One of the most interesting aspects of group dynamics is how aspects of a group can affect individuals, and the influence individuals can have within a group. A positive group experience can improve your mood and good group members can enhance the morale and effectiveness of a group.
This is easy to imagine in a small group, but becomes more challenging when applied to larger groups and organizations. For example, imagine a hospital. There are hundreds of employees who work for the hospital with a range of jobs, responsibilities and skills. The medical staff then interact with, and provide care to, thousands of patients. How do those principles that apply in small groups apply to large organizations?
First, one needs to be able to understand how large groups interact. By analyzing the networks of communication, using network modeling it is possible to examine how large groups of people form a cohesive communication structure. These communication networks represent the complicated nexus of interactions between everyone who communicates within that organization (or group). These networks change over time based on shifting relationships, responsibilities and new entrants to the group.
Each network is unique, just like every person is unique. One of the fundamentals of the network is that each individual affects the structure and characteristics of the network. Then, once you can understand the network, you can look at the individual characteristics of each person in it and how they are related to the network as a whole.
In this hospital study, the position of an individual in the network could be predicted by some of their individual characteristics. Surprisingly, some of the characteristics you would expect to be related to a person’s position in the network were not related at all. For example, the length of time a person had worked at the hospital had no relationship with how many connections they had with others at the hospital. Also, their job at the hospital was unrelated to how connected they were. In other words, someone who had been working at the hospital for 25 years may have the same amount of connections as someone who had been there for 1 year. A nurse may have many more, or many less, connections than an administrator or manager.
Multiple factors were found to be significantly related to a person’s position in the network. First, those who were most engaged in their work tended to have more connections with their colleagues than those who did not. Second, those who saw their colleagues as providing useful information were more likely to have more connections.
An additional interesting find of this study is that how people perceived others’ communication was critical to their position in the communication network. There was little variation in the average of how each individual’s communication was ranked. In other words, no individuals stood out as poor communicators based on their overall rankings from the rest of the group. However, a small minority tended to rate most others poorly. Or, to put it more directly, a few people thought everyone else was useless.
This shows that there is a strong relationship between how individuals relate to the group, their position in that group, and the overall functioning of the group. First, how the group members feel about the function and responsibility of the group affects the group overall. Second, how a member in the group perceives other group members affects where they will be in the group (but not necessarily the group overall). Finally, the key finding of this study is that there is an important relationship between the functionality and success of a group and the characteristics of it’s group members: by changing one, you will transform the other.
Organizational well-being and communication in a medical setting