Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Group Newcomers: From Disruption to Innovation

Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Group Newcomers: From Disruption to Innovation

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Groups rarely remain as static entities. They may change over time in structure, activities, and membership in order to adjust to internal changes or external demands (Worchel, Coutant-Sassic, & Grossman, 1992). For organizational groups in particular, changes in membership are frequent as current group members move to other organizational units or leave for other jobs. New members are added to work groups as new employees are hired, new skills become necessary to the group's functioning, or an employee is motivated to gain experience in a particular work group.

The addition of a new group member is a common and often stressful occurrence because of the ways the group may be affected. Descriptive evidence of the changes that newcomers cause in groups is abundant. For example, a number of observers have commented on the regressive effects of newcomers to therapy groups. Goodman (1981) argued that the introduction of a newcomer into a therapy group is threatening to old-timers. Kaplan and Roman (1961) and Leopold (1961) found that newcomers to therapy groups elicit a variety of reactions from old-timers (e.g., restlessness, hostility, and resistance) until the group accepts the newcomer and rebalances itself Yalom (1970) observed that newcomer socialization in therapy groups diverts members' energy and inhibits therapeutic progress. Finally, Saravay (1978) argued that, because therapy groups have already developed a complex structure prior to the newcomer's arrival, the group copes with the disruption by either rejecting the newcomer or regressing to an earlier stage.

Observers of organizational life note that newcomers impact the organization and its employees in a variety of ways. Nicholson (1984) and Schein (1971) argued that newcomers to an organization often attempt to change work demands and goals, rather than adapt to the status quo. Sutton and Louis (1987) expanded this line of reasoning and argued that every recruitment or socialization activity (e.g., reading prospective employees' resumes, training new employees) influences the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of current employees. Gadon (1988) argued that newcomers cause the group to recycle through the stages of group development (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977) as the group adapts to the newcomer. Finally, Levine and Russo (1985) argued that merely having newcomers present alters the composition of the group. For example, newcomers may divert some of the energy old-timers in the group devote to group activities. And, if newcomers are sufficiently motivated to change the group (perhaps because they feel deceived about what group membership meant), they can disrupt the group's activities.

As a whole, this line of qualitative work suggests that newcomers can impact groups in a number of ways. They may elicit reactions from individual group members, disturb relationships between members, alter others' expectations of them, or even cause the group to return to an earlier stage of group development (Wanous, Reichers, & Malik, 1984). However, these observational accounts tend to focus on the disruptive effects of newcomers on groups, perhaps because of the perceived negative consequences that disruption can cause (e.g., lowered productivity, interpersonal conflict). On the other hand, the potentially positive effects that newcomers can have on groups have largely been ignored in empirical research. This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that most groups publicly state that they welcome newcomers because they are looking for "new blood" and "fresh ideas." Perhaps because of this ambivalence that groups feel about newcomers-- needing new members but fearing the disruption they may bring-groups tend to default to exerting conformity pressures on the newcomer. Reflecting this reality, social psychologists have predominantly focused their research efforts on group attempts to change a newcomer's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to make the individual more similar to current members (i. …

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