Types of Groups
From an organizational point of view, there are basically two types of groups. These are formal groups and informal groups.
A group is formal when it is purposely designed to accomplish an organizational objective or task. It is created via formal authority for some defined purpose.
A formal group can be a command group or a functional group that is relatively permanent is composed of managers and their subordinates who meet regularly to discuss general and specific ideas to improve product or service.
The formal groups usually work under a single supervisor, even though the structure of these groups may vary. For example, in one form of a group such as in production, the members of the workgroup depend on each other as well as on the supervisor and in another form of group, such as salesforce, the members of the group work fairly independently and their common contact may be the district sales manager.
Other types of formal groups include task forces and committees. The task forces are temporary in nature and are set up for some special projects. The committees can be permanent, such as a planning committee, a finance committee or a budget committee and may become an integral part of the organizational structure.
A committee can also be temporary such as a special task force that is set up for a particular purpose and is then disbanded when the purpose is achieved. For example, the committee to reelect the President is temporary in nature and is disbanded after the election.
Whereas formal groups are established by organizations to achieve some specific objectives, informal groups are formed by the members of such groups by themselves. They emerge naturally, in response to the common interests of organizational members. They are formed spontaneously, without any formal designation, and with common interests such as self-defense, work assistance, and social interaction.
They exist outside the formal authority system and without any set rigid rules. Though officially unrecognized, they exist in the shadow of the formal structure as a network of personal and social relations that must be understood and respected by the management.
Informal work groups are based upon socio-psychological support and reasoning and depend upon the member’s interaction, communication, personal likings, and dislikings and social contacts within as well as outside the organization. How powerful these informal groups can be seen from the fact that if one member of the group is fired, sometimes all workers go on strike in support of that member of the group.
The bonds between members are very strong and bring in a sense of belonging and togetherness. This togetherness can have a powerful influence on productivity and job satisfaction since employees motivate each other and share each other’s burden by training those who are new and by looking up to old timers for guidance, advice, and assistance.
Informal groups may have their own leaders and followers, group goals, social roles, and working patterns. They have their own unwritten rules and a code of conduct that every member implicitly accepts.
The leadership of the informal groups develops from within rather than a formal election. An individual, who is working in a group for a long time and has a good rapport with other members, may emerge as a leader due to his technical expertise and his seniority. For any problem within the group, either technical or social, the members would go to this leader rather than the formally assigned supervisor.
Some Other Aspects of Informal Groups are as follows:
Parallel to performance and other standards established by the formal organizational structure, the informal groups have their own norms as rules of conduct and a standard of behavior that is expected of all members.
There is an unwritten assignment within the group as to which task will be done by whom and under what conditions. Some job roles are assigned by the management by matching the job description with the person’s qualifications and some other roles develop within the group. For example, some members may informally be technical advisors to others as to how to do the job better and others may act as arbitrators in social problems or other differences that may arise among members.
The goal of the informal group, whether it be profitability that conflicts with the organizational goals or customer service which is in accord, heavily influences productivity. It is necessary to integrate the group goals with the organizational goals for the purpose of improvement and success.
The informal leader emerges from the group either because of his personal charisma, his social status or his technical expertise. He is not formally elected but is accepted in the minds and hearts of the workers. These leaders influence the behavior of others and remain leaders as long as they are sincere to the group interests.
Cohesiveness refers to the degree and strength of interpersonal attraction among members of the group. The high degree of cohesion is highly motivating in achieving group goals. Members help each other and support each other. The degree of cohesiveness depends upon the commonness of the perceived group goal, the size of the group and the ability of the group leader to facilitate cohesion. Group cohesion also has synergetic effects where together they produce much more by the collective efforts than the sum product of the individual efforts.
Informal groups are powerful instruments in all organizations and sometimes can make a difference between success and failure. A cooperative group makes supervision easier, thus lengthening the effective span of management. The group is also there to make sure that the basic principles of the formal organization are not violated.
For example, if a manager misuses his authority and promotes an unqualified person, the informal group may use its influence in making sure that it does not happen. The informal group also serves as an additional channel of communication to the management about conditions of work when such information may not be available through official channels.
One problem with an informal group is that it is primarily centered towards human elements, that can be highly unpredictable affecting the smooth operations of the organization. Due to rules and procedures being unwritten, they can change from situation to situation. Also, the informal group can be considered subversive in nature if their goals conflict with the formal organizational goals.
In such situations, managers often view them with doubt and suspicion. They tend to see informal groups as potentially harmful to the formal organization. For that reason, some managers seek the support of informal groups and their leaders in order to reduce such a threat. They tend to view such informal groups as valid, stable, and structurally sound and hence show consideration and respect for their existence and their views.