Small group discussion, also called group dynamics, is the “process of cooperative thinking and sharing between three or more persons for the attainment of common interests, needs, or goals” (Bulan & de Leon, 2002). Alan Houston Monroe and Douglas Ehninger (1974) identified two objectives of group discussions. These are: 1) to exchange or share ideas and, information on a subject; and 2) to arrive at a decision or course of action on a problem or difficulty.
Cooperative thinking creates a more realistic view of things because a group can evaluate information and assess the strength of an idea from different perspectives. It also fosters creativity and productivity since through group discussions, one’s beliefs or goals are shared and affirmed by others. However, creativity and productivity rely upon the basic communication skills of the members of the group (Keyton, 1999).
Features of Small Groups
Wood (2011) identified five important features of small groups: cohesion, group size, power structure, interaction patterns, and group norms.
This refers to the members’ degree of closeness. The cohesiveness of a group influences their commitment to their shared objectives. It can be achieved by creating a communication climate which includes and values every member of the group. The focus is on the common interests and similarities rather than the differences of the members, thus creating a group identity.
The number of members in the group may affect the cohesiveness of the group and the participation of the members. A considerably large group may not be able to allow everyone to voice out their opinions and contribute to the discussion because of time constraints. Less participation means less commitment to the group. A small group, on the other hand, is susceptible to groupthink, or the failure to think individually in fear of criticizing another member’s idea. Criticizing or alienating a member in a small group would most likely cause the group to fail.
Power structure may be hierarchical or distributed. It is hierarchical if one or more members have more opportunities to influence others into doing something. It is distributed if members have relatively equal power. The use of power may be beneficial or detrimental to group success. A good leader helps its members through mentoring, creating opportunities for growth, recognizing accomplishments, and responding positively to their suggestions in order to achieve the group’s objectives.
Interaction patterns may be centralized or decentralized. A centralized interaction pattern is characterized by having one or two members hold key roles and be in control of the communication. A decentralized interaction pattern is a pattern in which members have roughly the same power and communication opportunities.
These are guidelines that control the group’s behavior. These norms are established through interaction. For instance, if some members of the group arrive late and do not receive reprimand or punishment, being late may become the norm.