Communicating in Small Groups

Learning Objectives


·         7.1  Describe the various types of groups.

·         7.2  Explain the dynamics of group structure, recognizing the stages of group development.

·         7.3  Discuss types of group cohesion and the factors that cause group breakdown.

·         7.4  Describe different styles of leadership and forms of power.

·         7.5  Identify ways to improve your group communication skills.




Working in groups demands specific communication skills. Without these skills, it can be extremely difficult to effectively negotiate schedules, deadlines, problem solving, rules, responsibilities, and outcomes. We often ask, “Is it better to do things yourself or to work with a group?” The answer depends on how well the group works together, how focused it is, and how much creative and critical thinking the group allows. How well does the group weigh information, how effectively does the group create options, and how critically does it evaluate ideas? This chapter examines the many characteristics of group communication, hoping to answer these questions.



  • Activity: Teambuilding with a Lie and Two Truths

This teambuilding activity is designed to improve small group communication. Ask each member of the group to secretly write down on a piece of paper two truths about themselves and one lie. Once everyone has done so, allow 10-15 minutes of open conversation where everyone quizzes each other on their three questions. People can move around from one conversational partner to another. Think of it as a mixer. The goal is for group members to convince others that their lie is actually a truth while they are doing the same by asking questions. Members must not reveal the truth about their truths and lie to anyone, even if someone has it figured out. After the conversational period, gather everyone in a circle or around a table and one by one repeat each one of your three statements and have the group vote on which one they think is the lie.

  • Activity: Teambuilding in a Minefield

This teambuilding activity is designed to improve small group communication, cohesion, and trust. Find a fairly large open space such as an empty room or hallway. Haphazardly place several “mines” throughout the space. These mines can be cones, balls, bottles, or stacks of books. Divide your group members into teams of two. One team member is blindfolded and the other can see and talk, but cannot enter the minefield or touch the partner. The goal is to have the blind-folded partners walk from one side of the minefield to the other, avoiding the mines only by listening to verbal instructions from their partners. You can make the game a bit more challenging by having more than one walker at a time enter the minefield, increasing group members’ reliance on their partners.

  • Activity: What’s My Real Leadership Style?

Determine for yourself what you think is your personal leadership style. Then take the leadership style quiz at It’s designed to determine which of the 3 styles discussed in the text best matches your true style, not necessarily the one you think you exhibit. Follow the prompts to the eventual evaluation. How closely did your pre-quiz self-judgment match the quiz’s assessment? If there was a discrepancy, why do you think it occurred?


1.      Differentiate between the 3 different leadership styles discussed in the chapter. For each, include a benefit and drawback and an example.



Sample answer: The three styles of leadership include authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire. An authoritarian leader makes all the decisions and rules, and often tells others what to do. An advantage of this style of leadership is that decisions are made quickly and efficiently; however, a drawback is that the best decisions may not always be made because of the lack of input from others. An example would be a military general who might not seek input or advice from his junior officers when making decisions. A democratic leader seeks input from group members and encourages communication and collaboration during decision making. An advantage of this style of leadership is that members of the group feel important and may as a result work harder; however, a drawback is that final decisions may be hard to arrive at because there may be discord or disagreement among group members. A captain of a sports team would be an example of this type of leadership, because a captain encourages the team to communicate and share ideas in order to create team chemistry and make each member aware of her or his individual importance to the team. Laissez faire leaders provide very little guidance to group members, and encourage them to make decisions on their own. An advantage of this style is that group members are able to gain experience in decision making because they are forced to do it on their own, but a negative is that group members are often unmotivated, resulting in work remaining uncompleted. An example of a laissez faire leader might be parents who let their kids come and go as they please, offering little family structure.


2.      Differentiate between informal and formal communication in groups, and give an example of a type of group where each type would occur.



Sample answer: If a group engages in informal communication, its interactions are not governed by a strict set of rules. The language used is less rigid and members are free to express themselves without having to worry about the consequences of their actions and words. When formal communication occurs in a group there are strict rules for action and language choice. Communication is very structured and members must be sure to abide by the rules. Informal communication often occurs in families and is exemplified by a dinner-table conversation or a family game night. Formal communication is likely to occur in courtrooms. The lawyers need to follow strict protocols when speaking to the judge as well as when examining witnesses and posing objections.



Go to the Source

French, J. R. P., and B. H. Raven. (1959). “The Bases of Social Power.” In D. Cartwright, ed., Studies in Social Power. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.

Giddens, A. (1976). New Rules of Sociological Method. New York: Basic Books.

Northouse, G. (2007). Leadership Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sundstrom, E., K. P. DeMeuse, and D. Futrell. (1990). “Work Teams: Applications and Effectiveness.” American Psychologist, 45: 120–133.

Tuckman, B. W., and M. A. C. Jensen. (1977). “Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited.” Groups and Organization Studies, 2: 419–427.


This commercial enterprise helps business and government professionals become better leaders. Despite the fact that you must join to take advantage of its full set of services and programs, its website does offer links to quite a bit of useful information and instruction.

The CEL is a national nonprofit that works to improve leadership in groups working to advance social change. It offers support to individuals, institutions, and communities in their efforts create healthy, just, and inclusive communities. Beyond information available on its website, you can sign up for and receive its newsletter.

  • National Conference on Student Leadership (

The NCSL helps college students practice effective, heart-centered leadership in their administration of student organizations such as student government, committees, clubs, or other student living/learning/working groups, and in their engagement with their communities and the wider world. The site offers a variety of links to useful information and opportunities.


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