How Do Groups Change
December 31, 2010 9:35 AM   Subscribe

How do groups change? Specifically, I have two questions. First, I'm interested in when a group of friends or like minded people who are doing something casually decide to adopt a "mission" and then realize they need to get more serious about logistics, fundraising, accountability, liability, etc.

Different people are in the group for different reasons and the shift to a more organized and methodical (read "Professional") way of doing things seems to hearten some and discourage others. I'm looking for any research or studies on how groups morph from smallish and informal to bigger and more administrative (not necessarily bureaucratic), and how the change affects group and interpersonal dynamics. The study, if it exists, can be about business or non-profit in it's analysis.

I'm entering a new group, and the founder brought me and others in to move the group to another level, but I can already see a division in how old vs. new member sees the group and what should be more important in its workings. So my second question is, how to avoid or reduce conflicts, if possible while still making the kind of changes it needs and that the founder wants? Not wanting an either/or situation.

So, to recap, I'm looking for research, and I'm asking for opinion. Thanks.
posted by CollectiveMind to Human Relations (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The Business Life Cycle does a pretty good job of summarizing the transitions organizations go through.

Organizations start with a good idea, a lot of energy, talent, and hard work - but haven't yet increased in size (of people, of resources, of scale of operation, etc.) so they can be very flexible and loose. At some point, in order to deal with that increased scale, recurring problems, etc., you bring in new people and start making policy decisions- the scale of the operation doesn't allow you to "play it by ear" without having major problems and obstacles show up.

The difficulties in that first transition are simple: everyone was cruising along "just doing it" without having to think too hard about systems or rules - but now rules have to be put into place- which means all the people who started it are forced to give up some control- to new rules, to extra people being brought in. Their investment of work is no longer solely in their hands.

Also, since everything generally worked on small group dynamics before, you find that the tools of negotiation they used (friendship, consensus, personal appeals) aren't effective at this new level, so they're at a disadvantage in negotiating and shaping the new structure as it forms. ...and since friendship is one of those tools, it's pretty easy for folks to take policy decisions as personal betrayals, instead of concessions to situations ("Look, I don't want to fill out reports either, but if we don't, we can get sued...")

I don't really know what's good ways of navigating all that, though. It's pretty rare to find people who are savvy enough on organizations to recognize these needs in the first place, capable of shifting their process of negotiation, AND put their ego out of the way in the process.
posted by yeloson at 10:36 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in reading up on Tuckman's stages of group development - forming/storming/norming/performing.
posted by rtha at 10:53 AM on December 31, 2010

I guess I can offer some opinion and experience from a nonprofit background. Groups such as you describe usually are formed around a mission to begin with (such as a neighborhood watch group to address crime, or a soccer league for their children where one doesn't exist). These groups become more organized usually when they need to do formal fundraising (such as applying for grants) to address a need - so, they go through the formal process of applying for nonprofit designation with the IRS. Sometimes what the founder wants is different than what the rest of the group wants and that can become a problem - I don't know if that is what is happening in your situation.

I'm curious what you mean when you say that the founder brought you on to help make the organization more professional. Is there a reason you can't tell us what the group does? Is there a formal Board and other volunteers? How is it currently organized? Why does the founder have ownership of the group are there other members who are equally invested?
posted by fieldtrip at 9:39 PM on January 1, 2011

I study organizational development, a field focusing on issues exactly like this. If you had asked where to get help to address this issue, I would have recommended finding a skilled OD consultant to help facilitate the change process. Much of the problem has to do with organizational culture change; to change the organization you have to change the individual. If you set new norms in place without employees' support, they will work to subvert those norms and will not respect them. You need their buy-in if the change is to be successful. Fortunately, there are a range of well-used methods to encourage buy-in, but they vary heavily dependent upon a variety of factors. I don't know enough about your situation to recommend specific methods.

I wish I could think of some research sources right now, but I'm in the midst of writing a big paper, so all my thoughts are focused on that. However, if it would be helpful, I would be happy to help you find some more resources/give you advice. MeMail me.
posted by ananda gale at 12:24 PM on January 2, 2011

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