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OD Theory – Group Dynamics

In addition to the five core OD theories there are other theories that a solid OD practitioner must understand to build on their theoretical foundation for practice.  Good grounding in theory is essential for every OD practitioner.  The better you understand the theory, the better you will understand the complex and intricate nature of the OD process and OD tool kit.

Group Dynamic Theory in Brief

Kurt Lewin had a profound impact on thinking regarding Group Dynamics. Two key ideas emerged out of field theory that are crucial to an appreciation of group process: interdependence of fate, and task interdependence.

Interdependence of fate – Groups come into being when people realize their fate depends on the fate of the group as a whole.  A group will contain individuals of very different character, but when an individual learns how much his own fate depends on the fate of the entire group he will proactively take responsibility for his part in the groups welfare.  However, Lewin argued that Interdependence of fate can be a fairly weak form of interdependence in many groups.

Task interdependence – Lewin argued a more significant factor is where there is interdependence in the goals of group members. In other words, if the group’s task is such that members of the group are dependent on each other for achievement, then a powerful dynamic is created.  Task interdependence can be positive or negative. In negative interdependence – known more usually as competition – one person’s success is another’s failure.   Positive interdependence results in the group being a ‘dynamic whole.’

One of the most interesting pieces of Group Dynamics work concerned the exploration of different styles or types of leadership on group structure and member behaviour.  Three classic group leadership models we studied – democratic, autocratic and laissez-faire.  The research concluded that there was more originality, group-mindedness and friendliness in democratic groups. In contrast, there was more aggression, hostility, scapegoating and discontent in laissez-faire and autocratic groups.


Key Points of Group Dynamic Theory

  • Groups under conditions of positive interdependence were generally more co-operative and tend to be productive as compared to those working under negative task
  • Democracy must be learned anew in each generation, and that it is a far more difficult form of social structure to attain and to maintain than is autocracy
  • The difference in behaviour in autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire situations is not, on the whole, a result of individual differences.
  • Democracy cannot be imposed on people, but has to be learnt by a process of voluntary and responsible participation.
  • Change and periods of transition needs to be facilitated and guided.
  • Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. Participants must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about self, relationships and the group as part of the process.


Applying Group Dynamic Theory in an OD Intervention

  1. Encourage the senior leadership team to be the same as any good teacher, becoming unnecessary, and allowing natural leaders to rise from the group during a period of transition.
  2. Asking the Leader to change one or more of their characteristics or replace the leader with another person to harness the power of an informal group
  3. Systematically rotate out of the group its leaders and its key members in order to facilitate the emergence of a leader who has aims similar to the organisation
  4. Be alert to leaders sympathetic to the organisations objectives and use them toward the betterment of the formal groups effectiveness.
  5. Locate the best person in the group who is the best position to facilitate the smooth flow of information among group members
  6. Encourage group discussion and decision-making, and ensure participants regardless of position, treat each other as peers.
  7. Use a feedback activity to enable participants to engage in active dialogue about differences of interpretation and observation of the events by those who had participated in them.
  8. Develop a creative tension in the learning environment, bringing together the immediate experiences of the participants and the conceptual models of the facilitators in an open atmosphere where inputs from each perspective could challenge and stimulate the other.
  9. Observe the behaviour patterns of the group through interviews and asking the group members to identify their own norms; as members become aware of negative norms they commonly reject them and seek to change their behaviour.
  10. Create an environment in which values and beliefs can be challenged.
  11. Develop the group as students of OD tools, providing the group with models for organizing ideas through brief lectures, reading material, handouts and experiential learning techniques.
  12. Involve group members in the decision making process to reduce feelings of alienation and also improve communication between leaders and their employees and thereby reducing conflict