Introduction to Group Dynamics

In this section, the focus is on groups. Here, the intention is to go beyond taking things at their face value by going deeper and exploring the underlying, less evident phenomena concerning groups that occur beneath the surface. The more frequently used approach is to study the behaviour of the individuals in a group. This is one way of creating an understanding of group behaviour. However, the approach taken here is to study groups from the perspective of the group-as-a-whole. In doing so, we can identify and understand other important behaviour that will provide a totally different perspective. Thus, while individual actions and relationships in groups is a valid field of study, there is this other level, the group-as-a-whole which becomes the unit of study from the group level perspective.

We may speak for convenience about the individual and the group, but in practice, these two can never be separated and should not be considered even theoretically in isolation. Physical assembly of people into a group simply makes ‘political’ characteristics of human beings more easily demonstrable. None of us, however isolated in time and space, can be regarded as outside a group or lacking in active manifestations of group psychology. We carry our groupishness with us all the time. It is clear that everything is embedded in the social context of our lives, particularly in the dominant primary group, the family and it is really a social psychology. As will be shown the behaviour observed in groups is not to be considered a product of groups as such but of the fact that the ‘human being is a group animal’.

The group-as-a-whole is a level of analysis that represents processes that may be more or less than the sum of the individual members of the group and their interpersonal dynamics. The group-as-a-whole can be conceptualised as behaving in a different manner from, but related to, the dynamics of the members. Indeed, many of the defences or means of coping with anxiety used in groups are variations of individual behaviour.  From this vantage point, groups-as-a-whole have their own dynamics resulting from the interactions of group members who are interdependent members and subsystems. In effect the group becomes a thing, it is reified as if a group mind exists and it is experienced as being as real as an individual’s brain in which thinking and feeling occur. Throughout the following 'services' I will expose and explore the way that mainly unconscious dynamics beneath the surface of groups are as important as those concerning individuals.

Some of the beneath the surface dynamics that occur in groups and organisations are similar to those relating to individuals. In particular, the ways that we as individuals develop defences as a means of avoiding and defending against anxiety, are also replicated, albeit in a slightly different manner, in groups and organisations. As you will discover, this is not surprising as groups evoke feelings associated with the maternal holding environment. So that when members of groups experience frustration and anxiety, they are likely to respond by using primitive processes such as splitting, projection and introjection. At a group level, these defences result in important phenomena that will be described and referred to as social structures as a defence against anxiety.

An important learning regarding groups is the notion that 'agency' is not always that of the individual; frequently the 'agency' is that of the group. This is especially so when anxiety is high and unconscious group processes prevail.  In all of the following different Group Relations learning conferences and workshops, provided by IGO, members will learn about group as a whole processes and apply them to their day to day experiences. Resulting in a deeper understanding of groups and organisations, and a competitive advantage.

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