Four types of group function

Collaborative activity is a tremendous asset for a business or community and a wonderful thing to experience. Unfortunately, it becomes exponentially more challenging - and less common - as the number of participants rises above one.  Too many managers and C-level administrators settle for some lesser form of group activity, often proudly boasting of their collegial and collaborative approach, hoping no one will notice.

Let’s review the characteristics of four kinds of group behavior, arranged along a spectrum ranging from simple compliance to  collegial collaboration.



In the compliance model, individuals in the group follow carefully defined and quite specific rules to accomplish an externally determined goal. They get their instructions from above in a hierarchy, and can - and often do - function blindly, unaware of the activity or contributions of others in the group, and possibly unaware of the ultimate goal. Communication is vertical and information is strictly limited to a ‘need to know’ basis. They have no authority to modify their actions based on evolving circumstances, and certainly are not expected to participate in long term goal setting or strategy formulation.  This is the ‘do as you’re told and don’t ask questions’ model.



In the coordination model, individuals in the group are assigned more general roles or tasks to accomplish an externally determined goal. Within the assigned role or task they may have a fair amount of individual autonomy - but the boundaries of this autonomy are clearly set and enforced. The expectation that, based on context,  they adjust their behavior within a constrained list of choices requires that they have some awareness of the activity and contributions of others in the group and an understanding of how the various contributions contribute toward reaching to ultimate goal. Authoritative communication is still largely vertical, but limited horizontal communication is allowed, and more information is made available, to meet the needs of coordination. They do not participate in long term goal setting or strategy formulation, though may be asked to provide feedback about the process. This is the ‘do as you are told and only ad-lib if absolutely necessary’ model.



In the cooperation model, individuals in the group will participate in setting or assigning roles and tasks and determining strategy in order to accomplish an externally determined goal. They have considerable autonomy and have to consistently modify their behaviors based on context and the behaviors of others - who in turn are modifying their own behaviors based on context and the behaviors of others. Vertical authoritative communication exists but there is considerable horizontal and matrix communication and information is more widely available. They may participate to a significant degree in long term planning and strategy, but the underlying goals and some limitations of roles are set externally.  This is the ‘here is your assignment, work together to get it done’ model.



In the collaboration model, individuals form a group in order to determine goals and then the group internally and autonomously manages processes for achieving those goals. Because the group is self contained and autonomous, it can modify not just strategies and behaviors, but also the ultimate goals, based on context. Communication is largely matrix and information that is available to any individual is available to all individuals. This is the ’lets get together and do ....’ model.


Quite obviously, different circumstances and different tasks call for different models, and hybrids are more the rule than the exception.



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