Definition of group dynamics
Where do we find groups?
Groups can be found wherever several people come together and interact over longer periods of time. Groups can arise in the private sphere (e.g.. groups of friends, round tables, in many sporting activities), as well as in organizations (e.g. committees, departments, teams, etc.). Groups are social constellations of manageable size, in which every participant can connect with everyone else. Some groups meet regularly, others at longer intervals. Some need more time to develop, others less. The participants see themselves as “members” of the group, whereby a boundary is drawn between other people and social units, and a kind of common “group identity” becomes recognizable: a “we” that is different from “the others”.
What is group dynamics?
Over time and in the course of the most varied of contributions by group members, phenomena become recognizable that influence internal relationships. Similarities and differences in the perceived behaviour of the participants provide people in a group with sometimes familiar and at times surprising observations.
The interaction has an impact on the relationships between the participants: approval and sympathy, an uncomplicated situation that is perceived as problem-free, as well as a broadly successful decision-making process all stand vis-à-vis contradictions and rejections, elaborately designed and painstakingly experienced processes, and complicated and unsatisfactory results.
Sometimes the members cooperate naturally; on other occasions the different contributions encounter competition. If individuals try to influence what is happening, some will go along with great appreciation, while others observe such behaviour with suspicion and disapproval.
Joint decision-making often fails due to individual preferences, expectations and objectives. Eventually, individuals in groups often find themselves subjected to a high pressure of expectation to adapt their own individual attitudes and behaviour, and to conform to the group’s opinion.
The experience of belonging, trust and relational security within a differentiated set of roles can lead individuals to the feeling of being sought after and accepted as a “whole person” in the group. Groups are interaction systems that – in contrast to organizations – are very people-based. The affective events in the group have a high and immediate relevance for the individual. On one hand, this feature can lead to emotionally charged differentiations between the participants and, on the other hand, it enables intensive experiences of common, meaningful productive power.
Every group is different and one can rarely be sure which phenomena can be observed, which mechanisms arise, and how the group reacts. All of this can be described as the dynamics that arise in groups.
In order to handle such dynamics appropriately, a good measure of social skills is required. This can be learned in group dynamics training groups.
What is a group dynamics training group?
Since its development in the USA in 1946, the format of the (group dynamics) training group (T-Group) has been the central source to acquire skills for observing and dealing with group dynamics processes.
“T-Group” is a training format in which participants can observe and experience the development of a group from an initial meeting right through to the end. Together with a trainer the participants, who know very little or ideally nothing about each other from previous life contexts, form groups of 8-12 people. These groups consistently reflect and focus on themselves in several sessions over the course of a week. Using their own example, they examine how groups develop, which processes can be observed, what kind of structures emerge, which roles solidify and dissolve again, and much more.
Participants in T-Groups look behind the scenes of dynamics and processes as they participate in them and thus experience them themselves. This gives them an understanding of the interrelationships and forces that affect social structures – and their own contributions to the same. Sensitizing the perception of oneself in interaction with others opens up a personal learning potential that is demanding and not so easy to top.
Fields of application of group dynamics
The interest in investigating group dynamics more closely goes back to Kurt Lewin’s approach to action research. The starting point was the empirical investigation of the conditions described here and the development of corresponding theoretical findings that can provide helpful orientations for practitioners. A special feature of the scientific approach was, and is, that as a researcher you have to expose yourself to the conditions that you want to investigate in order to understand them properly.
This already points strongly to the enlightenment and emancipatory claim that the group dynamics concept has had since its inception. The pioneers of group dynamics were interested in learning about democracy, solidarity, the understanding of affects in groups and the relationship between authority and self-direction in groups and organizations. All of these demands have retained their topicality. One need only think of the recent tendencies towards self-governing organisations against the background of an increasingly complex economic environment. Or indeed the observable re-hierarchisation in politics against the background of increasingly threatening-sounding plans for the future.
The discipline of group dynamics sees itself as a contribution to enlightenment, which currently seems more necessary than ever. It wants to encourage people to create their own thoughts about the current circumstances in which they find themselves, and to be able to express them appropriately.
In addition, group dynamic competencies have proven to be an effective tool in training for professions that have a particular impact on social events: in pedagogy, adult education, training, all forms of leadership and direction, project management, mediation, conflict and organizational counselling, the understanding of social processes and their design is one of the key competencies of the participants. Group dynamics professionals are active in all of these fields, and group dynamics itself offers valuable know-how and qualifications for all of these fields.