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Norms and Roles

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Small groups in social theory can be analyzed as interconnected elements that forms whole unit.  A system is an organized collection of units that are closely knit to achieve an overall objective. The system theory studies were started in 1940s by biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy in his book General Systems Theory. These elements exhibit the same behavior but when individually examined, this is not as obvious as when the whole system is analyzed. A group consists of different individuals each from a different background and already having their own inherent traits. When people form a group, the traits inculcated in them appear but are incorporated into the thinking of the group. A close examination will in fact prove that there were some similar character behaviors all along (Kahneman, 1986). A good example is a group of lawyers. Their motivations to practice law might be different but ultimately, the major aim might turn out to be the expected social standing and wealth associated with law. To understand the small group operation, it is important to note that systems are driven by the different inputs from the sub-units to achieve their goals. In a small group, the different abilities and attitudes that every member brings help to churn out the desired goals of the group which translates into the output. The small group’s norms are thus a consequence of all the varying inputs that all the members bring in.

Systems can be complex or simple. Complex systems include more hierarchies or subsystems which interact with the environment. It is this aspect of interaction that earns them open systems. On the other hand, simple systems are cyclical and don’t allow for input in their subsystems (Hindin, 2007). A small group exhibits the complex system as it allows for new members and their input. If a member joins, with time they are allowed to give new ideas even as more members are incorporated. This aspect of feedback is also another characteristic of complex systems. Some scholars have coined the term symphony orchestra to define the interdependence of subsystems in open systems. This interconnectivity is based on some principles. Firstly, the system’s overall behavior depends on the entire unit and not sub-parts.

Norms indicate generally approved ways of doing things such as dress, and speech. Group norms can also be viewed as informal rules that can be adopted by groups to regulate member’s behavior. The existence of these rules is a must if the uniformity within a group is to be maintained. Small groups operate on the precept of this uniformity and hence, there must be implicit or explicit guidelines that will ensure this is never broken (Stephen, 1980). They are based on some level of consensus among the members. As earlier observed, these expectations can conflict with personal preferences. Norms can be subdivided into descriptive an injunctive. descriptive norms refer to people’s views or perceptions of what should be done in specific occasions while injunctive norms define to perceptions on what is generally accepted in certain cultures. The failure to conform to norms in a social group can lead to sanctions. These can be extreme such as expulsion or just mild silent treatment. These punishments can result in group think which is one of the most negative aspects of behavior in humans. Group think can be understood as a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are tightly involved in cohesive groups and the members’ consensus overrides their own personal will (Janis, 1977 36-45).  This obviously leads to tricky situations where irrational decisions are made to the detriment of the individual, the group and the society at large. Consequently, the member’s standing in society is questioned and this can lead to criminal activities or even job losses. Group think has been likened to peer pressure in some studies.

In conclusion, it is observed that though the small group can benefit a member, the overall effect can lead to more problems in behavior. However, resolving the conflict in their group roles and personal will is the only way to beneficially participate in a small group.

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