Informal Group Dynamics
The leadership dynamic
Informal groups possess certain characteristics that, if understood, can be used to advantage. While many of these characteristics are similar to those of formal organizations, others are unique. One attribute of informal groups is rotational leadership.
The informal leader emerges as the individual possessing qualities that the other members perceive as critical to the satisfaction of their specific needs at the moment; as the needs change so does the leader. Only rarely does a single individual possess all of the leadership characteristics needed to fill the various needs of the group.
Unlike the formally appointed leader who has a defined position from which to influence others, the informal leader does not possess formal power. If the informal leader fails to meet the group's expectations, he or she is deposed and replaced by another. The informal group's judgment of its leaders tends to be quicker and more cold-blooded than that of most formal groups.
The supervisor can use several strategies to affect the leadership and harness the power of informal groups. One quick and sure method of changing a group is to cause the leader to change one or more of his or her characteristics. Another is to replace the leader with another person.
One common ploy is to systematically rotate out of the group its leaders and its key members. Considering the rotational nature of leadership, a leader may emerge who has aims similar to the formal goals of the organization. There are problems with this approach, however. Besides the practical difficulties of this, this strategy is blunted by the fact that group norms often persist long after the leader has left the group.
A less Machiavellian approach is for the supervisor to be alert to leaders sympathetic to the supervisor's objectives and to use them toward the betterment of the formal group's effectiveness. Still another method is to attempt to 'co-opt' informal leaders by absorbing them into the leadership or the decision-making structure of the formal group. Co-opting the informal leader often serves as a means of averting threats to the stability of the formal organization.
Remember, though, a leader may lose favor with the group because of this association with management, and group members will most likely select another leader.
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