Jeff Lane was at his wits end. As a newly appointed production manager, he had tried virtually everything to get his work group to come up to production standard. The equipment was operating properly, and the group had the training and experience to meet expectations, yet it was not performing well. What was wrong? And what could he do to correct the situation?
Managers and supervisors frequently face such a dilemma-standards that should be met but aren't for what seems like no apparent reason. What Jeff Lane and other managers/ supervisors sometimes fail to realize is that within every organization there are often informal group pressures that influence and regulate individual behavior.
Informal groups formulate an implicit code of ethics or an unspoken set of standards establishing acceptable behavior In Jeff's department, the informal group may have established a norm below that set by the organization, subtly exercising control over its members regarding the amount of output.
Dynamics of informal groups
Informal groups almost always arise if opportunities exist.
Often, these groups serve a counter organizational function, attempting to counteract the coercive tendencies in an organization. If management prescribes production norms that the group considers unfair, for instance, the group's recourse is to adopt less demanding norms and to use its ingenuity to discover ways in which it can sabotage management's imposed standards.
Informal groups have a powerful influence on the effectiveness of an organization, and can even subvert its formal goals. But the informal group's role is not limited to resistance. The impact of the informal group upon the larger formal group depends on the norms that the informal group sets. So the informal group can make the formal organization more effective, too.
A norm is an implied agreement among the group's membership regarding how members in the group should behave. From the perspective of the formal group, norms generally fall into three categories-positive, negative, and neutral. In other words, norms either support, obstruct, or have no effect on the aims of the larger organization.
For example, if the informal group in Jeff's shop set a norm supporting high output, that norm would have been more potent than any attempt by Jeff to coerce compliance with the standard. The reason is simple, yet profound. The norm is of the group members own making, and is not one imposed upon them. There is a big motivational difference between being told what to do and being anxious to do it.
If Jeff had been aware of group dynamics, he might have realized that informal groups can be either his best friend or his worst enemy. He should have been sensitive to the informal groups within his area and he should have cultivated their goodwill and cooperation and made use of the informal group leadership.
That is, he should have wooed the leadership of the informal group and enlisted the support of its membership to achieve the formal organization's aims. The final effect of his actions might have been positive or negative, depending upon the agreement or lack of it between the informal group and himself.
Harnessing the power of informal groups is no easy task. The requirements include:
- an understanding of group dynamics and,
- an ability to bring about changes in informal group norms that positively reinforce the formal organization's goals.
As a starting point, managers and supervisors should at least be aware of the reasons behind informal group formation and the properties and characteristics of these groups.