It’s essential to understand the factors that influence group dynamics. Group dynamics are the processes groups go through when they come together and interact. A family gathered at the holidays is a group, so is a quarreling couple, and so is a jury.
Factors that influence group dynamics include the social status of participants, their assigned or adopted roles, and patterns of communication and dominance that develop within the group. Groups can be task oriented and have social purposes, and the effectiveness of a group often depends on the balance it strikes between these competing goals.
If you have been on a jury, you helped pick a foreperson. He or she was possibly someone with special expertise or experience, and probably someone who was perceived as well educated, intelligent, and well off.
If one member of the jury was clearly the leader, he or she took the role easily, but if two or more potential leaders were available, someone gave way. This might have made the group uncomfortable. The failed leader can be a crucial person in a jury and in other groups as well.
Groups will tend to follow persons with perceived leadership qualities, especially if he or she has relevant experience.
Once the leader emerged, someone became the secretary/enforcer. This person backed up the foreperson, took notes, organized materials, and supported the leader, sometimes to the point of repeating his exact words. On occasion, two or more secretary/enforcers will compete with each other to “help” the leader, and sometimes the roles will be split between two or more jurors.
The expert is another group role. This person provides information from the transcript, perhaps accompanied by special life knowledge. Experts often think of themselves as outside the group dynamic, unswayed by it and objective, but of course, no one is. Experts do take a side, and do advocate for it.
Children are usually good. Most jurors just want to be out of there, after doing a responsible job, and thus allow themselves to be led by the foreperson.
Bad children may be assigned that role because their dress or demeanor strikes the rest of the jury as non-conformist. Artists, among others, may be assigned the role of difficult child, and may take to it with glee.
Patterns of Communication
The fastest way for a jury to work is for the foreperson to lead the jurors through the agenda assigned by the judge, with the support of the secretary/enforcer, and the acquiescence of the rest. Everyone will go home for dinner, and Katy Krookly will likely go to jail.
However, that is not the thorough way to come to a decision. In order for alternative views to be explored, there must be disagreement.
People have different ways of taking the floor from the foreperson.
Patterns of Dominance
Leadership and expert status are ways of taking the floor. However, there are other ways.
People use gender to take the lead. Men may speak more loudly, and their voices may actually get deeper. Some women use sexual displays, mild flirtation or feminine flutter, to gain the floor. Others take on the role of motherly wisdom, while a man may become fatherly, even referring to another juror as “son.”
It’s a good thing, when everyone finds a role that will let him or her contribute to the group dynamic.
Tasks versus Social Goals
However, a jury has a task. When social goals, whether flirtation, dominance, or rebellion, overwhelm the task orientation of the group, the group’s goal, consensus, is endangered.
The failed leader, whose status was not quite high enough to make him leader, may find an ally in the difficult child, and perhaps in a secretary/enforcer who lost the role to a more successful assistant. An unquenchable rebellion may arise. Evidence and argument aside, that’s how you get a hung jury.
Groups are effective when their group dynamics are clear. The leader is clearly the leader, the enforcer is clearly the enforcer. Experts provide knowledge, and are given secure roles in the group that reinforce their desire to cooperate and contribute.
Good children are nurtured and educated. Bad children are valued for their creativity, and allowed measured input. Failed or secondary leaders are converted to experts or enforcers where possible, but never allowed to form a faction.
Most importantly, the group goal is made clear, and is kept paramount. Praise and reinforcement for group members is provided only for furthering the goals of the group, not for taking the floor for personal, social reasons. At least, for a task-oriented group, that’s the ideal.
Factors that influence group dynamics are the nature of the group, the natures of the participants, and the skill of group leaders. Groups are most successful when their leaders keep goals clear, while providing each group member a way to be a useful and valued member of the group.