Imagine an orchestra with just one performer and one instrument. Even if the musician is phenomenal, there is a limit to the variety of sounds she can make. Like a symphony, workplace groups bring people with different talents and experience together to perform complex tasks, but beautiful music can turn to cacophony if not everyone is playing from the same sheet of music.
Sharing Expertise and Building Networks
If the dynamic within a work group is good, the participants share information and know-how. They may learn new skills from each other and may even learn about the roles and capabilities of other parts of the organization. Shared work tends to forge bonds, which usually last well beyond the current project. In future endeavors, each participant will have a network to tap into other offices for advice and assistance.
Examining Problems from Different Perspectives
Employees who have different expertise, backgrounds, personality types and ethnic origins bring to the table a variety of perspectives. When a group works well together, the disparate ideas of these individuals stimulate brain-storming and problem solving. The group’s solution or product can – and should be – something none of the individual participants could have done, or conceived of, alone. The risk is, however, that the dynamic of a work group may stifle individual thought in favor of group think.
When employees work solo, they can get distracted easily and may let some tasks slide a little. In a group setting, however, people observe one another, so each person is more inclined to stay focused on the task. The phenomenon, however, is two-edged. Employees will tend to perform better at tasks they know very well, but they're likely to get nervous under the pressure of being watched when carrying out duties in which they lack self-confidence.
Dangers of a Group Environment
Just like families, which can be tight-knit or in constant conflict, work groups have different interpersonal dynamics. Sometimes, one overbearing person will hog the conversation and pressure others to follow his personal agenda. Or, one or more persons who tend to be lazy will kick back and let others pick up the slack. Personalities within groups also can feed on each other in a way that mimics mob mentality. For example, if one person starts complaining about a policy, others may pile on, and the group’s energy may be diverted from the task at hand to a gripe session. There is no silver bullet for these problems, but setting ground rules for resolving differences and keeping the mission at the forefront will minimize the temptation to slide into these negative patterns.
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.