The process of understanding and influencing individual behavior, even in isolation, is a difficult and complex task. However, in our roles as military leaders, we rarely lead individuals, but rather groups of individuals. These groups often develop and exhibit behavioral patterns that may not be inferred by the characteristics of the individuals alone.
In a highly cohesive unit, the group as a whole may be able to accomplish what the individuals by themselves could not. However, an organization’s leadership faces great challenges when confronted with a highly cohesive group that has goals and norms that are incongruent with those of the organization. In each of these cases, as leaders, we must understand and manage group processes in order to satisfy individual, group, and organizational expectations.
Effective leaders must be capable of pulling together individuals of diverse backgrounds, personalities, abilities, training, and experience and mold them into a cohesive, high performing team. The challenge is to bring all of the unique contributions of people together in such a way that the whole will equal more than simply the sum of the parts.
We have studied the basics of leading individuals in Area I and might be tempted to believe that we are now ready to lead a whole group of individuals. However, group behaviors are different from the aggregate behaviors of individuals. Sometimes groups can be a real benefit when we profit from their teamwork, synergy, and other positive group phenomena. Other times, the fact that we are leading a group may produce results that are dramatically less than we would expect, especially if we do not know how to organize the pool of individual talents that are available.
Groups as Open Systems
To provide a framework for the study of groups, we invoke a concept used in Area I – the Open Systems Model. We have already studied the individual as a psychological system, focusing on the way different individuals take inputs from the environment, process them, and produce similar or dissimilar outputs. In this area, we use a similar framework to study how groups as systems take their inputs and transform them into outputs.
The Figure below represents the Open Systems Model of Groups. It has been derived from the vast body of research accumulated in the area of group dynamics, and it captures most of the variables leaders need to consider. It presents six sets of variables critical to the analysis of groups. There are two major types of inputs to the group: 1) personal or individual characteristics, and 2) situational characteristics. The group processes are divided into two main classes of variables: 1) group structural dimensions, and 2) group process variables. The outputs of a group are divided into two main classes of outcomes: 1) effects on individuals, and 2) effects on the group itself. These variables will now be examined in greater detail.
- Personal or individual characteristics include all of the individual strengths and weaknesses (knowledge, skills, abilities, biases, values, and beliefs) that people bring with them to the group. In one sense, this is the talent pool that we have to work with: the raw materials. As with any transformation process, the caliber of the raw materials has a lot to say about the final product. It is generally easier to produce a high-quality group product when you start with high quality people. Not only the quality but also the relative diversity of the inputs has a major impact on our tasks as group leaders.
- Situational characteristics are also an important determinant of group dynamics. From the physical surroundings to the size of the group itself, there are a number of factors that influence how groups behave. This lesson’s textbook reading assignment should have already familiarized you with the group structural dimensions. You will recall that a single dimension by itself does not always spell success or failure for the group.
- Group processes continuously interact within a group. People talk to some individuals in the group but not others; stable communication patterns form that may or may not reflect formal organizational lines; informal leaders emerge; cliques may form; some people in the group may become more powerful than others. Groups themselves may become major sources of rewards or punishments for individual members. These are all examples of group processes. Each one of these examples in turn may have either a positive or negative effect on whether the group succeeds at its organizationally appointed mission.
The final focus is on the outputs we can expect from groups. As Figure 1 illustrates, there are two categories of outputs. The outputs follow directly from our definition of organizational leadership. We are concerned with the effect the group has on individual members and the effect the group has on the organizational mission because leaders attempt to close the gap between individual needs and the needs of the organization. Members join groups often voluntarily because membership fills some individual need or desire. These members don’t hesitate to quit a club or informal group that becomes a burden or is dissatisfying. However, quitting is not really a viable option for our soldiers, at least not without legal repercussions. Nevertheless, some will quit mentally or psychologically if the group no longer meets their needs. Therefore, leaders must be concerned with the group’s impact on member satisfaction. In addition to satisfaction, groups can either enhance or attenuate individual member knowledge, skills, and abilities. As a matter of fact, many groups form primarily for these very reasons. Computer groups, chess clubs, and study groups are all examples of these types of groups. On the other hand, you have probably belonged to at least one group where you just couldn’t seem to live up to your potential, or where you were stifled, bored or frustrated. Therefore, good leaders strive to meet the needs of their subordinates so that they in turn can live up to their own potential as echoed by the Army’s recruiting slogan, “Be all that you can be!”
On the other side of the leadership gap is the organization’s mission. Groups in the Army are not usually formed for fun and fellowship; they are organized, equipped and trained to accomplish a mission. Therefore, the process of effective leadership is all about influencing the group to accomplish its mission to the highest possible standards of performance.
Related to the accomplishment of the group’s mission, one effect that groups have through structure and process are changes to the group itself. New norms form over time. Status in the organization may shift as members spend more time together. Roles are shifted and adjusted (perhaps in response to personnel turbulence). All of these outputs are evaluated and fed back to the group. The parent organization might reward high rates of mission success. These rewards, in and of themselves, are perceived as a change in the situational characteristics. If one output from the group is the production of better, smarter, more technically competent soldiers, then, when considering the group over a period of time, the individual inputs may have shifted dramatically. This feedback process is what makes groups dynamic and is also fundamental to their development over time.
Read more in your Manual – Pages 131-148
With the implementation of the COHORT (cohesion, operational readiness and training) manning system in the mid-1980s, law enforcement made great strides in providing the resources and policies that support team formation and development. But policies and raw materials alone were not enough. Research from the field indicated that one of the key factors in determining unit effectiveness among COHORT units was the unit leader’s ability to understand and harness the power of groups. The following passage from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research highlights this finding:
Interviews and observations summarized in this report repeatedly come back to company/battery (leadership) policies and practices which either enhance or inhibit the potential of COHORT. The COHORT process cannot substitute for good leadership but may to a limited degree, compensate for leadership deficiencies. There is no question that gifted company/battery leadership can achieve higher levels of soldier-will and family-unit identification and bonding in a COHORT unit. The question is why all COHORT commanders cannot better capitalize on the considerable assets provided.
Part of the answer to why some COHORT commanders could better harness the potential assets of their units may lie in their own ability to fully grasp and take advantage of the dynamic process of how groups form, develop and perform. Area II will concentrate on these processes.
Read more in your Manual – Pages 142-143
We will now examine the process by which members enter into and become a part of the group: socialization.
Law Enforcement agencies experience a high volume of personnel “turn over.” This means that at any one time, a leader is losing soldiers, gaining soldiers, and reassigning soldiers within their organization. Officers entering into a unit for the first time, as well as those moving into positions of greater responsibility, are extremely important to the organizational leader. What these leaders do to orient or reorient these officers into the organization greatly affects how well, and how fast they learn their roles, the organizational goals, and the organizational expectations. All agencies socialize unit members. The crux of the issue for the leader is who is doing the socialization. If leaders don’t socialize their officers, then someone else will. By not conducting deliberate socialization programs, leaders take the risk that these new officers will learn their roles from inappropriate models or from those who are in opposition to the stated goals of the unit. Therefore, effective entry and continuing socialization programs are critical to building and maintaining effective group performance.
Moreland and Levine have suggested that there are three basic reciprocal processes occurring in group socialization: evaluation, commitment, and role transition. Evaluation involves the group and the individual appraising each other. Commitment involves how strongly tied the individual is to the group and how strongly tied the group is to its members. Finally, all group members have roles within the group. Moreover, the group and the individual negotiate the role that each member is going to play in the group. In role transition, Moreland and Levine examine how the group and its group members negotiate three types of roles: nonmembers, quasi-members, and full members. Nonmembers constitute anybody not part of the group — former members, prospective members, and so forth. “Quasi-members occupy a role that lies at the margins of the group, for they have either not yet been granted full membership or are being pushed out of the group by the others” (Forsyth, 1990, p. 95). Full members have all the rights and responsibilities associated with the group.
As outlined in the Figure below known as the “Moreland and Levine model of group socialization,” three processes are used to explain the socialization process for a new member (i.e., newcomer). The model identifies five stages of socialization, demarcated by four transition points. Roles are listed across the top of the figure, and individual-level and group-level processes are shown at the bottom. The curved line represents a hypothetical individual’s history of commitment in a group, but other patterns are equally likely (Original Source: Moreland & Levine, 1982).
- Investigation. In this stage, newcomers are engaged in reconnaissance. They are trying to decide which group fits their individual needs. There are a number of ways that newcomers can find out about a particular group; they can talk to current members, former members or simply read any available literature on the group. Group members are engaged in recruitment. They are trying to decide which newcomers should be invited into the group. There are many possible recruitment techniques, such as: inviting newcomers in for an interview or talking to other group members who know the newcomers. If this stage is successful then the newcomers move from a non-member status to becoming a quasi-member (i.e., a new member). This point is called entry.
- It is important to remember that socialization begins well before members enter a particular group. In this investigation stage of socialization, members are already receiving information about the group’s norms, history, culture and structure. This information, accurate or not, is often the basis from which new members create their own expectations about entry into the organization. That is why good units and organizations select sponsors to serve as their role models for new members. These role models ensure that the prospective member has accurate information about the new organization. The role models also ease the member’s transition and reduce the natural feelings of stress and anxiety of new entry.
- Socialization. There are two main processes that occur in the socialization stage: assimilation and accommodation. In assimilation, newcomers learn and accept the “norms, values and perspectives” (Forsyth, 1990, p. 97) of the group. In accommodation, the group adjusts itself to fit the needs of the newcomers. The amount of accommodation and assimilation that occurs in a group need not be an even trade. There are many circumstances in which a group demands a great deal of assimilation but produces very little accommodation and vice-versa. For example, a Cadet Basic Training platoon demands a great deal of assimilation of its new cadets and offers very little accommodation for them. On the other hand, a Cadet Activities Club is very accommodating of its new members and demands far less assimilation of them. If the newcomers and group members agree on the appropriate amounts of assimilation and accommodation, then the newcomers move from quasi-members to full members. This point is called acceptance.
- Upon arrival, leaders must orient new officers to organizational goals and priorities. The assigned individual sponsor can accomplish much of this. However, key unit leaders should give some type of formal in-briefing. Periodic command information or emphasis briefings should also be conducted to ensure that new and senior members of the organization understand current priorities. Leaders must also facilitate mutual acceptance of both the individual and the group. This can be accomplished through several methods to include a social activity to welcome newcomers, an introduction of the newcomer to the group, an indoctrination period, or an acceptance/initiation or induction ceremony.
- Maintenance. Once a newcomer has become a full member, the role negotiation process begins. In role negotiation, group members “negotiate the nature and quantity of each member’s expected contribution to the group” (Forsyth, 1990, p. 97). For example, group members must negotiate who will lead and who will follow. In the Army, this negotiation is less apparent, because our groups have highly formalized hierarchical structures that dictate who leads and who follows. However, there are always informal and emerging leaders within these structured Army groups. Many group members stay in the maintenance stage for the entire time they are in a group. For example, a basketball player may stay with a team for his/her entire career. However, sometimes a tension builds up in the maintenance stage because role negotiation has not gone successfully. For example, a person who wishes to lead is assigned a follower’s role. Also, it may be that group members are not following the norms and values of the group, and therefore are engaging in inappropriate behavior. If this occurs then the full member may move back to a point of being only a quasi-member (i.e., marginal member). This point is called divergence.
- Re-socialization. Once a group member has gone back to being a quasi-member, there are two possible courses of action that can occur. Convergence happens when, through the process of accommodation and assimilation, the group member and the quasi-member can resolve their problems. Alternatively, the group and the quasi-member are unable to resolve their problems, so the final transition point of exit is reached.
- Remembrance. In the remembrance stage, there are two possible processes: tradition and reminiscence. In tradition, the group members discuss the person who left the group. They discuss such things as their contribution to the group and why he or she left. If the person left because of a failure to be re-socialized then this tradition process can take on a negative tone. In reminiscence, the group members who left think about their contributions to the group and the reasons for why they left.
Socialization also occurs when members leave the organization. Are these departing members recognized for their achievements? This is often done at a farewell party or ceremony. Are these departing members afforded the opportunity to communicate to the organization whatever lessons, problems and insights they have gleaned while in the organization? This is often accomplished by a subordinate out-briefing to the organizational leader. Or are departing members treated like “lame ducks” and not afforded the opportunity to pass on their perspectives? Are they recognized for their contributions? The answers to these questions may shed light on how effective the organization’s socialization processes are, and how such processes can affect members of the group, the group itself and the accomplishment of the group’s goals.
Read more in your Manual – Pages 149-163
Intergroup Conflict Management
One of our goals as military leaders is to build cohesive, high performing teams. Competition between functional groups under our control can benefit the overall organization, but competition becomes conflict when it is dysfunctional (i.e. when it impacts negatively upon performance). Leaders frequently fall into the trap of believing that everyone in the unit will always see the big picture and cooperate towards the unit’s overall mission. Sadly, the fact is that sometimes subordinate units within an organization develop differing views on what is and is not important to unit success. Most of the time the problem is not a villainous scheme to subvert the mission, but an honest difference in what is seen to be the best way to get the job done. In this lesson we will learn to identify present and potential sources of conflict, as well as strategies that can be used to prevent or recover from dysfunctional conflict.
The symptoms of conflict are sometimes blatant and obvious, such as physical fights or arguments between individuals or groups. It can also be more subtle. When one platoon sabotages the work of another, when the supply room will not release supplies to a line platoon, or the company cannot coordinate a joint attack, then intergroup conflict has become dysfunctional. In each case, we must find a way to manage conflict.
Read more in your Manual – Pages 192-203
Decision Making In Groups
An important aspect associated with the repertoire of behaviors and competencies associated with leadership is the notion of decision-making. Under the Officers Leader Development System (OLDS), decision-making is one of the twelve key leader dimensions that make up the OLDS education and training program. Decision Making is also an aspect of a leader’s character that is evaluated on the Officer Evaluation Report. Good leaders make good decisions under a variety of circumstances. They are not bound by a single decision process but are able to apply a variety of techniques based on the task and conditions under which the task must be accomplished.
You probably make hundreds of decisions every day. Many of the decisions are trivial (“What should I eat for breakfast this morning?”), but some have long term consequences (“What branch should I choose?”) Have you ever considered the process you use to make these decisions? Is there one process that you use to make all your decisions? Or, do you employ different processes or strategies depending upon the type and magnitude of the decision? This supplemental reading will provide you with some insight into what researchers have learned about the decision-making process.
There are many ways to talk about decision making —- from classical and behavioral decision theory perspectives to the notions of strategic decision making. For our purposes, three approaches demonstrate the evolution that has taken place within the research community during the last few decades. Each of these approaches will be related to decision making methods used on the battlefield, before and after hostilities begin. The first approach is based on rational models of decision making. These models describe how we ought to make decisions. Researchers soon discovered that their subjects often didn’t follow rational models in decision making tasks. Instead, it became clear that subjects were systematically influenced to make decisions that were less than optimal. Researchers developed descriptive models of decision making. These models described how subjects were influenced by heuristics and biases to make decisions.
Decision making research that led to the rational and descriptive models often was conducted in a laboratory setting. Subjects were not confronted with the dynamics of the real world nor would they have to implement and live with the decisions they had made. Many researchers began to investigate how decisions were made outside the laboratory by practitioners engaged in meaningful activities. These researchers developed naturalistic models of decision making.
Each of these three categories of models – rational, descriptive, and naturalistic – will now be examined in greater detail. Following that we will discuss military decision-making strategies and how they relate to these models. We also will suggest some ways to aid the military decision-making process.
Read more in your Manual – 263-270