Group Structure


Sociometry was devised in the 1930s as a method by which to map group emotional interactions, first shown in the book Who Shall Survive?, by psychotherapist and psychiatrist Jacob Moreno. It continues today under the name social network analysis.

Briefly, questions about liking someone, disliking someone or holding neutral feelings toward someone are asked of individual members of the group, and the result is pieced together into a sociogram.

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Sociograms produced from sociometric assessments (like the one above), can reveal 'stars', 'isolates', 'neglectees', 'rejectees', 'mutual pairs' and 'mutual trios'.[1]

Sociometric assessments can be useful to management by providing a tool through which it is possible to reveal the informal organisation of the workforce. Comparing sociograms of productive and unproductive teams can show what aspects of the latter group's structure needs modification.[1]

Communication within groups

Co-located is a term used to describe when a group comes together face-to-face. If a group is co-located, a communication network analysis can be conducted to analyse who communicates with who. Noel Tichy and Charles Fombrun were responsible for pioneering research into communication network analysis in the late 1970s. Communigrams can then be produced from the analysis of the communication structure of the group.

Communication pattern analysis produces the equivalent of communigrams for when a group of individuals are physically dispersed in different locations, termed communication pattern charts.

Different forms of communication networks emerge in groups. Some examples include; chains, circles, wheels, all-channel, or a mixture of centralisation and decentralisation termed 'Y'. Marvin Shaw in 1978 conducted a laboratory experiment to test if certain group communication networks impeded or facilitated the performance of a task.[1] Certain networks proved better at preventing disruption and facilitating the emergence of leadership.

Robert Baron and Jerald Greenburg in 1990 studied differences in performance between centralised and decentralised networks. They found that centralised networks are superior at completing simple tasks, while decentralised networks are superior at completing complex tasks.[1]

Interaction Process Analysis

A technique developed by Robert Freed Bales, an American social psychologist, was designed to analyse the content of what group members said. He termed this Interaction Process Analysis. Bales divided what group members said into two categories; task activities (getting the job done) and maintenance activities (keeping the group working together).[1] Bales then devised a system to categorise what people said when a group was assigned a task, into twelve different categories. The below table describes these and is taken from Organisational Behaviour by David Buchanan and Andrzej Huczynski, and is based on Bale's twelve categories.

1. Asks for orientation; direction; implying autonomy for others.
2. Asks for opinion, evaluation, analysis, expression of feeling.
3. Asks for orientation, information, repeats, clarifies, confirms.

4. Gives suggestion, direction, implying autonomy in others.
5. Gives opinion, evaluation, analysis, expresses feelings, wishes.
6. Gives orientation, information, repeats, clarifies, confirms.

Positive reactions
7. Shows solidarity, raises others' status, gives help, reward.
8. Releases tension; asks for help; withdraws from field.
9. Shows antagonism; deflates others' status, defends or asserts self.

Negative reactions
10. Disagrees, shows passive rejection, formality, withholds help.
11. Shows tension release; asks for help; withdraws out of field.
12. Shows antagonism; deflates others' status; defends or asserts self.

Through these twelve categories, it is possible to categorise the content of what people say and determine the behaviour of the group as a whole. It is possible to map the nature of the groups interactions, for example whether the group environment is a cooperative or competitive one. Bales argued that group behaviour could be explained through showing how they deal with recurring problems.

Bale's Interaction Process Analysis has been described as the most empirically useable method of studying the content of what is said between individuals in a group.

Use of mapping by worker militants

For a pro-worker individual, being able to map the workplace might present a useful tool in the organising process. For example, carrying out a sociometric assessment allows an individual to reveal the informal organisation of the workforce and thereby who should be talked to and when. If a worker militant is to do this, they wouldn't be able to do it in the same open way that researchers do; it would have to be carried out quietly and likely without the use of surveys.

Team role theory

Belbin's team roles

Meredith Belbin, a British management theorist, developed a theory distinguishing nine different team roles that each make their own individual contribution to the team. A good overview of the different roles suggested by Belbin are given on this Wikipedia page. These roles have been grouped by researchers into three categories; action roles (shaper, implementer and completer-finished), social roles (coordinator, teamworker and resource investigator) and thinking roles (plant, monitor-evaluator, and specialist).[1]

Belbin argued in 1996 that in an ideal world a person's functional role and team role would coincide. In the real world people are often appointed to a functional roles on the basis of their ability and experience, and not for personal characteristics. For Belbin, team roles are individual preferences not the expectations of others. Individuals fairly consistently adopt one or two team roles. Team role questionnaires and personality assessments can be used to determine the particular role an individual is suited to. An ideal team would see all team roles represented, if a team is smaller than nine people, individuals can play more than one role.[2]

Belbin's theory suggests certain practices that managers should aim to complete. These are to assess, select, place and guide individual workers. Managers can construct teams on the basis of fully representing all team roles, once they know workers' team role preferences.[2]

Criticisms of team role theory

Belbin's team role theory is popular, but it isn't without critical assessment. The criticisms are summarised by Aitor Aritzeta as:[3]

  • There isn't much empirical evidence to support Belbin's theory, and the nature of team composition makes it difficult to evaluate team success based on use of Belbin's suggested team roles.
  • Questionnaires that determine what role a person should be allotted to are based on self-perception, which is unreliable. Peer ratings and a personality assessment questionnaire would be more accurate.
  • The way in which individuals see their team roles are conditioned by the roles they habitually play; the questionnaire score that determines their role is thus also a reflection of their social learning of roles.
  • The theory is excessively psychological, and neglects the sociological. Particularly it neglects what is expected of the individual in particular positions by others.
  • Additive, conjuctive and disjunctive tasks may require different combinations of team roles to complete. The theory does not distinguish enough between different tasks the team is performing.
  • Focusing exclusively on team composition neglects to view other important factors such as strategy, leadership, structure, management style, interpersonal skills and company resources.
  • Team roles and personalities are overly conflated, treated as interchangeable rather than separate but interrelated.

Gervase Bushe and Alexandra Chu outline further criticisms when they note that unstable team membership impedes team performance. Fluid teams especially fit into this. Fluid teams are when a team has a changing membership, and are widespread in healthcare and flight crews and are increasingly common in engineering, product development, sales and customer support. Unstable team membership can damage loyalty to the organisation as a whole, which may be a boon for independent workers' activity, but may also be a danger factor as they also decrease the identification and cohesion amongst colleagues that results from stable team membership.[4]

Leadership structure

Usually, a group makes leaders out of the person with some special capacity for coping with the problem at hand. This special category can be anything, related of course to the problem at hand. In much management literature, leadership is considered exclusively the domain of management. In self-management notes, leadership can be considered to be those that command the respect of other colleagues. Management literature continues to describe the type of leadership as affecting the groups performance and membership satisfaction.

Increasingly, the management literature has noted there is an increased interest in the concept of distributed leadership in opposition to individual leadership. Raymond Cattell's view is that the leader is any group member who is capable of modifying the properties of the group by their presence. This view specifically assesses that any member of the group can perform acts of leadership. This approach sees leadership as a set of behaviours that change their nature depending on circumstance, and 'which switch or rotate between group members as circumstances change'.[1]

Leadership is a social phenomena that can be described as a product of social exchange. Management literature describes this as follows; 'the leader provides rewards for the group by helping its members to achieve their own and the group's goals. They in turn reward the leader by giving heightened individual status and increased influence.' The literature goes on to describe that individual members can rescind this influence at any time to the leader, if they feel that the leader is no longer deserving of their respect.[1]

Two types of leaders emerge naturally in any given group.[5] These are the task leader who specialises in making suggestions, giving information, expressing opinions and generally contributing to helping the group achieve its objective.[1] The other type of leader is the socio-emotional leader who helps maintain relationships between group members, alllows them to express ideas and positive feelings.[1] This latter type of person made jokes, released tensions within the group and helped maintain the group as a functioning entity. Despite some rivalry, the two sets of group leader cooperated and worked well together.[1]

'Virtual Teams'

Competition and globalisation have taken their toll on organisations. Organisations have been forced to speed up their development and production of new products and services, and at the same time advance communications hardware, allowing individuals to interact with others anywhere in the world. In addition, project-management software is allowing individual project members to access and analyse project information anywhere, including via the use of mobile phones.

Virtual teams allow companies to use the most qualified individuals to perform a particular task irrespective of their geographical location. Virtual teams have disrupted traditional group structures; power, status, liking, communication, role and leadership. A great deal of social science research is devoted to investigating these changes. Yuhyung Shin, a researcher from South Korea, distinguishes between four dimensions within a virtual team. These are:[5][1]
Spatial dispersion: the extent to which team members work in different geographical locations
Cultural dispersion: the extent to which a team consists of employees from different countries and cultures
Temporal dispersion: the extent to which team members work at different times
Organisational dispersion: the degree to which team members work across organisational boundaries

Between members of a virtual team, there exist two types of communication; synchronous communication and asynchronous communication. The former describes real time communication, while the latter describes non-real time communication such as emailing or forum posting.

Psychologists describe how it is beneficial for virtual teams to occasionally meet face-to-face, due to the requirement that successful teams demand, which are the building of trust, agreeing lines of communication and the establishing of contact with one another.

Developing virtual team leadership is somewhat different from leadership in co-located teams. Virtual team leaders must establish and maintain trust through the use of communication technology, which is performed by making explicit progress through use of the virtual workspace, focusing the norms on how information is communicated, revisiting and adjusting the communication norms as the team evolves. They must also encourage that diversity in the team is appreciated and leveraged through virtual sub-teaming to pair diverse members and rotate sub-team members. Virtual leaders must manage the virtual work-cycle and meetings, by supporting idea divergence between meetings (asynchronous idea generation) and idea convergence and conflict resolution in virtual meetings (synchronous idea convergence), using the start of each virtual meeting to support social relationship building, during meetings ensure that everyone is engaged and heard from, and ensure that at the end of the meeting the minutes are posted to the team repository. It is also a virtual team leader's job to monitor team progress through the use of technology, by scrutinising both asynchronous and synchronous communication patterns and to make progress explicit by posting posting scorecard measurements in the team's virtual workspace. They must also enhance the external visibility of the team and its members by giving frequent 'report-outs' to a virtual steering committee composed of local bosses of team members. The virtual team leader must also ensure recognition for virtual team members, by giving individual recognition at the start of each virtual meeting, and also making each team member's 'real location' boss aware of their contribution.[7][1]

Virtual teams and workers' organisation

Unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World and other alternative unions make heavy use of social media for individual members to connect with each other outside the workplace. It is a fact that a great deal of tactical discussion takes place on internet forums like and Facebook. It can therefore be said that the examination of virtual teams given above, is equally applicable to the way in which unions communicate when their members aren't available to communicate on a face-to-face basis. For example, the United States IWW is spread across many different states and cities, and it is through the use of virtual teams that tasks can be accomplished and strategic discussions held, in between delegate conferences. Despite this, there has also been some criticism of the way in which social media functions as a tool for the organising of union matters. These are best described in this article on the personal blog of an IWW member; Abolish the Facebook IWW.

1. Buchanan, David A, and Andrzej Huczynski. 2010. Organizational Behaviour. Harlow, England: Financial Times Prentice Hall.
2. Belbin, R. M. 1996. The Coming Shape Of Organizations. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
3. Aritzeta, Aitor, Stephen Swailes, and Barbara Senior. 2007. 'Belbin's Team Role Model: Development, Validity And Applications For Team Building'. Journal of Management Studies 44 (1): 96-118. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6486.2007.00666.x.
4. Alexandra, Chu, and Bushe Gervase. 2011. 'Fluid Teams: Solutions To The Problem Of Unstable Team Membership'. Organizational Dynamics 40 (3): 181-8.
5. Robert, Bales, and Phillip Slater. 1956. 'Role Differentiation In Small Decision-Making Groups'. Family, Socialization And Interaction, 259-306.
6. Shin, Yuhyung. 2005. 'Conflict Resolution In Virtual Teams'. Organizational Dynamics 34 (4): 331-345. doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2005.08.002.
7. Malhotra, Arvind, Ann Majchrzak, and Benson Rosen. 2007. 'Leading Virtual Teams.'. Academy Of Management Perspectives 21 (1): 60-70. doi:10.5465/amp.2007.24286164.