Small Groups as Complex Systems: Formation, Coordination, Development, and Adaptation

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Holly Arrow, Joseph E. McGrath & Jennifer L. Berdahl

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    Preface

    Writing this book has been a challenge, a frustration, and a delight. Our goal of creating a new theory of small groups that would incorporate ideas from fields far removed from our own created constant conceptual challenges. The material we were trying to develop, articulate, and integrate forced us to rethink many of the things we thought we “knew.” This in itself was frustrating. The frequently unsuccessful attempts to communicate developing insights to the other two and the stress of constantly hearing (and having to tell each other) that this or that passage “just doesn't make sense” created another level of interpersonal frustration.

    Repeatedly, just as we thought we had pinned down some part of the material conceptually, one of us would come up with a “but how about X?” query, and we would have to reconsider what we had just “finalized.” Each of us found that explaining ideas clearly enough that the other two authors were willing to accept them proved maddeningly difficult. It also provided an essential “quality control” mechanism that helped get this book over the hurdle from a promising mess to what we feel is a coherent theory.

    This project has also been a delight, both in spite of, and perhaps because of, the challenge and frustration. Collaborating on difficult material with serious scholars who are also good friends and demanding critics is one of the main sources of satisfaction in our field.

    We had help from many people. We want to acknowledge some of them here: colleagues who read all or part of the book in earlier drafts—Eck Doerry, Richard Hackman, Richard Moreland, M. Scott Poole, Philip Runkel, and two anonymous reviewers; members of Arrow's graduate seminar and of McGrath's graduate seminar, who critiqued some of the material in earlier forms; and our colleagues on the two JEMCO studies, who helped us gain many of the insights incorporated in this work—Kelly Bouas Henry, Kellina Craig, Anne Cummings, Deborah Gruenfeld, Andrea Hollingshead, Linda Lebie, Joselito Lualhati, Kathleen O'Connor, Jon Rhoades, and Ann Schlosser.

    We also want to acknowledge the support of both the Social Psychology Section and the Information and Technology in Organizations Section of the National Science Foundation, whose support of our empirical research under Grants BNS 91–06501, IRI 91–07040, and IRI 93–10099 (J. E. McGrath, Principal Investigator) made it possible for us to develop a strong empirical underpinning for our theory. A grant to the first author from the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Inc. and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation provided support during the early stages of work on the book, and NSF Grant SBR-9729320 provided support during the later stages of refining and revising.

    We thank C. Deborah Laughton, our editor at Sage, for her patience and encouragement during what proved to be a much lengthier process of creation than we had anticipated.

    A special thanks to the director of the Baldwin Research Institute in Baldwin, Michigan, who graciously hosted the three of us during several summer retreats in which we struggled with the book. Thanks also to our respective spouses, Bruce, Marion, and Jim, whose support sustained us through the challenge, frustration, and delight. Finally, we want to thank one another for an inestimably valuable, nonreproducible, many-leveled learning experience.

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    Name Index

    About the Authors

    Holly Arrow is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon and a member of the Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences at that university. She is interested in the formation and development of small groups whose membership changes over time. She studies how the perceptions, decisions, and actions of group members shape the evolution of group structure, including norms, group identity, and patterns of social influence. She received a PhD in social and organizational psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    Joseph E. McGrath is Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He received an MA in psychology from the University of Maryland and a PhD in social psychology from University of Michigan. His research interests include small group interaction and task performance; collaborative work in groups using computer-mediated communication systems; social psychological factors in human stress; research methodology; the social psychology of time; and gender issues in social psychological processes.

    Jennifer L. Berdahl is Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior and Industrial Relations at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. She received an MA in industrial relations and a PhD in social psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has researched sexual harassment in organizations, gender and leadership dynamics in small groups, and the effects of resource power on social influence and memory. She has also developed a computational model of small groups to examine the effects of demographic diversity on group performance, member commitment, member learning, and status structures over time.


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