Before decision-making… The Group

Today, we discuss one essential element under a social psychological approach : The GROUP

Usually, before making a collective decision, a group is created, either over a long period (e.g. a sports team in a club) either ephemerally (e.g. a team for a call for projects). So, what’s a group?

During our life we will belong to many groups. They may be our family, our sports team, our work team etc. They can be of different sizes and of various fields.

The Group

One of the pioneers who studied it’s Kurt Lewin (in 1947) (1). He perceives the group as an entity with its own dynamics. In other words, it is not a set of people but a interdependence between these people. Even though this definition is interesting, there is a more up to date way of conceiving the group, it is the way we will discuss now.

Henri Tajfel (in 1970) (2) perceives the group as a sense of belonging. People simply have to perceive themselves as belonging to the same social unit (sex, skin color, religion …) for it to exist. Are you still with me? We then talk, about categorical belonging : you do not need to be present so that the group exists, it is enough to feel it. You feel that you belong to a category, and that is what matters for the group to be formed.

Eventually, belonging to a group plays a fundamental role in our social identity.

Why? Because belonging to social unit is what people seek to display and reinforce a positive image of themselves.

This view of the group, can explain phenomena such as social cohesion,  performance and leadership. Let’s discuss together the notions of group cohesion and leadership.

The social cohesion

It’s Michael Hogg (in 1995) (3) who explains that the cohesion of a group is built on a shared perception that the members have of it. This perception takes place following the process of self-categorization. What about that?

In fact, each member must feel included and must want to include himself / herself. This group will then be distinct from the other groups present in society. The distinction with the other groups is made by 2 phenomena.

As we have seen above, the first one is categorical belonging. The second phenomenon is a little more complicated to grasp. (Hang on!)

The Group

It is prototypicality. That is, a depersonalization which has nothing negative in reality, and which refers to a part of the identity that is built in a group. What this means is that each of us is a prototype of the group to which we belong. While having our personality, we have a part of us that corresponds to the unit to which we belong.

The cohesion will be all the more stronger that the members will conform to the prototype.

Warning! It is the degree of prototypicality that causes the attraction for a person in a group, not its personal characteristics. Example : in a creative work team, a moderately creative member will most likely be attracted to the most creative, and therefore the most prototypical, of the group.

The leadership

The idea of Alexander Haslam, Stephen Reicher and Michael Platow (in 2011) (4) is that leadership is about building a “we” whose leader is part of. He is not the great man above us, mere mortals, but he is one of us. His field of action is that of the group.

These authors describe 4 conditions in which the leadership would be optimal:

  1. The leader is the one who best corresponds to the prototype of the group : the closer he is to the identity of the unit, the more he will be considered “one of ours” and the more he will have influence and become the one to follow.
  2. The leader is the one who acts as a champion for the group : he must act for the values and interests of the group. He must be “designed” for the it. He is the one who would fight the most vigorously of the interests of the group rather than its own.
  3. The leader is the one who maintains the identity of the group : he is there to remind the members who they are, why they belong to it, and to propose the ideas and actions that revive the identity of the group.
  4. The leader is the one who is the group’s spokesperson to the social world : he is the one who will translate the aspirations into the world and convince the world of their social strength.

To conclude

This is one of the ways in which we can understand the group. In other areas this notion can be defined in different ways. The social and technological environment is one of the factors that influences the formation and functioning of a unit. Over time, this notion has evolved and is being transformed.

To find out more, you can read our previous article on biases in collective decision-making:

Read also on our blog

Biases in Collective Decision-Making – Part 1

References :

(1) Lewin, K. (1947). Group decision and social change. In E. Swanson, T.M., & E.L. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in social psychology (pp. 197-211). New York : Holt.

(2) Tajfel, H. (1970). Experiments in intergroup discrimination. Scientific American, 223, 96-102.

(3) Hogg M. A. (1995): Le concept de cohésion reformulé. In G. Mugny, D. Oberlé, J.-L. Beauvois (Dirs.), Relations humaines, groupes et influence sociale. Grenoble, Presses Universitaires de Grenoble.

(4) Haslam, A. S., Reicher, S., & Platow M.J. (2011) The new psychoogy of Leadership Identity, Influence and Power. Psychology Press, 1-263.

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