Theories of small group communication

First of all lets begin by explaining what is a small group communication, and what the theory has to say to us. Small groups has been described and studied in a number of contexts such as work groups, parties and other event-based or social situations. Most small groups fall under one or more categories such as: the task group, the relationship group and the influence group. The task group is more of a committee meeting, set up to accomplish a task, such as a local school council. The relationship group is more of a meeting of people for the enjoyment of each other´s company, such as a gourmet club. The influence group focuses on bettering yourself and those around you, group members have influence over each other, such as a self help group.

The study of group process began in the early twentieth century and began to develop between 1945 and 1970 as scholars in psychology, sociology and communication attempted to describe the process through which groups developed relationships and made decisions.

For this, there where a lot of models. The multiple sequence model based on the coding of continuous interaction of actual groups, has resulted in a typology of decisions paths that might be followed in group interactions and include the following:

1-    Unitary sequence path- Group interaction generally follows the traditional sequence of orientation, problem analysis, solution, and reinforcement.

2-    Complex cyclic path- Group interaction consists of multiple problem-solution cycles.

3-    Solution-oriented path- Group interaction center on solutions and involves no activity related to problem definition or analysis.


We consider three theories that provide different kinds of explanations for the group decision-making process. The 3 theories we´ll examine are functional theory, adaptive Structuration theory and symbolic convergence theory. Why some groups make good decisions and others make bad decisions is at the heart of functional theory as developed by Hirokawa, Gouran and their colleagues.


Functional Theory

Functional theory proposes that “group communication processes play a vital role in determining whether a group will arrive at a low or high quality decision.

Two of the most important influences for functional theory were from Robert F.Bales in his classic book Interaction Process Analysis and argued that a small group is faced with 4 functional problems: adaptation, instrumental control, expression, and integration.

A second major influence on functional theory was work on groupthink developed by Irving Janis refers to a mode of thinking that people engage in when they´re deeply involved in a cohesive in group, when the members striving for a unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. Group members have a strong desire to get along with each other and maintain good feelings about the group and will maintain a belief that the group is in complete agreement and is invulnerable to errors.

Functional theory attempts to identify the key things that must happen in a decision-making or problem-solving group in order to make an effective decision. There are processes that must be dealt with in order for a good outcome to arise from group interaction.

Finally, functional theory proposes that effective problem-solving groups will establish general norms or operating procedures that will guide interaction throughout the group process.


The Structuration theory

At the heart of Structuration theory is the concept of the duality of structure. This concept suggests that action and structure are intrinsically intertwined such that “action relies for its achievement of tacit knowledge of histories of social and cultural practices and agents” Through interaction, structures can be reinforced, changed, or even created.

The concept of a system in this theory, for example, points to the notion that when structures are consistently enacted across the space and time, the pattern of social relationships and structures becomes institutionalized. Structuration theory also highlights several modalities or forms of knowledge ability that operated at the levels of action, structure and institution.

Meyers and Sejbold been by critiquing two dominant perspectives for understanding argument in small groups. One of these , the cognitive informational tradition focuses on argument as a thought within the individual and the process of group interaction as simply one way of representing these arguments so that they can be considered by the others in the group.

A second approach to argument in interaction is the social-interactional tradition which sees argument nor as something that happens within an individual bur as a language game that is organized and guided by social rules and institutions.


Symbolic Convergence Theory

The goal of symbolic Converge Theory understands the process though which some groups develops this sense of community and group consciousness. Was developed by Ernest Bormann and groups of his graduate students at the University of Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s.

The theory´s central concept is the fantasy theme that is a dramatizing message that ignites group interaction. The fantasy theme always refers to something outside of the immediate time and space of group experience.

The impact of symbolic convergence

Scholars in the symbolic convergence tradition believe that the sharing of group fantasies and the process of symbolic convergence can serve a number of specific functions in the group context. One of the most basic functions is creating a common identity and identifying who is “in” and “out” of the group.


Talking about small group communication is the same thing as referring to interpersonal communication. If we want a solid and flexible communication at the same time we have to work on it, and these last theories gives a bigger idea of how we can relate to them in any situation given. Noticing that sometimes people react differently than others, we can say that, we need to know as much theories as possible so that we can act in the exact moment, and communicate the message we want to give out.


Bibliography: Miller, chapter 13



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