GROUPS ARE COMMONPLACE IN social life. We are born into a social group (the family) and, as we grow, come to play a more active part in an increasing number and range of others. Branching out from the family, children find themselves in playgroups, school classes, sports teams, and youth organisations. Later these may give way to (in no particular order) staff groups, quality circles, seminar groups, choirs, appreciation societies, leisure classes, trade union committees, parentteacher associations, and political party executives, to mention but a very few of the vast number of possibilities. Small wonder it has been claimed that, 'Most of our waking hours are spent in, and the bulk of our work-related productivity occurs within, settings consisting of… [groups]' (Simpson and Wood, 1992:1).
Heath and Bryant (2000) likewise drew attention not only to the plethora of small groups of which we may be part but also to how these change and are reconfigured over time as members leave and others join. They concluded that 'groups are a vital part of peoples' life spans' (p. 333). Not only do they variously make it easier for us to do our job, they provide companionship, support and even a sense of identity (Ellemers et al., 1999; Abrams and Hogg, 2001). If someone is asked to write about who they are, it is not long before they begin to anchor a sense of self in some particularly salient group membership/s.
Increasingly the contemporary workplace is structured to optimise the potential dynamic of small groups, especially when moulded into teams (Yeatts and Hyten, 1998). Focusing on healthcare delivery, Northouse and Northouse (1998) made the point that many functions