There Has Been a Change of Plans? Introduction 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 they do to correct the situation? Managers and supervisors frequently face such a dilemma-standards that should be met but aren't for what seem like no apparent reason. What Ben Cohen, Jerry Greenfield and other managers 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 a department, the informal group may have established a norm below that set by the organization, subtly exercising control over its members regarding the amount or quality of output.
The dynamism of informal groups Informal groups almost always arise if the 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 at Ben & Jerry's set a norm supporting high output, that norm would have been more potent than any attempt by Ben or Jerry 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 Ben and Jerry had been aware of group dynamics, they might have realized that informal groups can be either their best friend or their worst enemy. They should have been more sensitive to the informal groups within the organization and they should have cultivated their goodwill and cooperation and made use of the informal group leadership.
That is, Ben & Jerry should have wooed the leadership of the informal group and enlisted the support of its member ship 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 there of between the informal group and themselves. 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. Formation of informal groups Individuals are employed by an organization to perform specific functions.
Although the whole person joins an organization, attention is usually focused on the partial person, the part of the individual doing the job. Because people have needs that extend beyond the work itself, informal groups develop to fill certain emotional, social an psychological needs. The degree to which a group satisfies its members' needs determines the limits within which individual members of the group will allow his or her behavior to be controlled by the group. Sense of belonging Several major functions are served by informal groups.
For example, the group serves as a means of satisfying the affiliation needs of its members for friendship and support. People need to belong, to be liked, to feel a part of something. Because the informal group can withhold this attractive reward, it has a tool of its own to coerce compliance with its norms. Identity and self esteem Groups also provide a means of developing, enhancing, and confirming a person's sense of identity and self-esteem.
Although many organizations attempt to recognize these higher needs, the nature of some jobs-their technology and environment-precludes this from happening. The long assembly line or endless rows of desks reinforce a feeling of depersonalization. Stress reduction Another function of groups is to serve as an agent for establishing and testing social reality. For instance, several individuals may share the feeling that their supervisor is a slave driver or that their working conditions are inadequate. By developing a consensus about these feelings, group members are able to reduce the anxiety associated with their jobs.
All for one, one for all Finally, the informal group serves as a defense mechanism against forces that group members could not resist on their own. Joining forces in a small group makes the members feel stronger, less anxious, and less insecure in the face of a perceived threat. As long as needs exist that are not served by the formal organization, informal groups will form to fill the gap. Since the group fills many important needs for its members, it influences member behavior. Informal group norms One Characteristic of informal groups is their establishment of norms.
As discussed earlier, norms keep a group functioning as a system instead of a collection of individuals. Two points are important to note about the norms of informal groups. First, where both formal and informal norms exist, the informal norms transcend the formal. At moments when norms conflict with organizational objectives, organizational effectiveness suffers.
Just as the management "abandoned the 5-to-1 salary ratio', the "employees revealed a sense of confusion, frustration, and low morale'. Second, members of an informal group may be unaware that the norms of the group influence their behavior. Norms are particularly potent because without knowing it, members would not even think of acting otherwise-norms are that ingrained in their behavior pattern. Informal group cohesiveness Another characteristic of informal groups is group cohesiveness-the force that holds a group together.
Group cohesiveness varies widely based on numerous factors-including the size of the group, dependence of members upon the group, achievement of goals, status of the group and management demands and pressures. For example, group cohesiveness increases strongly whenever the membership perceives a threat from the outside. This threat produces the high anxiety that strong group cohesiveness can help reduce. If the supervisor presses the group to conform to a new organizational norm that is viewed as a threat to the security needs of group members, the group will become more unified in order to withstand the perceived threat.
Thus management can limit its own effectiveness by helping to increase the group's cohesiveness. With the passing of the threat the group tends to lose its cohesiveness. Perhaps paradoxically the most dangerous time for group cohesion is when things are going well, as illustrated in the case of Ben & Jerry's. The organization began to experience unprecedented growth-growth that the company was neither prepared for nor capable of enduring on their own.
With this outstanding growth came the desire for more (profit-driven) and the organization's mission quickly became clouded. After Ben came to the realization that "the company had outgrown his management skills', he went in search for someone more qualified. Ben justified doing away with the 5-to-1 salary ratio program-originally established to benefit the employees-by indicating that no competent CEO would agree to such terms. As if doing away with the program wasn't bad enough, Ben welcomed a top-level executive into the company that did not share the same business values as did the rest of the organization.
Decision-making process involvement Managers can use the factors that affect group cohesiveness to increase their own effectiveness. For instance, a supervisor can involve the informal group members in the decision-making process. Input from group members will not only reduce their feeling of alienation but also improve communication between the supervisor and subordinates thereby reducing potential conflict. Ben could have avoided the general consensus of feeling "left out's imply by including the workers in the selection process. That way the employees either end up sharing the burden of failure, or dissatisfaction, or contribute to the successful implementation of an effective executive. Either way you steer clear of alienation and promote involvement.
Where group participation in decision-making is not practical the supervisor should carefully explain the reasons to play down what might be seen as a threat to the group. The fact that the organization is simply too large and that the worker's involvement in the selection process is not feasible can easily be explained in an e-mail address to the entire organization. An effective means of communication, simply keeping them updated on the process can help to alleviate the feeling of seclusion. Instead, Ben resorted to one-way communication and resultant ly suffered the consequences..