Group Dynamics and the Public Sphere

Psychology in the Workplace

What are some dos and don’ts that managers should adhere to?

Drawing from the literature on organizational psychology, group dynamics, and family systems, we can put together a list of pointers:

  • Clarify sub-system boundaries. Identify each employee’s responsibilities and clarify boundaries between different employees’ roles, responsibilities, and decision making domains.
  • Maintain in-group and out-group boundaries. Provide the buffer between your work group and outside systems.
  • Clarify group hierarchy. Be clear about who makes what decision and who reports to whom.
  • Reward positive behavior. Verbal praise goes a long way. Over time, however, employees will need more than just verbal praise, such as increased pay and opportunities for growth and advancement.
  • Nothing causes burn-out quicker than responsibility without control.
  • Information needs to flow upstream as well as downstream. Solicit your employees’ opinions and try to make them feel comfortable coming to you with problems.
  • Personal preferences are unavoidable but shouldn’t affect your behavior toward subordinates. Rewards and punishments should be keyed to employees’ behavior, not your likes and dislikes. The group needs the manager’s behavior to feel predictable and fair.
  • If an employee is out of line, the manager has to respond and bring the employee’s behavior back into line. Don’t be afraid to be the bad guy or not to be liked. If your behavior is fair and appropriate, in time it will be appreciated by all involved, even if the employee in question is unhappy in the moment. If you fail to set the necessary limits, the group as a whole will suffer and you will lose favor with your group.
  • To the extent that a hierarchy is defined in your group, it should be followed. Do not undermine a supervisor by granting inappropriate power to his or her subordinates. If someone needs to be promoted, change the hierarchy formally.
  • Make sure you investigate the situation so you can diagnose the problem and assign responsibility fairly. Don’t let your prejudices about different employees lead to unfair assumptions about what went wrong.


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