What Are Group Dynamics? - Definition & Theory

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  • 0:01 Group Dynamics Defined
  • 1:55 Group Dynamics Theory
  • 2:35 Factors Affecting…
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Jennifer Kinder
Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

Learn about group dynamics and the theory behind understanding these processes. Learn about the factors that affect group dynamics with some real-life examples.

Group Dynamics Defined

June is part of a support group for stay-at-home moms. She confides in the group her guilt over yelling at her toddler the night before when he wouldn't pick up his toys. One of the moms provides her with support and encouragement. The other two moms don't respond and look apathetic. June feels judged by these other two moms and feels hurt. She regrets sharing her story and sits in silence the rest of the group.

The above story illustrates several important group dynamics which impact each group member and the group as a whole. Every member of society participates in groups through work, military, school, social groups, sports, and more. Understanding how groups interact and what might cause problems in a group, can help us to improve group performance, communication, and cohesiveness. This lesson will define group dynamics and review the theory behind understanding these dynamics by exploring important factors affecting processes within a group.

Group dynamics are the processes that occur between group members. These dynamics are affected by each member's internal thoughts and feelings, their expressed thoughts and feelings, their nonverbal communication, and the relationship between group members. Group dynamics helps you understand how each person's actions make sense in the context of the group.

In the above story, there are several group dynamics at play. June's own insecurities about her parenting have led to her interpreting two group member's silence as judgment. In response to their apathetic reaction, she feels more guilt and withdraws. This likely impacts the dynamics of the group and whether other group members withdraw or share. Unbeknownst to her, the two other moms aren't apathetic. They are dwelling on their own parenting guilt over mistakes they have made, which was triggered by June's disclosure.

Group Dynamics Theory

Systems theory describes how individuals behave within a system. As groups are considered systems, systems theory helps us begin to understand group dynamics. Systems theory involves understanding that group dynamics is a more complex process than just summing up the individual characteristics of each group member. Instead, group dynamics is best understood by combining the characteristics of each group member, how each group member's actions affect the group, and how these group interactions affect each group member. This creates a cyclical and reciprocal feedback loop which simultaneously impacts all group members and all group members' relationships.

Factors Affecting Group Dynamics

According to systems theory, there are a few important factors which affect group dynamics. Let's take a look at them.

Member Power

Often, one or more group members will hold more power within the group by being influential in some regard. They might be more assertive with their opinion, exhibit leadership characteristics, or have a charismatic personality.

Example: Rachel tends to be a more outspoken member of the treatment team. Over time, the team has come to rely on Rachel to make important decisions. Because Rachel has a strong role in team decision-making, she holds significant power in the group.

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Additional Activities

Group Dynamics Activities

Writing Prompt 1:

People are social creatures, and we all spend time in groups. People may actively choose to be a member of a group (e.g., hobbyists with shared interests), or a group could be chosen due to external circumstances (e.g., co-workers). Think of a time that you were part of a group. Write a journal entry about what type of group it was, how you felt about the group, and whether coalitions were formed in the group. For example, you may have been part of a ballroom dancing club and felt excluded because you were not a part of an unnamed coalition that formed between the top dancers. End your journal entry describing how you might have acted differently to enhance the group and your experience in it.

Writing Prompt 2:

What do you feel your caretaking role is within a group? Are you a person who takes care of the emotional needs of the other members of the group, or are you a person who enjoys primarily being taken care of by the group? Write a two to three paragraph essay first describing what role you feel you usually take, and then explain what you could do differently to change your typical role. For example, you may feel that you are typically on the receiving end of caretaking in a group. In order to change this dynamic, you could talk less about your own problems, listen carefully to the issues of other people, and make an offer to help.

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