Group Relations Theory

I’ll present on this for Max’s class Monday. It pushes me to get some more serious prep in mind for this spring’s small group communication class. James and Vangie have their site up now, for Chaos Management. It might be one of the best resources for group relations type info on the web. I’ll check out the AKRice Institute too…undoubtedly, these are the two most significant influences upon me in this area.


I don’t know how many of the lessons I learned at group relations conferences were problematic moments, but this (they) are the site of study/research I am most interested in. They do not happen often, and when they do, my track record for working into them isn’t stellar, but I do get “bettter” – or, at least learn a different lesson! – each time. ­čÖé
Here’s a few key concepts from the FAQ page of the AKRI page (linked above):
What is authority?
“We classically think of authority as the ‘right to do work.’ More recently some directors have added the importance of responsibility to this definition. Other writers speak of authority as conferred power to perform a service (Heifetz, 1994). In other words, authority is an exchange, something that is given to a leader and can also be taken away. In our conferences we study the challenges involved in the exercise of authority.
“It is also important to know that authority can be thought of as formal and related to role. Authority may also be linked by some of us to visible characteristics of individuals, such as age, gender and race. Authority may also be informal, having much more to do with how people see themselves and are seen in their roles.
“There is a debate on whether there is any such thing as personal authority. Classically authority requires some other party on whose behalf you are acting. More recently some have argued that one must call on ones own authority to make choices about behavior once one has awareness of such choices. The quote on our homepage seems to support this latter point.
What is a group?
In our thinking, you have a group whenever an aggregate of people are working on a task. Without the task, you simply have a gathering of people. In other definitions, it is important that the people who make up a group think of themselves as such. Further, it is also important that others looking at this gathering of people think of them as a group as well. Key to the study of social systems is what we call the interdependence of group members. This concept simply means that the group members rely on each other in some meaningful way, usually related to carrying out whatever tasks the group has before itself.
“One thing about groups is that individual members represents that group in some important way, not just themselves. When the individual member speaks or takes some action, this behavior is done on behalf of the entire group. This final point, that an individual can do work on behalf of a group, sometimes without even realizing it, is central to what we call group relations.
What do you mean by group-as-a-whole?
“Group-as-a-whole refers to what happens at the group-level in any kind of social or organizational setting (Wells, 1985). The basic point is this: every member of a group is connected. When a person speaks they are not only speaking for themselves or to another person, they are speaking for the group-as-a-whole. In group relations conferences, we are studying primarily what happens at the group level.
“The group-as-a-whole is in the context of five levels of analysis: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Group-as-a-Whole, Intergroup, and Interorganizational. An easy way to think of this construct is to consider an athlete going to the Olympics. There is the athlete (intrapersonal), her relationship to other team members (interpersonal), the team she’s a part of for her particular event (group-as-a-whole), her competition with people who represent different teams and countries in that event (intergroup), and her representation of her country alongside others who represent different countries (interorganizational). All these levels can be present concurrently, expressed in or through one person. Our understanding of this process gives us a greater appreciation of the power of the group in our lives.”

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