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Group Communication

In this chapter we will discuss: Factors in Group Communication Group Decision Making Effective Meetings

Groups form to accomplish some objective. The objective may be to complete some kind of task or it may be to strengthen interpersonal relationships between the group members. Many groups fulfill both these functions. While social groups like families and social clubs are predominantly social in their orientation, work groups function to complete a particular task or solve a particular problem. Communication among the members of a group leads to group decisions. If these decisions are to be effective, a groups members must be able to communicate freely and openly with all the other members of the group. Groups generally develop certain norms about discussion and group members develop roles that affect the groups interaction. Figure 7.1 describes some of the roles people take on when they interact with others in a group.


There are several factors that affect group dynamics and thereby shape the outcome of group discussions. Let us consider a few of these. Size The smaller the group, the better its members can communicate with each other. When the group is a large one members have fewer opportunities to interact with each other. Researchers havent yet hit upon an optimal number of members for the effective functioning of groups, but it is generally believed that groups of five to seven members are ideal for decision making and problem-solving tasks. Longevity Groups formed for short-term goals, such as to arrange a dinner, usually focus more on the task at hand, rather than on maintaining interpersonal relationships. Groups formed for long-term assignments may devote a lot more time to maintaining relationships among members. Figure 7.1: Roles People Play in Groups

Leadership Leadership that aims at achieving task goals, while at the same time maintaining interpersonal relationships in the group, is likely to make for greater group success. Perception and Self-Concept Each member of a group generally has his own perception about how the group should function, what kind of goals it should have and how it should work toward it. At the same time he also has a self-concept, which determines how he will interact with the others in the group. The successful working of a group depends to a great extent on its ability to satisfy the expectations and support the self-concepts of its members. Status Sometimes some members of a group have a better social standing or are better qualified than the others. The status of the members determines the manner in which they interact with each other. People tend to communicate with peers as their equals, but they tend to speak upward to superiors and downward to subordinates.


Research has shown that groups generally arrive at decisions in a predictable pattern. Aubrey Fisher identified four stages in group problem solving. A. The Orientation Stage - when group members get to know each other. The communication at this stage is rather tentative but the norms that govern the interactions between the group members are usually formed at this stage. B. The Conflict Stage - when members disagree with each other and debate ideas.

C. The Emergence Stage - when members reconcile their differences and the outcome of the groups efforts and the groups social structure become apparent. D. The Reinforcement Stage - when group members endorse their final decision by using supportive verbal and nonverbal communication. The purpose of every group is to achieve a specific goal or to arrive at a decision. However, different groups may adopt different approaches to achieve their purpose. Some common approaches are: Reflective Thinking Developed by John Dewey, this is a careful, systematic approach to a problem. This approach involves six steps:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Problem identification Problem analysis Criteria selection Solution generation Solution evaluation and selection Solution implementation

Brainstorming Sometimes brain-storming sessions are used to arrive at a decision. Members are encouraged to generate as many ideas about a topic as they can. Every idea is recorded. No idea is rejected at the initial stage. The group then returns to the ideas and adopts those that seem most feasible or most useful. Nominal Group Technique

This is a group decision making tool that is used when the group must rank a set of options. Members individually list all options that can be considered. The group facilitator then asks each member to rank all the options from the lowest to the highest priority. The facilitator then computes an average score for each idea to determine the groups highest priority. The Final Decision There are many ways that a group can make a final decision, agree on a solution or come to an agreement. Some of the popular ways of making decisions include Consensus - all the group members agree on the final decision after discussion and debate. Compromise-group members come to an agreement by giving up some of their demands. Majority vote - the decision is based on the opinion of the majority of its members. Decision by leader - the group allows its leader to take the final decision. Arbitration - an external body or person makes a decision for the group. Now that weve looked at some of the aspects of group dynamics let us take a closer look at the actual interaction between group members when they get together to discuss common concerns in other words, when they get together for a meeting.

The success of a meeting depends on the ability of each individual member of a group to communicate with the rest of the group as a whole. Over the years the word meeting in many organizations has come to be associated with wasted time and boredom. There are several reasons for meetings failing. One is that they are held at regular intervals for no particular reason. Sometimes there are too many people present to make an effective decision. To set the stage for a successful meeting careful planning is crucial. The Planning Process To plan a meeting the convener must consider five important questions: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) Why have a meeting at all? What type of meeting is called for? Who should be asked to participate? Where should the meeting be held? When should it be held?

Why Have a Meeting at all? This question underlines the need for a specific purpose. Some meetings have a long-standing purpose: an example is the daily morning briefings in police stations at which officers are briefed about recent developments before they begin their patrol. Meetings that do not have any such ongoing purpose, need to have their true purpose defined clearly. For instance, a meeting called to present the companys alternative home loan scheme may have either of these three purposes: to inform the employees about the alternatives, so that they can choose the one they want; to allow the group to decide whether they want to adopt the new plan; or to persuade employees to opt for the new plan. Once the convener decides what the real purpose of the meeting is, he has to think about what type of meeting would best serve the purpose. What Type of Meeting Should be Held? The home loan example cited earlier suggests there are at least three types of meetings informational, problem-solving, and change facilitating. Informational meetings

These are the easiest to plan. The purpose is to inform the group about recent developments. The convener does most of the talking but there is also scope for two-way communication. This enables the convener to get feedback from the group about whether they understand and accept the new proposals. Problem-solving meetings These meetings usually have fewer participants than informational meetings. Problem-solving meetings usually focus on arriving at a decision changing existing procedures, adopting a new system, etc. Sometimes such meetings are also used to generate new ideas. Change -facilitating meetings This type of meeting has to be carefully planned. In the example of the company trying to get its employees to adopt the new home loan scheme, the convener has to look for ways to sell the new concept to the employees. What are the advantages? Why should an employee adopt the new scheme? What are the objections that employees are bound to raise? These questions must be given careful consideration while planning a change-facilitating meeting. Having decided what type of meeting should be called, the convener has to decide who should be asked to participate. Who Should Participate? The answer to this question depends on the purpose for which the meeting is held. If the meeting is informational, a large number of people may be invited. If the meeting is called to take a decision, fewer people should be invited, so that all can participate in the discussion. In this case the convener should invite only those who have expertise in the area and those who have the authority to make a decision. Where Should the Meeting be Held? The where of a meeting is usually decided by custom or availability of space. Studies have shown that people react in certain predictable ways in certain physical surroundings. The seating arrangements can have a bearing on the final outcome of the meeting. Figure 7.2 shows a number of seating arrangements. The theater style and the schoolroom style are appropriate for large groups that are meeting to obtain information. The leader does much of the talking and participation is limited. The banquet style allows members to see each other and the T formation brings participants closer together, but the focus is still on the leaders. These arrangements can be used for meetings designed to facilitate change. Problem-solving meetings generally have the conference table seating arrangements shown in Figure 7.2. How far individual members are expected to participate in the meeting depends on how the leader positions himself in relation to the other participants. The overtly directive seating arrangement focuses attention on the leader and enables him or her to maintain control of the agenda. The covertly directive plan too enables the leader to retain control, but it is a more democratic seating arrangement. The equalizing pattern indicates the leader wants all members to participate by speaking their minds. The participative arrangement uses a round table so that status differences are minimized, and all participants feel free to express their opinions. Conveners must also consider the timing of the meeting.

Figure 7.2: Meeting Room Seating Arrangements

Meeting room seating arrangements

Conference table seating arrangements

Source: Gibson and Hodgetts,. Business Communication (New York: Harper and Row, 1990).

When Should the Meeting be Held? In deciding when the meeting should be held, the convener should consider the schedules of participants. Early Monday morning is seldom a good time for a meeting as most participants are anxious to get on with their weeks schedule. Similarly, meetings scheduled for the afternoon of the last day of the week Friday or Saturday draw a poor response as most participants are preoccupied with their plans for the weekend. Notice Once these questions have been considered the meeting convener must issue a notice. A notice should: (i) be issued by the proper authority (ii) observe a minimum period of notice (iii) state where and when the meeting is to be held (iv) be accompanied by an agenda

(v) be sent to all individuals entitled to receive it. Agenda The notice, as mentioned above, must be accompanied by an agenda. An agenda is a list of topics that will be covered at the meeting. The agenda gives participants a chance to gather their thoughts and bring relevant information to the meeting. To be effective, an agenda must be specific. The topics listed should not be vague. They must spell out what exactly will be discussed. Any relevant background reading material should be attached. The list of topics to be taken up for discussion should not be too long. Meetings that go on and on are not very popular. Look at the agenda shown in figure 7.3.

Figure 7.3: Agenda for Safety Committee Meeting

Source: Gibson and Hodgetts,. Business Communication (New York: Harper and Row, 1990). The name of the meeting, the location, the date and the beginning and ending times are all listed. The agenda lists specific topics and required background material is attached so that the first three items can be handled more effectively. A good agenda sets the stage for effective meetings by giving participants a clear idea of what to expect. A formal meeting, however, has an agenda that includes the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Welcome/Introduction Apologies for absence Minutes of the last meeting Matters arising from the minutes First main item Second item Third item Any other business Date of next meeting

Minutes The minutes of the previous meeting is sometimes circulated along with the agenda. The recipients are supposed to read them before attending the meeting. If the minutes is not sent along with the agenda, it is read out by the secretary when the meeting starts. This is generally a brief, accurate record of the business transacted at the previous meeting. It should contain the following: i. Name of organization

ii. iii. iv. v. vi. vii.

Place, date and time of meeting Names of chairperson and secretary Names of other members present All motions and amendments Names of movers and seconders of all motions and amendments Results of voting concise but sufficiently detailed to make clear what the meeting was about precise and unambiguous impersonal and impartial written in the past tense numbered in ascending order from one meeting to another.

The minutes should be:

Opening the Meeting To get the meeting off to a good start the leader must ensure that the participants are at ease and that the setting for the meeting is appropriate. One way of putting the participants at ease is by thanking everyone for coming and clearly stating what is expected to be accomplished. This ensures that everybody knows the purpose of the meeting. The leader may also redistribute copies of the agenda to those participants who do not have theirs with them. When certain participants are expected to make specific contributions, the leader may outline these in the beginning, and also indicate how much time is available for discussion, so that the participants realize the time constraints. Conducting Business In order to accomplish the desired objectives of the meeting, the leader must follow the agenda. Whenever the discussion strays from the agenda, he should redirect it, so that it stays focused on the main purpose. However, while doing this, the leader should not become too directive, as this discourages participation. Some members try to introduce their own personal agenda into the discussion. They often resort to personal power plays, attention-seeking and blocking. These tactics are very disruptive as they make the other members cautious and defensive. In such situations it is the leaders task to confront the troublemaker and make him realize that he is hampering the proceedings. Ensuring participation by each member of the group is another responsibility of the leader. An effective leader does not start out by telling the others how a particular issue should be resolved. Rather, he invites the other participants to express their opinions. By listening patiently to what the others have to say and by using positive body language, the leader makes the others feel that he is receptive to their ideas. This prompts members to be more forthcoming.

Not all ideas that come up during a meeting may be relevant or practicable. When someone comes up with an irrelevant or unsuitable idea, the leader may suggest that it may be taken up at some other time when it would be more appropriate. The leader should thank the people for their participation, regardless of how he personally feels about their ideas. Concluding the Meeting

A little before the scheduled closing time, the leader usually signals that time is almost up. This gives the group a chance to wrap up the discussion. The leader then brings the meeting to a close by noting what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. Participants should be informed about what will happen next. If decisions have been made and action promised, the group members should be told when the action will be taken. Members should also be informed about when the minutes of the meeting will be circulated. Following up the Meeting Figure 7.4: Checklist for Meetings A. Preparation 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Determine the meetings objectives. Work out an agenda that will achieve your objectives. Select participants. Determine the location, and reserve a room. Arrange for light refreshments, if appropriate.

6. Determine whether the lighting, ventilation, acoustics, and temperature of the room are adequate. 7. B. Conduct 1. 2. Begin and end the meeting on time. Control the meeting by following the announced agenda. Determine seating needs: chairs only or table and chairs.

3. Encourage full participation, and either confront or ignore those who seem to be working at cross purposes with the group. 4. Sum up decisions, actions, and recommendations as you move through the agenda, and restate main points at the end. C. Follow-Up


Distribute the meetings notes or minutes on a timely basis. Take the follow-up action agreed to.

After the meeting is over, the leader assesses the results. Was the purpose achieved? Did all the members participate in the discussion? Was the decision taken in an appropriate manner? How can the next meeting be conducted better? The leader must follow up on whatever promises were made, by keeping in touch with the other members and making sure that they are actually following the steps that were outlined at the meeting. Figure 7.4 provides a checklist for meetings.

Careful planning and skillful leadership make for effective meetings. Without these, meetings are bound to be looked upon as a waste of time, effort and financial resources. They may seem to lack focus and appear to be unproductive. However, group meetings can be a great asset if they are planned properly and administered effectively.