How Size Affects Group Performance

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  • 0:05 Size and Group Dynamics
  • 1:07 The Dynamics at Play
  • 2:47 Group Size and Performance
  • 4:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn

Rob has an MBA in management, a BS in marketing, and is a doctoral candidate in organizational theory and design.

Group size has a direct impact on group productivity and function, allowing different roles to emerge that will influence how the group operates and interacts. In this lesson, we will review group size as a variable in group performance.

Size and Group Dynamics

The group got together to look at the boulder they needed to move. The thing must have been about 200 pounds, but there were three of them, and surely they could lift it. The more they thought about it, the more they realized they needed more people. Each person went off and gathered more people to come back and help them move the boulder. Now the group had 10 people in it, much larger than it was before.

As the group began to try to lift the boulder, some members of the group could see that others were not trying to help and were just going through the motions. Some members just seemed to lose who they were and blended into the group, leaving their individuality behind. Others tried harder than we thought they might because the group was watching them. In the end, though, as they started to lift the boulder, the group was all thinking the same way and actually started to move the thing off the ground.

What we have just experienced is the full range of group performance issues as they relate to group size. There are several dynamics in place when groups grow in size, and understanding those dynamics is important to working in, leading or being part of a group.

The Dynamics at Play

In the scenario we just went through, we covered almost all of the dynamics that come into play when we discuss group size. For illustration purposes, we used a group that had grown in size, but the simple fact is these aspects are present in all groups. But what was experienced was:

  • Social loafing: When some of the members of the group were not trying to help and just going through the motions, they were displaying social loafing, or the occurrence of individuals making less effort to achieve a task because they are in a group.
  • Loss of individuality: Those members that blended into the group and left their individuality behind were displaying loss of individuality. When we have this dynamic at play, we see individuals lose self-awareness and thus their sense of accountability and responsibility for their individual behavior.
  • Social facilitation: We had a few members of the group that tried harder when they knew the group was watching them and thus exhibited social facilitation.
  • Polarization: Finally, as the group began to actually move the bolder, they became polarized, or that is to say they strengthened the belief in their position that the boulder could be moved. They developed a strong resolve that the boulder could indeed be moved.

The two aspects that were not a part of our scenario were groupthink and synergy. Groupthink is where the group begins to make poor decisions due to overall group pressure. Individuals think if everyone else thinks this is the right way to go, then I must be wrong in my thinking and will agree with them. Finally, we have synergy, which is the aspect of the team or group members working together in a harmonious fashion where the group's results are greater than the sum of its parts.

Group Size and Performance

The relationship between group size and performance is an interesting one. You see, as the group gets larger, the dynamics we spoke about earlier become more relevant simply due to the fact that there are more people in the group.

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