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: Study on the role of leader
Topic:Science & Esotericism
Science & EsotericismThe purpose of this article is to inspire a reflection on the idea of group, cohesion and in particular of work group, highlighting the positive aspects and interpersonal dynamics that it expresses. Cooperation and group work are a priority in many organizations. Working as a group is not always easy; it can be difficult to start with, but it pays back because it leads to success for everyone.

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The Group as a work tool

The purpose of this article is to inspire a reflection on the idea of group, cohesion and in particular of work group, highlighting the positive aspects and interpersonal dynamics that it expresses. Cooperation and group work are a priority in many organizations. Working as a group is not always easy; it can be difficult to start with, but it pays back because it leads to success for everyone.

Study on the role of leader

Anthology of psycho-dynamics edited by Athos A. Altomonte

The Group as a work tool – Developing a sense of belonging – Increasing good requirements – The group as an antidote to stress – Group dynamics – The phenomenon of the bystander – The animator – Understanding the conflict in group dynamics – Managing the conflict in group dynamics – How to deal with interpersonal conflicts - Strategies

Talking without thinking is like shooting without aiming. ” ( Anonymous )

The Group as a work tool

The purpose of this article is to inspire a reflection on the idea of group, cohesion and in particular of work group, highlighting the positive aspects and interpersonal dynamics that it expresses. Cooperation and group work are a priority in many organizations. Working as a group is not always easy; it can be difficult to start with, but it pays back because it leads to success for everyone.

Developing a sense of belonging

It is undeniable that some aspects of the structure and the way people socialize are not particular useful to a collaborative style of interaction. Since the beginning of our education we are used to isolation. Most people are ready to work by themselves independently from the task they are performing. In actual fact it has been proved by several researches that promoting group work and helping cohesion leads to a series of positive consequences on the effectiveness and efficiency of activities, even on a personal level.

Of course a certain degree of cohesion is necessary in order to have a good group; cohesion is one of the most important aspects that measure how much the subjects want to be and work together.

Group cohesion enhances the group performances, but most of all it improves people's moral and satisfaction in the activities they carry out. Furthermore it helps communication between the members of the group, reducing the hostility that is often cause of discontent and de-motivation. The feeling of working with a good group, with people that share our goals, increases the feeling of confidence, self-esteem and trust in our abilities; this inspires a sense of belonging .

In this positive atmosphere people are driven to give (and to consider themselves) the best. They commit knowing that they can rely on others and at the same time that they are important to others. Furthermore there is a decrease of conflicting and competing dynamics that often, instead of improving people's success, cause a useless waste of energies that could be used to ‘win as a group' rather than for personal advantages.

Improving the good requirements

First of all the dimension of the group is important, in the sense that it is easier to find group cohesion in a small rather than in a big group; in small groups interactions between members are more frequent and ‘face to face'. It is also important that there is similarity in attitude , values and beliefs among the group members. If they are similar and shared, cohesion and identification with the group improve. Attitude, values and beliefs are the culture of a social group and if they are shared we can see an improvement in cohesion, identification and recognition with the group.

In order to keep a good cohesion it is important that there is a certain degree of success in achieving common goals. The success of the group confirms the efficiency of the Group itself to the members, it increases the value of belonging to it and therefore it improves cohesion and motivation. These processes are not granted or automatic, they must be promoted and perhaps helped through specific processes of formation to ‘educate' people to collaboration and interaction.

The group as an antidote to stress

The kind of relationship between members of the Group affects its activity and it can increase conditions of stress. If the relationship with one or more people is characterized by a strong conflict, it is possible that they undergo emotional tensions, which often cause the abandonment of the Group. On the other hand, though, if the relationship is positively characterized, it works as an antidote to stress.

One of the situations that create stress is the interaction with difficult people that have an incorrect attitude and act unfairly and egoistically. These people are ready to create problems, either openly or subtly. The dissatisfactions caused by this kind of relationship are often taken to the extreme and become anxiety, rage, depression. No matter how annoying and negative is someone's behavior; it is possible to keep our distress under control. Working inside a good group where certain dynamics can be openly and assertively dealt with, allows to overcome possible stressful situations with serenity.

Group dynamics

In order for a number of people to be considered a group, the following requirements are necessary:

  • Interdependence among the individuals;
  • Pursuit of the same goal;
  • Need of belonging.

Lewin [1951] analyzed the group as a super-individual entity ; he borrowed the concept of field from physics. Like a magnetic field exercise a certain force on a needle, so the individual inside the group is affected by psychological forces that transcend him.

The group is for Lewin a ‘dynamic whole', viz. it is different from the sum of the single individuals that make it. Stone [1992] thought that there are three types of phenomena inside a group: phenomena connected to the group as a whole, interpersonal dynamics, intra-psychic processes.

The fact that the group is different from the sum of single members is not necessarily a positive thing. The proof is in literature, with the tradition of the anti-collective thought by Le Bon [1897] and Mc Dougall [1920]. With regards to performance, Steiner [1971] discovered that the effective productivity of a group is equal to the potential productivity minus the loss of imperfect processes.

One of these imperfect processes is the ‘Ringelmann effect' [1913], due to a deficit of motivation. For Ingham [1974] and later on for Stroebe and Frey [1982] there are two losses of process in the group: losses due to motivation and losses due to lack of coordination .

Inside a group there can be cases of free-riders or social loafing [Latane, 1979]. In the first case a member of a group deliberately chooses to detach, aware that it is unlikely that someone will notice it. In the second case all the members of the group are affected by a kind of unintentional social inertia; the fact itself of being in a group deteriorates their level of performance.

A paradox that can be found in the analysis of groups is that a number of normal people can form a pathologic and violent group, whilst a structured group can have a therapeutic effect on a single individual with psychic problems (some examples are Moreno's psycho-drama, Ellis's cognitive-behavioral therapy, Lowen's bioenergetic groups, etc.).

The group has fundamental psychological functions for the balance of the individual, such as keeping the self-esteem, moral support and understanding.

During the fourth international congress of group therapies that took place in Vienna in 1968, the group was conceived as a ‘defense against the anxiety caused by the thought of the millions of individuals living on our planet'. At the same time in order to be part of a group, the individual must re-define the concept of himself [Kuhn and Mc Partland, 1954; Brown, 1978; Moreland and Levine, 1982]. It is safe to say that a person isolated by the group is disheartened, demotivated and in the long term he feels defenseless. Establishing the causes of one person's isolation is a controversial subject. The most easily traceable reason is the diversity of the isolated individual compared to the rest of the community.

A series of studies revealed the contiguity between similarity, similar beliefs and friendship [Byrne, 1971]. The environment of a small group often creates a gang, a hard core that tends to exclude ‘the different ones'. The difference that distinguishes (negatively) them from the rest of the group can be voluntary or involuntary. In the first instance the isolated subject is a deviant person that doesn't conform to the rules accepted by the group.

Inside the group there are informal sub-groups [Cooley, 1902], that establish rules of behavior and levels of performance [Brown, 1961]. The informal group can supply support, solidarity and removal of individual anxiety, but in certain situations it can isolate the person who has disagreements with the majority or attitudes that the majority disapproves of.

Initially the members of the group pay more attention to the deviant element, trying to persuade him to change his mind; if this attempts are unsuccessful, the person is avoided, not considered or ostracized [Festinger, 1950l Schachter, 1951].

In the case of involuntary diversity, the person belongs to a minority inside the group.

He can be black in a group of white people, a gay in a group of heterosexuals, a moralist in a group of libertines, a right wing in a left wing group or vice versa. In this instance the phenomenon of social categorization can highlight the differences.

Social categorization is the tendency to consider the elements of the outside world grouped in homogenous communities. As a consequence all the elements that belong to the same category are considered more similar than they are, whilst the differences between categories are highlighted, emphasizing the features that can be considered distinctive.

As Tajfel [1957, 1959] demonstrated, the phenomenon of categorization can also refer to the perception of objects and images. Other group phenomena or dynamics can help psycho-social violence, such as de-individualization, polarization, normalization, uncritical obedience to the authority or to an authoritarian leadership, the relation between frustration and aggressiveness, the phenomenon of the bystander, moral detachment.

It is very unlikely, for example, that a racist attacks a colored person when he is on his own, whilst it can happen when he is in a group of people with the same prejudices. This difference in his behavior can be explained with the phenomenon of intra-group of de-individuation [Zimbardo, 1969].

De-individuation is the attenuation of one's personal identity, characterized by the sensation of anonymity, spread responsibility, underestimation and transgression of institutional rules.

Polarization is a change in the position of the group. A series of studies [Wallach, 1962; Moscovici and Zavolloni, 1969; Fraser, 1973; Stephenson and others, 1975; Laughin, 1980] documented this group phenomenon in the matter of decision making, but this can happen also in the evaluation of people.

Some researches have shown that polarization is not a group effect connected only to the choices in strategic decision regarding objects, such as risky choices in gambling, but even with people, such as in juries' verdicts.

Myers and Bishop [1970] as well did some studies on a group of students with racial prejudices; they confirmed that members of the group with the same attitude tended to the extreme.

Another process that can strengthen the hostility of a group towards an individual is normalization , which is the spontaneous phenomenon of convergence of points of view.

As Allport [1954] wrote: ‘there is a fundamental tendency in man to moderate his opinions and conduct in relation with the opinions and conducts of other people'.

The giving in to wrong judgment. Sherif [1935] was the first to demonstrate this theory with his well known experiment on self-kinetic effect , later repeated by other scientists with the same results. He demonstrated that when individuals find an ambiguous and unclear spur, they uncritically adapt to the position taken by the group, abandoning their initial evaluation.

Asch [1952] subjected some students to an experiment about visual discrimination in a group. The subjects were supposed to establish for eighteen times which comparison line had the same length as a reference line (standard line). The task was so easy that in a control group of 37 people answering by themselves, 35 never made a mistake.

In the experimental situation the subjects were sitting in half circle and they had to give their answer loud in front of a group of 6 people. The other components of the group were accomplices of the experimenter and gave the answers that he asked them to. In the twelve critical trials where the accomplices deliberately chose the wrong line, the percentage of mistakes was 37%.

These results proof the important effect that a ‘mistaken' but unanimous majority can have on the initially right judgments of an individual. Crutchfield [1955] found another technique of pressure on a group, adapted to large scale researches. He examined 600 people. He concluded that the pressure of the group causes a relevant tendency to give in even when the judgment is wrong.

From a cognitive point of view a person might embrace the negative opinion that the majority has about the deviant or different member.

Another social process in the group that can lead to the isolation of a subject is blind obedience to authority.

On this subject Milgram's [1969] experiment is well known; every subject analyzed had to give an electric shock to another person every time the latter gave the wrong answer to certain questions.

The intensity of the shock increased with the progression of mistakes. In actual fact the victim was an accomplice of the experimenter and he didn't receive any shock, but he pretended to be in pain, unknown to the examined subject. The result was astonishing: 62% of the subjects, pushed by the experimenter, increased the intensity of the shock until he told them to stop. Since all the subjects were adults and compos mentis , it was surprising that they all blindly obeyed the authority, even though their action brought pain to another human being.

Despite many differences among the various theories on leadership, the authors agree on what the pioneer work by Lewin, Lippit and White [1939] highlighted, that the authoritarianism of the leader in a group can cause a drop in performance and an awful organizational atmosphere. Furthermore, Hogan and Curphy [1994] underlined the relation between leadership and negative results in group work.

Another factor that might lead to group retaliation towards an individual is the theory elaborated by Dollard [1939]; frustration creates a certain psychic energy in individuals. He states that ‘the presence of aggressive attitude shows the existence of frustration; vice versa, the existence of frustration always leads to some form of aggressiveness'.

If this energy can be immediately used than it can be channeled in two ways:

Through catharsis : the person expresses his dissatisfaction by channeling the aggressive energy into physical or sport activities.

Through re-direction : it happens that one can't express his anger with the person who caused it. It would be counterproductive if someone got upset with his superior that didn't promote him; he will then re-direct the anger inspired by this event to his wife or his subordinates, which is more convenient for him.

The phenomenon of the bystander

According to Latanè and Darley the social factors that cause lack of altruistic intervention are: pluralistic ignorance, shared responsibility, inhibition in public.

Pluralistic ignorance is caused by the fact that the event can be ambiguous and the subject interprets the situation in the same way as the majority does. Therefore if the majority doesn't interpret smoke as a sign of a fire but as a joke played by some colleagues, the single individual will follow and join the majority.

Piliavin and Piliavin's [1972] concluded that intervention, or the lack of it, is due to a rational analysis of cost/benefit.

The person would value the costs of intervention (possible personal damage, waste of time, commitment, embarrassment in front of others) and the costs of not intervening (cost of empathy; uneasy feeling in seeing the victim suffer; sense of guilt after the event and public disapproval). Cialdini [1991] thinks that pro-social behavior is not inspired by altruism, but by the wish to avoid psychologically unpleasant feelings caused by not helping.

In the field of social psychology a possible explanation of their behavior is moral detachment , a collective self-absolution. It is a separation between thoughts and actions that allows the subject to behave despicably without regrets or sense of guilt [Bandura, 1999]. Caparra [2000] thinks that moral detachment is caused by the following psychological mechanisms: moral justification, euphemistic labeling, favorable comparison, re-direction and sharing of responsibilities, underestimation and distortion of consequences, blame for the victim.

The animator

The central and catalyzing role in the group research is the animator.

His task consists of having a role of incentive, reference and guide. Therefore his attitude, characteristics and abilities should be developed to favor the establishment of environmental conditions that help creativity.

For example a non-judgmental attitude would allow the members to express their ideas freely, even when they are extremely bizarre. In other words, he should be ‘non-directive on the result that will emerge from the group'.

On the contrary he should be directive on the creativity techniques; ‘in order to achieve concrete goals, the creative methods followed by the group must be applied rigorously, or the work will be inefficient'.

The animator should therefore practice and mature the experience that allows him to become a good facilitator of group dynamics; the atmosphere must not be that of ‘a competition or a race, where the best wins', but on the contrary it must favor the ‘ principle of reciprocal collaboration'. The animator must coordinate the work by managing and stimulating creative and relational dynamics in the group, ‘guiding it in logical sequence, in order to improve the creative efficiency'.

Cavallin thinks that the animator must have some requirements, such as: ‘good knowledge of creativity techniques, […] sensitivity to the psychological aspects of group dynamics, […] a non-sectional culture, the ability to deal comfortably with both scientific and humanistic subjects' . He also considers useful technical abilities regarding problems of method, organization and a good ability in ‘communication and involvement in giving information on complex subjects'.

The group should be made by a number of individuals that favor work and internal dynamics. The number varies according to the author. Cavallin, for example, thinks that they should not be less than five and more than ten; beyond ten he suggests to create more groups.

In general this number doesn't vary much; the maximum is fifteen/sixteen members. The presence in the groups, however, is established according to the type of techniques used and the presence of one or more animators in the creativity sessions.

The last essential element is the place where the group activities are carried out. Environmental characteristics and equipment can vary considerably but always in relation with the kind of creativity used.

Understanding the conflict in group dynamics

The conflict in a work group manifests itself when people who depend on each other have different or even contrasting views, interests or goals. A good leader is aware that conflict is a natural and potentially productive element in the field of group connections and interpersonal relationships. Indeed, conflict spurs the thought, allows the consideration of different perspectives to the same situations and drives the members to understand the key factors with regards to the decision to make.

This happens when the conflict is well managed in a conscious and constructive way.

The central aspect is not to decide if the conflict must be stimulated or avoided, but how to manage it in order to make it productive for the group work. Depending on how it is managed it can become constructive or destructive. An efficient leadership helps dynamics of communication that inspire constructiveness. Let's study these two sides of the conflict inside work groups.

It is a destructive conflict when it interferes with the efficiency of the work carried out and a healthy work atmosphere. Typically, this kind of conflict can be distinguished from a competitive way of communicating, where each member of the group tries and influences the others, with the only purpose to see his ideas, solutions and opinions win. This creates a ‘win-lose' kind of relationship. The single members of the group think that only one of them (or a part of them) can ‘win' and impose themselves on the others, that must then accept their views. An obvious result of these dynamics is the quick deterioration of the group atmosphere and interpersonal relationships.

The result is a context where most of the group members stay on the defensive and limit the expression of their ideas in order not to undergo aggression or sarcasm from the others.

Inside these situations it often happens that the personal attacks go beyond the subject. This context originates from a communication that puts people on the defensive and distracts them from the common goals. It is a communication characterized by: evaluation; judgment; superiority of one on the other; a way of seeing things only from one perspective with an attitude of confidence and rigidity . This way of communicating undermines interpersonal relationships and interferes with the effectiveness and efficiency of the group.

It is a constructive conflict when the group members are aware that disagreement is a natural aspect of the group; indeed it can be a key factor in achieving common goals.

This kind of attitude is reflected in a communication characterized by cooperation; everybody listens to other people's views and ideas with attention, interest and positive attitude. Communication is used to highlight the goals shared by the group members and the factors that join them. It encourages a ‘win-win' orientation, where everybody can be a winner; this drives people to express and motivate their points of view, concentrating on the content of the subject rather than on character or personal aspects.

In order to encourage constructive conflict, communication should highlight the interest of the group members in listening to other people's ideas and opinions, the willingness to change their perspective on a subject and the respect for the integrity of the other members and the opinions they represent. In this context people feel comfortable in expressing their thoughts and they participate actively and constructively to the group activities.

For these reasons constructive conflict is an important factor for the efficiency of group work. It allows the members to widen their understanding of the involved subjects, with the consequence that the group can develop a bigger range of ideas and solutions. Reaching this kind of context is not always easy; first of all it is necessary to win individual pride and egocentrism and try and recognize actively the importance of the contribution of every single person, stimulating his participation.

Managing the conflict in group dynamics

A good leader can recognize the symptoms of constructive or destructive conflict in a work group. Below we show the characteristics that distinguish these two types of conflict.

Destructive conflict. It can be recognized by the following symptoms:

Competition. Competition among the group members.

Attention to the advantages of the single individual. The group members are more interested in their own benefits than the group ones.

‘Win-lose' approach. The decisions and solutions are for the benefit of one or a few members of the group.

Closed atmosphere. The group doesn't accept comments or suggestions from people who don't belong to the group.

Defensive communication. Touchiness; resistance to changes (the members see all new ideas or suggestions as a threat to the current way of proceeding).

Personal attacks. The single individuals are ridiculed (or mocked) when they express their opinions or suggestions.

Constructive conflict. It can be recognized by the following signs:

Cooperation. The group members are willing to work together; they participate actively; there is dialogue and reciprocal respect; the atmosphere is positive and constructive.

Attention for the welfare of the group. The members focus their attention on the goals of the group rather than on their individual aims.

‘Win-win' approach. (Double winning). The decisions made and the solutions identified advantage all the members of the group rather than one or a few.

Open atmosphere. The members welcome suggestions and cues from outsiders of the group. It is necessary to have a communication facilitator able to develop in each member the awareness of the importance of their role and to bring out their creativity.

How to deal with interpersonal conflicts

First of all it is useful to explain what we mean by ‘contrast' and ‘conflict'.

Contrasts: they are ‘deficiencies' of communication due to disagreements.

Conflicts: they are ‘deficiencies' of communication connected to relationships. In this case the content of the communication is irrelevant, because the attention is on the relation, viz. on ‘how' they communicate rather than on ‘ what'.

Contrast and conflict are two different concepts from a quality point of view, rather than quantity. A contrast, no matter how strong, remains a contrast and doesn't turn into conflict and vice versa.

When dealing with a critical relational situation it is important to distinguish if the problem is the content or the relationship, viz. if it's a contrast or a conflict. This allows to use the most suitable strategies to ‘re-settle' the situation and bring it back to acceptable terms.

A conflicting situation can arise for several reasons, in particular:

a) litigious subjects; people by nature keen to conflict; they tend to create conflicting relational situations, independently from the content of the communication;

b) Lack of resources; conflicting situations can be originated by a lack of resources, that is when a person needs an asset and he's denied it.

c) struggle for power; in the relationship between two people we can distinguish two planes:

- vertical plane , when there is a hierarchic relationship;

- horizontal plane, when the two people have a relationship on equal terms rather than hierarchic.

The difference in levels becomes potentially conflicting when it generates a struggle for power, where one of the two people wants to overcome the other.

d) Pitch invasion; the conflict can be generated by the invasion of one's space and/or psychological role (called proxemic egg) or profession;

e) Non-recognition; interpersonal conflict can be generated by an attitude of indifference towards another member, where there is no acknowledgment of the other's existence.

f) Balance difference; a conflicting situation can arise when a person reckons he has matured a credit towards another without having it back (ex. ‘after all that I have done for you…'). This situation is particularly dangerous because the two people have two different perceptions of the situation.


Given these premises, it is important to highlight that conflict can't be solved but managed and transformed by acting on the relationship. We can use the following strategies:

Metacommunication : in order to balance the relationship between two subjects, we can go beyond the content of the communication and re-direct the conversation on the communication problem. This means to pass over the situation and talk about it.

Unilateral disarming; when facing an ‘armed' person we can try and ‘unarm' him, either by throwing our weapons first or by using an assertive attitude;

Intervention of a third person; conflicting situation might need a third person in order to be managed. For this to work, though, he must have two characteristics: equidistance, viz. the same horizontal distance from both the conflicting members, and impartiality, viz. the same vertical distance from the two people.

Restructuring; when dealing with a conflict I can decide to re-organize the relationship and restructure it on different and positive levels. This position can be simplified in: I reconsider my opinion and try and meet the other person's; I restructure changing my position with the purpose of soothing aggressiveness: ‘You are right, but…'.

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