Tri-County Early College has three school wide projects a year in which the whole school participates in groups consisting of 3-6 students. Since these projects are collaborative the subject of group dynamics frequently comes into play.
Group dynamics is how people within a group interact and work with each other. For a group to be successful they must have positive group dynamics or overcome the challenging dynamics they have at the beginning of the project. There are five stages to group dynamics: Orientation, Power Struggle, Cooperation/Integration, Synergy, and Closure.
The Orientation stage, also known as the “forming stage,”is when the group is just starting to come together. Students have experienced this stage many times and have developed some strategies that are useful during this time. Junior Chase McKnight says, “At the start of the project, I try to establish roles because I’m well-versed in what I’m capable of and what my weaknesses are, so I like to get a good look at what other people can and can’t do.” Groups also create contracts during this phase to establish norms and expectations, which can help with future struggles.
Then comes the power struggle when the group starts to experience some conflict and dispute and must work through their first obstacles. One student witnessed a group member conflict that boiled over into a shouting match during this stage. Tensions can run high as groups negotiate who is in control. Apparently, after the dispute in question, the two students involved spoke privately and resolved their differences through solid one-on-one communication. This is also a point where the group contract can be used to help keep group members accountable.
After their first struggles, the group will then start to learn how to be more productive and work efficiently together. At this point in the process, the project should become more fun and enjoyable for the group as they progress. After the cooperation and integration stage, the group becomes very united and is working as one to be successful. Finally, for groups that have managed the previous stages well, comes the Performing Stage in which the group is working really well together and generally coming to the end stages of the project.
TCEC Sophomore Gabe Flaws, said he was familiar with the idea of group dynamics, but not the exact definition. However, Gabe’s experiences reflect the stages mentioned above. He says group work usually starts with the group getting to know each other, learning the qualities each member has, and the group roles start to develop. After this stage, he explained that the group roles solidify and the group starts to learn how they can work efficiently together to get work done. Gabe said that group collaboration and communication, in particular, comes into play in this stage. When asked whether he thought understanding group dynamics mattered for success at TCEC, he said, “If you don’t understand them, then you don’t know how to apply them in a group process...They are useful guidelines to use in a project.”
As can be seen, group dynamics are extremely important to group projects and therefore a huge component to how we do things here at TCEC. The dynamics of a group is going to determine the success that group has. Therefore, students need to learn and experience what good group dynamics are but also how to deal with struggling group dynamics in order to apply that to their future projects and the rest of their life.