What are Group Dynamic Theories?

Group dynamic theories focus on many aspects of group existence, including group formation, like Homans's theory, group development, as in Tuckman's five stages, and relationships within groups, like Hackman's conditions for the success of work groups.

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Group dynamics refers to the attitudes, behaviors, and interactions among group members as they gather to meet a goal or accomplish a job. Social scientists have developed plenty of theories about how group dynamics arises, changes, and can be improved. We'll look briefly at a few of them.

Some theories consider why people form groups. George Homans studied group development and determined that groups arise out of shared interactions, sentiments, and activities. People who have things in common naturally form groups in which to share, discuss, and practice those things. The social exchange theory suggests that groups are formed by individuals seeking benefits from others as well as trust and obligation. The social identity theory, on the other hand, explores individuals' increase in identity and self-esteem through group membership.

Another set of theories looks at how groups develop. Bruce Tuckman, for instance, identifies five stages: forming (the group's first efforts at establishment, which are often confused and uncertain), storming (a time of conflict that must be resolved for the group to continue), norming (the beginning of a group identity), performing (a time of cohesiveness, acceptance, and goal fulfillment), and adjourning (disbanding the group).

Still other theories explore the relationships within groups. William Schutz, for instance, tried to answer questions about control, inclusion, and affection. Wilfred Bion tried to determine what got in the way of group efficiency and accomplishment. Richard Hackman focused on work groups and identified five conditions for success: team identity, a clear goal, an “enabling structure,” a “supportive context,” and “expert coaching.”

Other group dynamics theories revolve around the structures and roles within groups; groups' influence on individuals; group cohesion; the effects of non-conformance; group performance; distractions and conflicts; and leadership and hierarchy.

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