-focused compendium of the latest thinking about group and team communication.

Popular Features We’ve Retained A hallmark of this book, according to educators and students, is our get-to-the-point writing style coupled with our comprehensive distillation of contemporary and classic group com- munication research. We continue to receive praise for the clear applications of the research we describe. We’ve done our best to keep the features instructors and students like best about our book: a lively, engaging writing style, references to the most recent research, and not over- whelming readers with unnecessary rambling narratives. As we have in previous editions, we’ve revised and updated all of our pedagogical features, including chapter objectives, discussion questions, and end-of-chapter activities.

Supplemental Resources for Instructors An Instructor’s Manual and Test Bank (0133809323) accompanies Small Group Communication. The Instructor’s Manual portion of the IM/TB includes the following resources: Sample syllabi for structuring the course, an outline and summary for each chapter which includes the major ideas covered, chapter objectives, discussion questions and experiential activities. The Test Bank portion of the IM/TB contains approximately 300 multiple-choice, true/false, and essay

Preface xxi

questions, all of which are organized by chapter. This supplement is available for downloading at www.pearsonhighered.com/irc (access code required).

MyTest online test generating software (ISBN 0133809218) is available at www.pearsonmytest .com (access code required).

The PowerPoint presentation (0133809307) that accompanies Small Group Communication includes lecture slides based on key concepts in the text. This supplement may be downloaded from www.pearsonhighered.com/irc (access code required).

For a complete listing of the instructor and student resources available with this text, please visit the Communicating in Small Groups e-Catalog page at www.pearsonhighered.com.

This text is available in a variety of formats—digital and print. To learn more about our pro- grams, pricing, and customization options, visit www.pearsonhighered.com.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Three and a half decades ago we met as new college professors sharing an office at the University of Miami. Today we live only miles apart in different Texas communities and remain united by a common bond of friendship that has grown stronger over the years. Our collaboration as friends continues to make this book a labor of love. This book is a partnership not only between us as authors, but also with a support team of scholars, editors, colleagues, reviewers, students, and family members.

We are grateful to those who have reviewed this edition of our book to help make this a more useful instructional resource. Specifically we thank Jeanne Christie, Western Connecticut State University; Meikuan Huang, California State University-Stanislaus; Daryle Nagano, El Camino College; David Kahl, Jr., Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

We continue to be thankful to the talented editorial staff at Pearson. We are especially grateful to our editor, Melissa Mashburn, for her guidance and support. We appreciate Megan Hermida’s assistance in keeping us on track and managing the logistics of preparing this new edition. We are continually thankful for the ongoing support from Karon Bowers, Publisher of Communication.

Steve thanks his colleagues and students at Texas State University for their encouragement and support. Casey Chilton, Mike Cornett, and Sue Stewart are gifted teachers who offer advice, encouragement, and friendship. Kosta Tovstiadi provided expert assistance in helping to gather research for this new edition; we appreciate his ongoing friendship and expertise. We also ac- knowledge Dennis and Laurie Romig of Side by Side Consulting for their rich knowledge and practical insight about groups and teams that they have shared with us for many years. Jim Bell, who teaches in Texas State’s McCoy College of Business Administration, is a valued friend and gifted teacher who offers many ideas about teamwork. Sue Hall, Bob Hanna, and Meredith Wil- liams are talented administrative assistants at Texas State and are invaluable colleagues who pro- vide ongoing structure and interaction to maintain Steve’s productivity.

John thanks his friends, colleagues, and students at Texas Lutheran University, who have taught, challenged, and inspired him.

Finally, as in our previous editions, we offer our appreciation and thanks to our families, who continue to teach us about the value of teamwork and collaboration. Our sons are taking their place in the world and our spouses continue to be equal partners in all we do. John’s sons, John III and Noah, are older than we both were when we began the first edition of this book. John III and Noah continue to make their dad smile with pride at their successes. Nancy Masterson continues, as always, as John’s greatest love, best friend, and most respected critic.

Steve’s sons, Mark and Matt, are now also older than their dad when he started this project. Matt and his wife, Brittany, teach us the power of supportive collaboration and teamwork. Mark continues to teach his dad the importance of endurance and ever-present power of renewal, even when life presents ongoing challenges. Susan Beebe has been an integral part of the author team in this and every previous edition for over 30 years. She continues to be Steve’s personal Grammar Queen, life’s love, and best friend.

Steven Beebe, San Marcos, Texas John Masterson, Seguin, Texas

PART I Foundations of Group Communication

Introducing Group Principles and Practices1

CHAPTER OUTLINE What Is Small Group Communication?

What Is Team Communication?

Communicating Collaboratively: Advantages and Disadvantages

Communicating in Different Types of Groups

Communicating in Virtual Groups and Teams

How Can You Become a Competent Small Group Communicator?

OBJECTIVES After studying this chapter, you will be able to: ■ Define small group communication. ■ Discuss the characteristics of a team. ■ List and describe the advantages and disadvantages of

working with others in groups and teams. ■ Compare and contrast primary and secondary groups. ■ Describe five virtual communication methods. ■ Identify nine group communication competencies.

“Working together works.”

—Rob Gilbert

Chapter 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices2

Regardless of your career choice, you will spend a considerable part of your work

life collaborating with others. One survey of Fortune 500 companies found that 81

percent use team-based approaches to organize the work that needs to be done.1 In

addition, 77 percent use temporary teams and work groups when new projects de-

velop.2 The typical manager spends a quarter of the workweek in group meetings. The

higher you rise in position and leadership authority, the more time you’ll spend in meet-

ings. Top-level leaders spend up to two-thirds of their time—an average of three days a

week—in meetings or preparing for meetings.3

Not all of our collaborations are face-to-face. In the twenty-first century, our collab-

oration has dramatically increased because of our use of technology. We are hypercon-

nected. Computer power that once needed a room-size space now fits in our pocket.

We not only GoToMeetings online (thanks to GoToMeeting software), but because of

“iCommunication” devices (iPhone, iPad, iPods), numerous apps, Skype, Facebook,

Twitter, LinkedIn, and ultra-high-speed-big-data-cloud-computing methods, we are

connected to virtual groups and teams nearly all of our waking moments. Collaboration

is a daily element of our work, family, and social lives.4

Yet despite our constant collaboration, we sometimes (even often) have difficulty

working collectively. Collaboration is hard. Collaboration takes skill. And groups can

exist for constructive as well as destructive reasons.5 Communication researcher

Susan Sorenson coined the term grouphate to describe the dread and repulsion many

people have about working in groups, teams, or attending meetings.6 We have good

news. Grouphate diminishes when people receive training and instruction about work-

ing in groups. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to help you learn communication

principles and become skilled in the practices that make working in groups productive

and enjoyable.

Communication is the central focus of this book. Communication makes it possible

for groups and teams to exist and function. If you use the book as a tool to help you learn

to communicate in groups, you will distinguish yourself as a highly valued group member.


H uman beings are creatures who collaborate. We need to establish relation-

ships with others. We are raised in family groups. We are educated and

entertained in groups, and we work and worship in groups.

What Is Small Group Communication? 3

What Is Small Group Communication? Consider these situations:

■ After the stock market plunges 1000 points in a week, the President of the United States appoints a high-level team of economists to identify the causes of the market collapse.

■ In a bid by the social networking site Connect.com to merge with a rival company, Relate. com, the Chair of the Board of Connect.com calls the board together to consider the virtues and pitfalls of the possible merger.

■ To prepare for the final exam in your group communication class, you and several class members meet three nights each week to study.

Each of these three examples involves a group of people meeting and communicating for a specific purpose. And as group members communicate with one another, they are communi- cating transactively—they are simultaneously responding to one another and expressing ideas, information, and opinions. Although the purposes of the groups in these three scenarios are quite different, the groups have something in common—something that distinguishes them from a cluster of people waiting for a bus or riding in an elevator, for example. Just what is that “something”? What are the characteristics that make a group a group? We define small group communication as communication among a small group of people who share a common pur- pose, who feel a sense of belonging to the group, and who exert influence on one another. Let’s explore this definition in more detail.


Reduced to its essence, communication is the process of acting on information.7 Someone does or says something, and there is a response from someone else in the form of an action, a word, or a thought. Merely presenting information to others does not mean there is communi- cation: Information is not communication. “But I told you what I wanted!” “I put it in the memo. Why didn’t you do what I asked?” “It’s in the syllabus.” Such expressions of exasperation assume that if you send a message, someone will receive it. However, communication does not operate in a linear, input–output process. What you send is rarely what others understand.

Human Communication: Making Sense and Sharing That Sense with Others Human communication is the process of making sense out of the world and sharing that sense with others by creating meaning through the use of verbal and nonverbal messages.8 Let’s exam- ine the key elements of this definition.

Communication Is about Making Sense: We make sense out of what we experience when we interpret what we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. Typically, in a small group, multiple people are sending multiple messages, often at the same time. To make sense out of the myr- iad of messages we experience, we look for patterns or structure; we relate what happens to us at any given moment to something we’ve experienced in the past.

Communication Is about Sharing Sense: We share what we experience by expressing it to others and to ourselves. We use words as well as nonverbal cues (such as gestures, facial expressions, clothing, music) to convey our thoughts and feelings to others.

Communication Is about Creating Meaning: Meaning is created in the hearts and minds of both the message source and the message receiver. We don’t send meaning, we create it based on our experiences, background, and culture.

Chapter 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices4

Communication Is about Verbal and Nonverbal Messages: Words and nonverbal behav- iors are symbols that we use to communicate and derive meaning that makes sense to us. A symbol is something that represents a thought, concept, object, or experience. The words on this page are symbols that you are using to derive meaning that makes sense to you. Nonverbal symbols such as our use of gestures, posture, tone of voice, clothing, and jewelry primarily com- municate emotions—our feelings of joy or sadness, our likes and dislikes, or whether we’re in- terested or uninterested in others.

Human Communication Is Transactional Live, in-person, human communication is transactional, meaning that when we communicate, we send and receive messages simulta- neously. As you talk to someone, you respond to that person’s verbal and nonverbal messages, even while you speak. In the context of a small group, even if you remain silent or nod off to sleep, your nonverbal behavior provides information to others about your emotions and interest, or lack of interest. The transactive nature of communication suggests that you can- not not communicate. Ultimately, people judge you by your behavior, not by your intent. And since you behave in some way (even when you’re asleep), there is the potential for someone to make sense out of your behavior.

Human Communication Can Be Mediated Through Different Channels Key ele- ments of communication include the source, message, receiver, and channel. The source of the message is the originator of the ideas and feelings expressed. The message is the information being communicated. The receiver of the message is the person or persons who interpret the message. The channel is the means by which the message is expressed to the receiver.

Do groups need to communicate face to face to be considered a group? More and more small group meetings occur in a mediated setting—a setting in which the channel of com- munication is a phone line, fiber-optic cable, wireless signal, the Internet, or other means of sending messages to others; the interaction is not face to face. In the twenty-first century, it has become increasingly easy and efficient to collaborate using the Internet, and other technologi- cal means of communicating. So, yes: A group can be a group without meeting face to face.

In the past three decades we have learned more about how mediated communication can enhance group communication. For example, there is evidence that groups linked together only by e-mail or a computer network can generate more and better ideas than groups that meet face to face.9 Such communication may, however, be hindered by sluggish feedback or delayed replies, which are not problems when we collaborate in person. And although more ideas may be generated in a mediated meeting, complex problems and relationship issues are better handled in person than on the Internet or through another mediated network.10 In most cases, in-person communication affords the best opportunity to clarify meaning and resolve uncertainty and misunderstanding. We will discuss the use of technology in groups and teams in a section in this chapter and throughout the book in a special feature called Virtual Groups.

Human Communication: Essential for Effective Group Outcomes Does the qual- ity of communication really affect what a group accomplishes? Because this is a book about group communication, you won’t be surprised that our answer is yes. Researchers have debated, however, the precise role of communication in contributing to a group’s success.11 Success de- pends on a variety of factors besides communication, such as the personality of the group mem- bers, how motivated the members are to contribute, how much information members have, and the innate talent group members have for collaboration. Nevertheless, several researchers have found that the way group members communicate with each other is crucial in determining what happens when people collaborate.12 Research investigating the importance of small group com- munication in a variety of situations continues to increase.

What Is Small Group Communication? 5

A Small Group of People

A group includes at least three people; two people are a dyad. The addition of a third person immediately adds complexity and an element of uncertainty to the transactive communication process. The probability increases that two will form a coalition against one. And although the dynamics of group roles, norms, power, status, and leadership are also present in two-person transactions, they become increasingly important in affecting the outcome of the transaction when three or more people communicate.

If at least three people are required for a small group, what is the maximum number of mem- bers a group may have and still be considered small? Scholars do not agree on a specific number. However, having more than 12 people (some say 13, others say 20) in a group significantly decreases individual members’ interaction. Research documents that larger groups just aren’t as effective as smaller groups.13 The larger the group, the less influence each individual has on the group and the more likely it is that subgroups will develop.14 With 20 or more people, the communication more closely resembles a public-speaking situation when one person addresses an audience, providing less opportunity for all members to participate freely. The larger the group, the more likely it is that group members will become passive rather than actively involved in the discussion.

Meeting with a Common Purpose

The president’s economic task force, the Connect.com company executives’ group, and your communication study group have one thing in common: Their members have a specific pur- pose for meeting. They share a concern for the objectives of the group. Although a group of people waiting for a bus or riding in an elevator may share the goal of transportation, they do not have a collective goal. Their individual destinations are different. Their primary concerns are for themselves, not for others. As soon as their individual goals are realized, they leave the bus or elevator. On the other hand, a goal keeps a committee or discussion group together un- til that goal is realized. Many groups fail to remain together because they never identify their common purpose. While participants in small groups may have somewhat different motives for their membership, a common purpose cements the group together.

Feeling a Sense of Belonging

Not only do group members need a mutual concern to unite them, they also need to feel they belong to the group. Commuters waiting for a bus probably do not feel part of a collective effort. Members of a small group, however, need to have a sense of identity with the group; they should be able to feel it is their group.15 Members of a small group are aware that a group exists and that they are members of the group.

Exerting Influence

Each member of a small group, in one way or another, potentially influences others. Even if a group member sits in stony silence while other group members actively verbalize opinions and ideas, the silence of that one member may be interpreted as agreement by another. As we will discuss in Chapter 7, nonverbal messages have a powerful influence on a group’s climate.

At its essence, the process of influencing others defines leadership. To some degree, each member of a small group exerts some leadership in the group because of his or her potential to influence others.16 Although some groups have an elected or appointed leader, most group members have some opportunity to share in how the work gets done and how group members relate to each other. Thus, if we define the role of leader rather broadly, each group member has

Chapter 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices6

an opportunity to fill the role of leader by offering contributions and suggestions. Regardless of its size, a group achieves optimal success when each person accepts some responsibility for influencing and leading others.

To repeat our definition: Small group communication is defined as communication among a small group of people who share a common purpose, who feel a sense of belonging to the group, and who exert influence on one another.

What Is Team Communication? “Go, team!” You can hear this chant at most sports events. Whether playing a touch football game or in the Super Bowl, members of sports teams are rewarded for working together. Corporate America has also learned that working in teams can enhance productivity, efficiency, worker satisfaction, and corporate profits. Regardless of whether its members play football or construct web pages, a team is a coordinated group of individuals organized to work together to achieve a specific, common goal. Teamwork is increasingly emphasized as a way to accomplish tasks and projects because teamwork works.17 An effectively functioning team gets results.18

Research clearly documents the increased use of teams in corporate America during the past two decades, especially in larger, more complex organizations.19

Because we have clearly defined small group communication, you may be wondering, “What’s the difference between a group and a team?” Often people use the terms group and team interchangeably. But are they different concepts, or is there merely a semantic difference

© 2010 Scott Adams, Inc./Dist. by UFS, Inc.

What Is Team Communication? 7

between a group and a team? Our view is that teams are often more highly structured than typi- cal small groups. All teams are small groups, but not all groups operate as a team.

Business and nonprofit organizations tend to use the term team rather than group to identify individuals who work together to achieve a common task. Corporate training de- partments often spend much time and money to train their employees to be better team members. What skills do such training programs focus on? Most programs cover the com- munication principles and practices that we will emphasize in this book: problem solving, decision making, listening, and conflict management. In addition to using communication skills, team members set goals, evaluate the quality of their work, and establish team op- erating procedures.20 Research has found that people who have been trained to work to- gether in a team are, in fact, better team members.21 So the news is good: There is evidence that learning principles and practices of group and team communication can enhance your performance.

Highly effective teams usually have at least four attributes that give the term team distinct meaning. Let’s take a closer look at how distinctions are sometimes made between teams and groups.

1. Team goals are clear and specific (win the game, win the championship).

2. Teams have well-defined team-member responsibilities, such as positions on a sports team (first base, shortstop, and so on).

3. The rules for and expectations about how the team operates are spelled out; sports team competitions usually have a referee to enforce the rules of the game.

4. Teams usually develop a clear way of coordinating their efforts; sports teams discuss and practice how to work together.

Teams Develop Clear, Well-Defined Goals Team goals are clear, specific, and measur- able. They are also more than could be achieved by any individuals on the team. Research has found convincing evidence that teams that develop and use clear goals perform better than groups without clear-cut goals.22 A sports team knows that the goal is to win the game. An ad- vertising team’s goal is to sell the most product. Yes, all groups, too, have a goal, but the goal may be less measurable or clear. A team develops a clear goal so that the members know when they’ve achieved it.

Teams Develop Clearly Defined Roles, Duties, and Responsibilities for Team Members People who belong to a team usually have a clear sense of their particular role or function on the team. As on a sports team, each team member has an understanding of how his or her job or responsibility helps the team achieve the goal. The roles and responsibilities of team members are explicitly discussed.23 If one team member is absent, other team mem- bers know what needs to be done to accomplish that person’s responsibilities. Sometimes team members may be trained to take on several roles just in case a team member is absent; this kind of training is called cross-functional team-role training. Team members’ understanding other members’ responsibilities helps the team to work more effectively.24 In a group, the participants may perform specific roles and duties, but on a team, greater care must be devoted to explicitly ensuring that the individual roles and responsibilities are clear and are linked to a common goal or outcome. In fact, the key challenge in team development is to teach individuals who are used to performing individual tasks how to work together.

Teams Have Clearly Defined Rules for and Expectations about Team Operation A third difference between groups and teams is that teams develop specific op- erating systems to help them function well. A rule is a prescription for acceptable behavior. For

Chapter 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices8

example, a team may establish as a rule that all meetings will start and end on time. Another rule may be that if a team member is absent from a meeting, the absent member will contact the meeting leader after the meeting. Although expectations develop in groups, in a team those ex- pectations, rules, and procedures are often overtly stated or written down. Team members know what the rules are and how those rules benefit the entire team.

Teams Have Coordinated and Collaborative Methods for Accomplishing the Work A fourth difference between groups and teams involves the methods team members use to accomplish their goals. Team members discuss how to collaborate and work together. Sports teams spend many hours practicing how to anticipate the moves of other team mem- bers so that, as in an intricate dance, all team members are moving to the same beat. Team members develop interdependent relationships; what happens to one affects everyone on the team. Of course, team members may be given individual assignments, but those assign- ments are clearly coordinated with other team members’ duties so that all members are work- ing together. Coordination and collaboration are the hallmark methods of a team. Research has found that teams that are trained to coordinate and adapt their communication with one another have greater success than teams not trained to coordinate their communication.25

Although groups work together, they may accomplish their goal with less collaboration and coordination.

Even though we’ve made distinctions between groups and teams, we are not saying they are dramatically different entities. Think of these two concepts as existing on a continuum; some gatherings will have more elements of a group, whereas others will be closer to our description of a team. Keep in mind also that all teams are small groups, which means that throughout the book when we refer to a team we will also be referring to a small group. And the principles and practices of effective small group communication will thus also apply to teams.

Characteristics of an Effective Team

Several researchers have been interested in studying how to make teams function better.26 One study found that team members need work schedules compatible with those of their colleagues, adequate resources to obtain the information needed to do the work, leadership skills, and help from the organization to get the job done.27 Another study concluded that it’s not how smart team members are, but how well they communicate that improves teamwork.28 Using studies of several real-life teams (such as NASA, McDonald’s, and sports teams), Carl Larson and Frank LaFasto identified eight hallmarks of an effective team. The more of these characteristics a team has, the more likely it is that the team will be effective.29

A Clear, Elevating Goal Having a common, well-defined goal is the single most im- portant attribute of an effective team.30 But having a goal is not enough; the goal should be elevating and important—it should excite team members and motivate them to make sacri- fices for the good of the team. Sports teams use the elevating goal of winning the game or the championship. Corporate teams also need an exciting goal that all team members believe is important.

A Results-Driven Structure To be results-driven is to have an efficient, organized, and structured method of achieving team outcomes. Team structure is the way in which a team is organized to process information and achieve the goal.31 Explicit statements of who reports to whom and who does what are key elements of team structure. It is useful, therefore, for teams to develop a clear sense of the roles and responsibilities of each team member. A team needs

What Is Team Communication? 9

individuals who perform task roles (getting the job done) and individuals who perform mainte- nance roles (managing the team process) to be high performing. A structure that is not results- driven, one that tolerates ineffective meetings, off-task talk, busywork, and “administrivia,” always detracts from team effectiveness.

Competent Team Members Team members need to know not only what their assign- ment is but also how to perform their job. Team members need to be trained and educated so they know what to do and when to do it. Without adequate training in both teamwork skills and job skills, the team will likely flounder.32

Unified Commitment The motto of the Three Musketeers—“all for one and one for all”— serves as an accurate statement of the attitude team members should have when working to- gether to achieve a clear, elevating goal. Team members need to feel united by their commitment and dedication to achieve the task.

A Collaborative Climate Effective teams foster a positive group climate and the skills and principles needed to achieve their goal. Effective teams operate in a climate of support rather than defensiveness. Team members should confirm one another, support one another, and listen to one another as they perform their work. In Chapter 5, we will identify strategies for enhancing team climate.

Standards of Excellence A team is more likely to achieve its potential if it establishes high standards and believes it can achieve its goals.33 Goals that cause the team to stretch a bit can serve to galvanize a team into action. Unobtainable or unrealistic goals, however, can result in team frustration. If the entire team is involved in setting goals, the team is more likely to feel a sense of ownership of the standards it has established.

Does having high standards really have an impact on what a team can produce? If you’ve ever heard a Steinway piano—the gold standard of pianos—then you’ve benefited from the high standards of teamwork. Einrich Englehard Steinwege migrated from Germany to New


Groups Teams

Goals Goals may be discussed in general terms.

Clear, elevating goals drive all aspects of team accomplishment.

Roles and responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities may be discussed but are not always explicitly defined or developed.

Roles and responsibilities are explicitly developed and discussed.

Rules Rules and expectations are often not formally developed and evolve according to the group’s needs.

Rules and operating procedures are clearly discussed and developed to help the team work together.

Methods Group members interact, and work may be divided among group members.

Team members collaborate and explicitly discuss how to coordinate their efforts and work together. Teams work together interdependently.


Chapter 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices10

York in 1850, changed his name to Henry Steinway, and with four of his sons started his own piano company. Since 1853 each piano has been made by a team of workers with exacting stan- dards. Steinway pianos have remained the most desired piano by concert pianists for over 100 years. Steinway pianos are found in 95 percent of all concert halls in the world because of the unflinching high standards of each piano-making team. Having high standards of excellence is an important element in a team that endures.34

External Support and Recognition Teams in any organization do not operate in isola- tion. They need support from outside the team to help acquire the information and materi- als needed to do the job. Perhaps that’s why evidence suggests that teams who have a broad social network of colleagues and friends perform better than teams who don’t have a well- developed social network.35 Team members also need to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts by others outside the team.36 Positive, reinforcing feedback enhances team per- formance and feelings of team importance.37 There’s evidence that less positive support from others discourages some team members from giving their full effort; negative feedback causes more group members to not give their full effort.38 Most coaches acknowledge the “home- field advantage” that flows from the enthusiastic support and accolades of team followers. Corporate teams, too, need external support and recognition to help them function at maxi- mum effectiveness.

Principled Leadership Teams need effective leaders. This is not to say that a team requires an authoritarian leader to dictate who should do what. On the contrary, teams usually function more effectively when they adopt shared approaches to leadership. In most effective teams, leadership responsibilities are spread throughout the team. We will discuss leadership principles in more detail in Chapter 9.

Characteristics of Effective Team Members

One top-selling management book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, nominated five things team members should not do if the team wants to be effective:

1. Don’t trust other team members.

2. Fear conflict.

3. Don’t be committed to the team.

4. Avoid accountability.

5. Don’t focus on achieving results.39

If you’ve been in a dysfunctional team, these five characteristics may be familiar to you. But rather than focusing only on what not to do, we take a more positive approach by

emphasizing what researchers suggest team members should do to be effective. Here is what researchers have found enhances teamwork.40

Experience Effective team members have practical experience in managing the problems and issues they face; they’ve “been there, done that.” Less-experienced team members tend not to see the big picture and may lack the technical background needed to accomplish the task.

Problem-Solving Skills The ability to overcome obstacles to achieve goals is an essential team skill. Effective team members skillfully identify and solve problems. Being indecisive, dith- ering, and shying away from team problems has a negative impact on team success.

What Is Team Communication? 11

Openness Openness is a basic ingredient for team success; having team members who are straightforward and willing to appropriately discuss delicate issues is a predictor of team suc- cess. Team members who are not open to new ideas and who participate less are perceived as less valuable to the team.

Supportiveness Supportive team members listen to others, are willing to pitch in and ac- complish the job, and have an optimistic outlook about team success.41 Nonsupportive members try to control team members and focus on their individual interests rather than on team interests.

Action Oriented Team members who focus on “strategic doing” as well as on “strategic thinking” are vital for team success. Effective team members respond when action needs to be taken. Procrastinating and being slow to take action reduce team effectiveness.42

Positive Personal Style Effective team members are motivated, patient, enthusiastic, friendly, and well liked.43 By contrast, being competitive, argumentative, and impatient are per- ceived as hindrances to team success.

Positive Overall Team Perceptions Effective team members believe they have the skills and resources to accomplish their task.44 Team members who think they will be less effective are, in fact, less effective.45 And team members who are more effective think they will have more positive results because of the self-perceived quality of the team.46 Are team members effective because of a self-fulfilling prophecy (expecting to be effective causes them to act effectively)? Or do team members think they are effective because they really are outstanding? We’re not quite sure what the precise cause-and-effect relationship is between self-perceptions of being effec- tive and effective performance. Perhaps team members who are optimistic about their success

Experience, problem-

solving skills, and

supportiveness are

key characteristics

for effective teams.

What characteristics

make a baseball team


Chapter 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices12

also work better with others and are cooperative. The bottom line is: Team member optimism appears to enhance team effectiveness.

It’s one thing to know what effective team members should do to be effective (such as being supportive, understanding the problem-solving process, and having a positive personal style), but more important than only knowing what to do is actually putting the principles into practice. The research is clear that team members who receive team training in how to perform specific skills to enhance team performance are more effective.47

Team Learning and Adapting It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and then expecting different results. Effective team members learn from both their successes and their failures. Specifically, researchers have found support for the principle that team members who learn how to overcome obstacles and adapt their behavior to achieve their goals are more successful than those who don’t learn and adapt. Effective teams learn best not by merely going to classes or reading books, but by actively exploring, reflecting, discussing mis- takes, seeking feedback from others, and experimenting with new methods and procedures.48

They see what results they get and then adapt their behavior accordingly. Ineffective teams don’t learn from their mistakes and don’t try new things; they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

■ BE CLEAR. Make sure the meanings of words and phrases are clear by defin- ing words that may be unfamiliar to other team members; also, avoid using unfamiliar acronyms (abbreviations for phrases, such as “PDC” for Personnel and Discipline Committee) unless such phrases are common knowledge to all team members.

■ LISTEN. Listen to one another and observe and reflect upon what team members see and hear.

■ TALK “BACKSTAGE.” Engage in talk “backstage”—talk with group members outside formal group meetings; develop a relationship with group members that is not solely based on being task oriented.

■ LAUGH. Have fun together. Use appropri- ate humor, share jokes, and laugh with one another.

What are the behaviors that might hurt the perception of a team member’s competence? According to the same researcher, here’s a list of what not to do:

■ BE NEGATIVE. Question the expertise of other group members.


Strategies for Becoming a Competent Team Member

Group communication researcher Jessica Thompson discovered the following behaviors can enhance your perception of competence when you work with other team members.49

■ BE THERE. Spend time together with other team members; team members who didn’t spend as much time interacting with one another weren’t perceived as competent.

■ TALK ABOUT TRUSTING OTHERS. Explicitly talk about the importance of trusting one another; make trust a specific expectation for all team members by ver- balizing the importance of developing trust.

■ TALK ABOUT THE TASK. Talk about the task you are undertaking as a team; rather than just quietly doing the work, explicitly talk about what the team is doing to ac- complish the team goal.

Communicating Collaboratively: Advantages and Disadvantages 13

■ USE MEAN HUMOR. Use negative humor (a joke at someone’s expense) or sarcasm.

■ EXPRESS YOUR BORDEOM. Tell other team members that you are bored.

■ GRAB CREDIT. Jockey for a position of power by trying to gain personal credit for the work you do (and even don’t do).

Enacting this simple list of do’s and don’ts won’t ensure that you’ll be a competent team member, but research suggests that these be- haviors can contribute to an overall perception of competence. And if others perceive you are competent, you are more likely to behave in ways that enhance competent behavior.

Communicating Collaboratively: Advantages and Disadvantages There is no question about it: You will find yourself working in groups and teams. Collaborative projects are becoming the mainstay method of accomplishing work in all organizations. Students from kindergarten through graduate school are frequently called on to work on group projects.

How do you feel about working in groups and teams? Maybe you dread attending group meetings. Perhaps you agree with the observation that a committee is a group that keeps min- utes but wastes hours. You may believe that groups bumble and stumble along until they reach some sort of compromise—a compromise with which no one is pleased. “To be effective,” said one observer, “a committee should be made up of three people. But to get anything done, one member should be sick and another absent.”

By understanding both the advantages and the potential pitfalls of working collaboratively, you will form more realistic expectations while capitalizing on the virtues of group work and minimizing the obstacles to success.50 First, we’ll identify advantages of group collaboration and then we’ll present potential disadvantages.


Your Group Has More Information Than You Do On the TV game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? contestants who phone a friend get the right answer to the question 65 percent of the time. But if the contestant asks the audience for help, they get the right answer 91 percent of the time.51 There’s wisdom in groups and teams. Because of the variety of backgrounds and ex- periences that individuals bring to a group, the group as a whole has more information and ideas from which to seek solutions to a problem than one person would have alone. Research clearly documents that a group with diverse backgrounds, including ethnic diversity, comes up with bet- ter-quality ideas.52 With more information available, the group is more likely to discuss all sides of an issue and is also more likely to arrive at a better solution.53 The key, of course, is whether group members share what they know. When group members do share information, the group outcome is better than when they don’t share what they know with other group members.54

Although group members tend to start out by discussing what they already know, groups still have the advantage of having greater potential information to share with other group members.55

Groups Stimulate Creativity Research on groups generally supports the maxim that “two heads are better than one” when it comes to solving problems.56 Groups usually make better decisions than individuals working alone, because groups have more approaches to or methods

Chapter 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices14

of solving a specific problem. A group of people with various backgrounds, experiences, and resources can more creatively consider ways to solve a problem than one person can.

You Remember What You Discuss Working in groups and teams fosters improved learning and comprehension, because you are actively involved rather than passive. Imagine that your history professor announces that the final exam is going to be comprehensive. History is not your best subject. You realize you need help. What do you do? You may form a study group with other classmates. Your decision to study with a group of people is wise; education theorists claim that when you take an active role in the learning process, your comprehension of informa- tion is improved. If you studied for the exam by yourself, you would not have the benefit of asking and answering questions of other study group members. By discussing a subject with a group, you learn more and improve your comprehension of the subject.

You Are More Likely to Be Satisfied with a Decision You Help Make Group prob- lem solving provides an opportunity for group members to participate in making decisions and achieving the group goal. Individuals who help solve problems in a group are more commit- ted to the solution and better satisfied with their participation in the group than if they weren’t involved in the discussion.

You Gain a Better Understanding of Yourself Working in groups helps you gain a more accurate picture of how others see you. The feedback you receive makes you aware of personal characteristics that you may be unaware of but that others perceive. By becoming sensitive to feedback, you can understand yourself better (or at least better understand how others perceive you) than you would if you worked alone. Group interaction and feedback can be useful in help- ing you examine your interpersonal behavior and in deciding whether you want to change your communication style.

Why do these advantages occur? One explanation is called social facilitation.57 Social facilitation is the tendency for people to work harder simply because there are other people present.58 Why does this happen? Some researchers suggest that the increased effort may oc- cur because people need and expect positive evaluations from others; some people want to be liked and they work harder when others are around so that they gain more positive feedback. Social facilitation seems to occur with greater consistency if the group task is simple rather than complex.


Although working in small groups and teams can produce positive results, problems some- times occur when people congregate. Consider some of the disadvantages of working in groups. Identifying these potential problems can help you avoid them.

Group Members May Pressure Others to Conform to the Majority Opinion in Order to Avoid Conflict Most people do not like conflict; they generally try to avoid it. Some people avoid conflict because they believe that in an effective group, members readily reach agreement. But this tendency to avoid controversy in relationships can affect the quality of a group decision. What is wrong with group members reaching agreement? Nothing, unless they are agreeing to conform to the majority opinion or even to the leader’s opinion just to avoid con- flict. Social psychologist Irving Janis calls this phenomenon groupthink—when groups agree primarily in order to avoid conflict.59 Chapter 8 discusses conflict in small groups, talks about groupthink in more detail, and suggests how to avoid it.

Communicating Collaboratively: Advantages and Disadvantages 15

An Individual Group or Team Member May Dominate the Discussion In some groups it seems as if one person must run the show. That member wants to make the decisions and insists that his or her position on the issue is the best one. “Well,” you might say, “if this per- son wants to do all the work, that’s fine with me. I won’t complain. It sure will be a lot easier for me.” Yes, if you permit a member or two to dominate the group, you may do less work yourself, but then you forfeit the greater fund of knowledge and more creative approaches that come with full participation. Other members may not feel satisfied because they feel alienated from the decision making.

Try to use the domineering member’s enthusiasm to the group’s advantage. If an individ- ual tries to monopolize the discussion, other group members should channel that interest more constructively. The talkative member, for example, could be given a special research assign- ment. Of course, if the domineering member continues to monopolize the discussion, other group members may have to confront that person and suggest that others be given an opportu- nity to present their views.

Some Group Members May Rely Too Much on Others to Get the Job Done One potential problem of working in groups is that individuals may be tempted to rely too much on others rather than pitch in and help. The name for this problem is social loafing. Some group members hold back on their contributions (loaf), assuming others will do the work. They can get away with this because in a group or team, no one will be able to pin the lack of work on a single group member. There is less accountability for who does what.60 Working together distributes the responsibility of accomplishing a task. Spreading the responsibility among all group members should be an advantage of group work. However, when some group members allow others to carry the workload, problems can develop. Just because you are part of a group does not mean that you can get lost in the crowd. Your input is needed. Do not abdicate your responsibility to another group member.61 There’s also evidence that people are more likely to hang back and let others do the work if they simply don’t like to work in groups or don’t really care what others think of them.62

To avoid this problem, encourage less-talkative group members to contribute to the dis- cussion. Also, make sure each person knows the goals and objectives of the group. Encouraging each member to attend every meeting helps, too. Poor attendance at group meetings is a sure sign that members are falling into the “Let someone else do it” syndrome. Finally, see that each person knows and fulfills his or her specific responsibilities to the group.

Working with Others in a Group or Team Takes Longer Than Working Alone For many people, one of the major frustrations about group work is the time it takes to accomplish

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Chapter 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices16



Advantages Disadvantages

Groups have more information.

Groups are often more creative.

Group work improves learning.

Group members are more satisfied if they participate in the process.

Group members learn about themselves.

Group members may pressure others to conform.

Groups could be dominated by one person.

Group members may rely too much on others and not do their part.

Group work takes more time than working individually.

tasks. Not only does a group have to find a time and place where everyone can meet (sometimes a serious problem in itself), but a group simply requires more time to define, analyze, research, and solve problems than do individuals working alone. It takes time for people to talk and listen to others. And, as you’ve heard, time is money! One researcher estimates that one 2-hour meet- ing attended by 20 executives would cost the equivalent of a week’s salary for one of them.63 Still, talking and listening in a group usually result in a better solution.

When Not to Collaborate

Although we’ve noted significant advantages to working in groups and teams, our discussion of the disadvantages of groups and teams suggests there may be situations when it’s best not to collaborate. What situations call for individual work? Read on.

When the Group or Team Has Limited Time If a decision must be made quickly, it may sometimes be better to delegate the decision to an expert. In the heat of battle, command- ers usually do not call for a committee meeting of all their troops to decide when to strike. True, the troops may be better satisfied with a decision that they have participated in making, but the obvious need for a quick decision overrides any advantages that may be gained from meeting as a group.

When an Expert Already Has the Answer If you want to know what it’s like to be presi- dent of a university, you don’t need to form a committee to answer that question; go ask some university presidents what they do. Or, if you want to know mathematical formulas, scientific theories, or other information that an expert could readily tell you, go ask the expert rather than forming a fact-finding committee. Creating a group to gather information that an expert already knows wastes time.

When the Information Is Readily Available from Research Sources In this in- formation age, a wealth of information is available with a click of a mouse. It may not be neces- sary to form a committee to chase after information that already exists. It may be helpful to put together a group or team if the information needed is extensive and several people are needed to conduct an exhaustive search. But if names, facts, dates, or other pieces of information can be quickly found in an encyclopedia or on the Internet, use those methods rather than making a simple task more complex by forming a group to get the information.64

Communicating Collaboratively: Advantages and Disadvantages 17

When Group Members Are Involved in Unmanageable Conflict and Contention Although both of your authors are optimists, sometimes bringing people to- gether for discussion and dialogue is premature. When conflict clearly may explode into some- thing worse, it may be best to first try other communication formats before putting warring parties in a group to discuss. What may be needed instead of group discussion is more structured communication, such as mediation or negotiation with a leader or facilitator. Or, if group mem- bers have discussed an issue and just can’t reach a decision, they may decide to let someone else make the decision for them. The judicial system is used when people can’t or won’t work things out in a rational, logical discussion.

However, don’t avoid forming or participating in groups just because of conflict. As you will learn in Chapter 7, conflict is virtually always present in groups; disagreements can chal- lenge a group to develop a better solution. But if the conflict is intractable, another method of making the decision may be best.

Me Versus We

The personal pronouns I, me, and my can be significant stumbling blocks to collaboration. A focus on individual concerns (me) can be a major challenge to collaborating with oth- ers (we). Most North Americans value individual achievement over collective group or team

To work together

effectively, individuals

must develop common

goals and a collective

focus rather than

pursuing only individual

goals. Why might some

cultures find this easier

to achieve than others?

Chapter 1 Introducing Group Principles and Practices18

TABLE 1.1 Individualism and Collectivism in Small Groups68

Individualistic Assumptions Collectivistic Assumptions

The most effective decisions are made by individuals.

The most effective decisions are made by teams.

Planning should be centralized and done by the leaders.

Planning is best done by all concerned.

Individuals should be rewarded. Groups or teams should be rewarded.

Individuals work primarily for themselves. Individuals work primarily for the team.

Healthy competition between colleagues is more important than teamwork.

Teamwork is more important than competition.

Meetings are mainly for sharing information with individuals.

Meetings are mainly for making group or team decisions.

To get something accomplished, you should work with individuals.

To get something accomplished, you should work with the whole group or team.

A key objective in group meetings is to advance your own ideas.

A key objective in group meetings is to reach consensus or agreement.

Team meetings should be controlled by the leader or chair.

Team meetings should be a place for all team members to bring up what they want.

Group or team meetings are often a waste of time. Group or team meetings are the best way to achieve a goal.

accomplishment. Researchers describe our tendency to focus on individual accomplishment as individualism. According to Geert Hofstede, individualism is the “emotional independence from groups, organizations, or other collectivities.”65 Individualistic cultures value individual recognition more than group or team recognition. They encourage self-actualization—the achievement of one’s potential as an individual. The United States, Britain, and Australia usu- ally top the list of countries in which individual rights and accomplishment are valued over collective achievement.

By contrast, collectivistic cultures value group or team achievement more than individual achievement. People from Asian countries such as Japan, China, and Taiwan typically value collaboration and collective achievement more than do those from individualistic cultures. Venezuela, Colombia, and Pakistan are other countries in which people score high on a col- lective approach to work methods.66 In collectivistic cultures, we is more important than me. Collectivistic cultures usually think of a group as the primary unit in society, whereas individu- alistic cultures think about the individual.67

As you might guess, people from individualistic cultures tend to find it more challenging to collaborate in group projects than do people from collectivistic cultures. Table 1.1 contrasts individualistic and collectivistic assumptions about working in small groups. The advantages of communicating in groups and teams are less likely to occur if individualistic assumptions consistently trump collectivistic assumptions.

Communicating in Different Types of Groups 19

Communicating in Different Types of Groups There are two broad categories of groups—primary and secondary. Within these broad types, groups can be categorized according to their purpose and function. To give you an idea of the multiple types of groups you belong to, we’ll define these two broad types and then note spe- cific functions within each type.

Primary Groups

A primary group is a group whose main purpose is to give people a way to fulfill their need to associate with others. It is primary in the sense that the group meets the primary human need to relate to others. The main function of the primary group is to perpetuate the group so that mem- bers can continue to enjoy one another’s company. Primary groups typically do not meet regu- larly to solve problems or make decisions, although they sometimes do both of those things.

Family Groups Your family is the most fundamental of all primary groups. In his poem “The Death of the Hired Man,” Robert Frost mused, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there/They have to take you in.” Family communication usually does not follow a structured agenda; family conversation is informal and flows naturally from the context and content emerg- ing from the family experiences. Although family groups do accomplish things together, at the core of a family group is the association of simply being a family.

Social Groups In addition to family groups you also have groups of friends who interact over an extended period of time. These groups exist to meet the primary human need for fellowship and human interaction. As in a family group, conversation in social groups, such as your various

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