Group Characteristics and Dynamics

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Group Characteristics and Dynamics

What purpose do groups serve? Why are individuals willing to relinquish some of their freedom to participate in groups? According to functionalists, people form groups to meet instrumental and expressive needs. Instrumental, or task-oriented, needs cannot always be met by one person, so the group works cooperatively to fulfill a specific goal. For example, think of how hard it would be to function as a one-person football team or to single-handedly build a skyscraper. Groups help members do jobs that are impossible to do alone or that would be very difficult and time-consuming at best. In addition to instrumental needs, groups also help people meet their expressive, or emotional. needs, especially those involving self-expression and support from family, friends, and peers. Although not disputing that groups ideally perform such functions, conflict theorists suggest that groups also involve a series of power relationships whereby the needs of individual members may not be equally served. Symbolic interactionists focus on how the size of a group influences the kind of interaction that takes place among members. To many postmodernists, groups and organizations-like other aspects of postmodem societies-are generally characterized by superficiality and depthlessness in social relationships (Jameson, 1984). One postmodern thinker who focuses on this issue is the literary theorist Fredric Jameson, who believes that people experience a waning of emotion in organizations where fragmentation and superficiality are a way of life (Ritzer, 1997).

For example, fast-food restaurant employees and customers interact in extremely superficial ways that are largely scripted: The employees follow scripts in laking and filling customers' orders ("Would you like fries and a drink with that?"), and the customers respond with their own "recipied" action. According to the sociologist George Ritzer (1997: 226). "[Clustomers are mindlessly following what they consider tried-and-true social recipes. either learned or created by them previously. on how to deal with restaurant employees and. more generally. how to work their way through the system associated with the fast-food restaurant- We will now look at certain characteristics of groups. such as how size affects group dynamics.