From the prehistoric era, civilizations across the world have always been on the lookout for channels to make their lives and those of their offspring more appealing and comfortable. In the absence of any substantial information about how to achieve these ends, individuals have often relied on mythologies, religious indoctrination, and cultural dogmas to justify the forces that affect their lives (Bernard, 2000).
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However, modern science, which lays heavy emphasis on using research-based approaches to solve problems, has been continually used to demystify some of the above forces. The fact that research must be used to get the right kind of information about issues of interest is undeniable. This paper purposes to undertake a critical analysis of Connie Gersick’s study on group development to explain some of the salient features and characteristics of the research process.
Many researches undertaken over time have comprehensively relied on either one or a combination of the two most used research techniques – quantitative and qualitative. The two techniques have been used to direct the research process in surveys, focus groups, case studies, personal interviews, direct observation, and field trials (Bernard, 2000). According to Jacobsen (n.d.), quantitative research methodology is mostly used in a controlled, contrived environment to measure and evaluate some key phenomena or occurrences with the explicit objective of predicting or controlling the result and generalizing them on the whole population. It concerns itself with hypothesis testing.
On the other hand, the qualitative research technique is mostly used in a natural setting to understand and offer valid predictions about phenomena under study through evaluating their descriptive relationships, resemblances, and dissimilarities (Jacobsen).
In the research process, the fundamental objective of both quantitative and qualitative research designs is to offer reliable and valid results (Jacobsen, n.d.). In quantitative research, study findings must have the ability to be replicated and generalized across the population. Consistent data must, therefore, be used in any research process. To achieve validity in qualitative research, the data used must truly and wholly represent the phenomena or constructs under investigation.
Another relationship between the two techniques can be drawn from the ‘whole’ and ‘parts’ premise. This premise connotes the idea that solutions to a certain phenomenon under study can be aptly achieved through evaluating the behavior of its components. According to Jacobsen (n.d.), quantitative research designs seek for associations, relationships, and causality of a certain phenomena by identifying and segregating separate variables. On the other hand, qualitative research designs center on a holistic picture of the phenomena under study mainly thorough case studies, documents, direct observations, and interviews. In data collection, quantitative research design lays emphasis on numerical data while qualitative technique emphasizes observation and interpretation.
According to Trichim (2006) and Soy (2006), a case study entails a comprehensive study undertaken on a specific individual or detailed context. In coming up with a developmental theory, Jean Piaget developed case studies of children to intensively study their individual development through life stages. A case study can be conducted using many techniques, including unstructured interviewing, focus groups, participant observation, and direct observation.
Various models and theoretical frameworks have been developed to explain group development. For instance, Bruce Tuckman and Jensen (1977) came up with the stages of group development model after initially analyzing and re-evaluating 50 articles related to group dynamics and development (Paynter, n.d.). This model is often used to identify factors and influences that are critical to the establishment and development of small groups. The stages include forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning (Neil, 2004). Stewart Tubbs came up with Tubbs systems model in his attempt to explain the dynamics of group development.
His four phase model includes orientation, conflict, consensus, and closure (Tubbs, 2008). However, this paper concerns itself with an extraordinary research conducted by Connie Gersick on group development.
Gersick used a grounded theory approach to generate a new theory and model about group development. From the reading, it is very clear that the ideas presented derive their origin from a field study done to study how task forces perform the duties assigned to them (Gersick, 1988). First, the researcher selected an inductive, qualitative approach to enhance her probability of discovering some unanticipated behaviour from the 4 groups she observed between 1980 and 1982.
Based on the initial findings, the researcher set out to re-examine the data to look for similarities and differences across the groups, while noting emerging hypothesis against the initial data set. According to Borgatti (n.d.), grounded theory is developed inductively from a mass of data. Grounded theory takes the case perspective, enabling the researcher to work with different cases as wholes while assuming that the variables involved interact in complex ways. Gersick’s re-examination of the groups’ transcripts is a basic tenet of grounded theory – to read and re-read a mass of data or field notes in the hope of discovering new variables and their interrelationships (Borgatti).
The researcher uses a case study approach to collect data for the research. She used direct observation, interviews, and written transcripts of members’ verbal communication to collect her data. According to Trichim (2006), a case study can be conducted using many techniques, including unstructured interviewing, focus groups, participant observation, and direct observation. According to Jacobsen (n.d.), a case study is involved in gathering narratives, testimonies, and observations. It also looks for correlations in written records, patterns and repetitions to develop a conceptual framework that is pertinent to the concept under study. Gersick utilized this technique to come up with highly consistent results (Gersick, 1988).
Gersick compared the results of the 4 initial groups [A,B,C,D] with other four groups [E,F,G,H] studied between 1982 and 1983 (Gersick, 1988). Using the grounded theory approach, she analyzed the groups’ findings until she came up with highly consistent results. By comprehensively analyzing all the eight groups, Gersick ensured that the data sets were representative of the phenomena under investigation (Jacobsen, n.d.). That way, her qualitative research achieved face validity.
I was not surprised by her findings since they offer more valid and practical explanations to group development than many other traditional models which use phases or stages to explain group development. In my own experience with workgroups, I have discovered that the sequence of activities in group development differ and does not necessarily follow the string of stages offered by many traditional group development theories. The phases are more or less simultaneous than sequentially progressive.
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In the true sense of the word, Gersick’s study on group development achieved what Stake (1980) called the concept of naturalistic generalization (Myers, 2000). This is because the research was able to recognize the similarities and consistencies of concepts, issues, and thought systems involved in the group. Scholars admit that a single qualitative research may not form adequate basis for achieving generalizations. However, Gersick used eight different groups comprised of three to twelve members each (Gersick, 1988).
Most qualitative research faces a lot of challenges in achieving objectivity and generalizability. According to Myers, generalizability actually means the extent to which the study findings can be generalized from the sample to the whole population. In most cases, it is hard to achieve generalizability as qualitative research mostly deals with humans and their subjective experiences. However, a qualitative study can achieve naturalistic generalization if it is able to offer consistencies and similarities in observed concepts and ideas.
Gersick’s findings have many implications for practice. Unlike traditional group development models, Gersick’s findings seem to put perspective into the widely held concept that groups do not follow sequential progression in performing their core duties. A traditional model such as Tuckman and Jensen (1977) stages of development propagated the idea that groups follow distinct phases in their development, namely forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning (Neil, 2004).
However, this was disputed by Gersick. In practice, group leaders must emphasize the timing of events over some sort of group phases fuelled by traditional models. As a group leader, it is fundamentally important to realize that every group displays a distinctive approach to the way it commences and performs its duties (Gersick, 1988). No two groups are similar. In planning for the activities, the timeframe exhibited by the group you’re leading should be put into consideration if the group is to achieve its intended objectives. According to Gersick, the inertia for the approach last for half of the group’s time.
If I was the group leader, I would use this period to measure the group’s performance against specific deliverables. I would also make use of the transitional events that follows to set my sights on attaining the deliverables within the specified time. This can be achieved by internalizing new thought patterns in the group and also making use of the group’s interaction with the environment to come up with new ideas aimed at achieving the objectives of the group (Gersick).
The punctuated equilibrium theory fits in Gersick’s findings as it seeks to explain the observations she made from her study – group formations and developments are generally characterized by long periods of stability, though they occasionally produce comprehensive departures from the norm (True, Jones, & Baumgartner, 2006). Mostly, major transitions in group development occur when the group reaches its half-way line. This theoretical framework makes Gersick’s findings to be more understandable since it breaks them into two distinct phases. The first phase is basically comprised of the group activities up to its first half of existence.
Upon reaching the half-line, group activities are punctuated by a period of major transition where old patterns are dropped and new perspectives internalised. This precedes the entry of the second phase of group activity, with its own inertial activity aimed at achieving the group’s key objectives (Gersick, 1988). Theoretical frameworks offer valid basis by which key study findings can be explained to the wider audience (True, Jones, & Baumgartner). In this perspective the theory of punctuated equilibrium served to improve Gersick’s research.
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