Interest in studying group dynamics by comparing characteristics of homogeneous and heterogeneous groups and their relative performance is growing. Much more investigation is needed, not only to fully assess the variables within each setting, but to assess the value and applicability of the research findings. Within this essay, the reader will be presented with background as to why this field of research is important and is burgeoning in our globalized world. The author provides broad definitions of both heterogeneous and homogeneous groups and some key characteristics these groups exhibit and share. This literature review will highlight some of the work of the important sociology researcher Peter Blau and that of researchers attempting to refine his analysis of diversity in group dynamics. Newer research, focused on the impact of diversity and synergy in groups, will be highlighted, emphasizing variables such as socioeconomic standing, race, age, sex, community size, and urbanization.
Keywords Cultural Diversity; Diversity; Dysfunction; Group Think; Heterogeneity; Homogeneity; Sociology
Successful group communication is driven by many factors. This essay compares and contrasts the impact of a work team's composition and supports the assumption that a group's relative homogeneity or heterogeneity has a material impact on the group's functioning. For purposes of this assessment, a functional group is defined as having the ability to work cohesively, remain intact, identify and meet priorities and goals, and maintain discipline. The science of sociology focuses on understanding how individuals and groups interact with each other in various settings. While sociology experts and others agree that groups have the potential to accomplish what no individual can alone, most of us accept this view as a foregone conclusion by virtue of having been members or observers of groups.
Businesses, families, employers, religious organizations, communities, government agencies, international liaisons, individual societies, and militaries all rely on strong, cohesive work groups to accomplish their goals. This reliance is born out in the research of Barrick, Bradley, Colbert, and others (2007), who have evaluated the impact of interconnectedness within work teams they called top management teams. Though their study found that historical sociological research on professional teams was limited, a component of their hypothesis suggested that "the more that team members need to coordinate their work to achieve collective tasks, goals, and rewards, the more team performance should be influenced by team communication and cohesion" (Barrick et al., 2007, p. 546). Referring to Beal's (2003) work, the authors claimed that "when team members are highly interdependent, there is greater need to communicate to achieve high performance" (Barrick et al., 2007, p. 546).
Given the growing need in so many sectors to understand and facilitate the banding together of appropriate groups of people for maximum efficacy and minimal dysfunction, a continuous theme in the literature is the need for further study on group composition.
During the 1960s, Peter Blau's study of individual social dynamics developed into an analysis of group dynamics; his work has since become a foundation upon which numerous researchers have built. Blau was a front runner in relational science. In 1985, he scientifically determined that diverse groups form positive friendship tendencies; he also developed theories about group size and control. He theorized that group dysfunction and estrangement were related to heterogeneity, yet later rescinded this theory to offer one claiming that diversity improves intergroup relations. As Blau and Schwartz (1984) wrote,
Just as an increase in heterogeneity makes it more likely that chance encounters involve persons of different groups, an increase in inequality makes it more likely that chance encounters involve persons whose status is further apart. Hence, increasing inequality constrains individuals to modify their tendencies to associate with peers and find associates who are somewhat less close to them in status. The accordingly revised theorem is: inequality increases the status distance of associates.
Karen S. Cook and Eric Rice (2003) mention Blau's belief that "inequality and power distributions [in individuals and in groups] were emergent properties of ongoing relations of social exchange. Inequalities, [Blau] argued, can result from exchange because some actors control more highly valued resources than do others" (p. 57). In short, Blau believed that heterogeneity in the form of status inequality exhibits itself in many forms, and the extent of its impact has much to do with the perception of group participants.
Highly Successful versus Highly Challenged Groups
High-performing relational groups that are effective at collaboration and able to produce expected deliverables are sought after in all societies. Organizations seek high performers, people whose ability to interact with others contributes to the success of the overall organization. Social capital, or the resources gained through relationship building and strong work groups, is exceptionally valuable in today's society, regardless of the industry. When a group fails to effectively connect and communicate, the results can be both profound and costly. Though dysfunctional teams can evolve for many reasons, some of which are completely unknown, this article will focus on the impact of homogeneity and heterogeneity relative to group function.
Patrick Lencioni (2002), author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, writes on the very first page of his book, "Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare" (p. vii). Though directed at a corporate audience, Lencioni's comments are applicable to interpersonal relations worldwide: communities and societies are all affected by the dynamics of the groups they comprise.
Homogeneity versus Heterogeneity: Key Indicators
From a sociological perspective, understanding the key characteristics of both groups under discussion is the first step to understanding why groups function as they do. Structured groups will exhibit expected sociological tendencies; because these tendencies have been studied over time, many are accepted by sociologists as common and inevitable. Specifically, whether the groups are similar or disparate in their opinions, there exists the potential for stratification of the group by factors such as race, age, and dominant or submissive personalities. Leaders may self-select, as will followers. Groups will naturally coalesce and divide, are capable of alienating participants through interactivity, and may successfully grow or destroy their essential relationships.
Characteristics of Homogeneous Groups
By nature, human beings choose to socialize with those around them with whom they are comfortable. Homogeneous groups, by definition, are comprised of participants who share similar characteristics or attitudes. The groups are likely to be consistent in terms of age, race, sex, socioeconomic status, or other important factors, though not all of these similarities may be present. Established group members with a shared history maintain a central core and tend to legitimize their decisions through a "group think" process. Newcomers enter and exit the group through a sort of rite of passage as they are accepted by established group members. Outsiders joining this type of group, particularly those with contrary views, may challenge the group, and homogeneous groups will tend to censor opinions that deviate from the group standard. Opposition, however, is not necessarily a negative occurrence, as will be discussed further on in this document.
Characteristics of Heterogeneous Groups
Heterogeneous groups, whether formed purposely or by chance, enjoy diversity in their membership. This diversity can encourage discussion of divergent views and cause group members to gain a much broader perspective than they would as members of a homogeneous group. However, some sociologists believe that diversity within groups can lead to unfruitful divisions and arguments. Still others believe that, despite their diversity, heterogeneous groups are capable of successfully rallying, especially during crisis, and reaching favorable outcomes.
Leaders working with heterogeneous groups must pay attention to accountability and keep a close eye on counterproductive behavior and disrespect. A leader with...
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