What are groups? How do they behave? Arrow, McGrath, and Berdahl answer these questions by developing a general theory of small groups as complex systems. Basing their theory on concepts distilled from general systems theory, dynamical systems theory, and complexity and chaos theory, they explore groups as adaptive, dynamic systems that are driven by interactions among group members as well as between the group and its embedding contexts. In addition, they consider not only the group’s members and their distribution of attributes, but also the group’s tasks and technology in order to understand how those members, tasks, and tools are intertwined, coordinated, and adjusted. Throughout the book, the authors focus our attention on relationships among people, tools, and tasks that are activated by a combination of individual and collective purposes and goals that change and evolve as the group interacts over time.

Implications of Our Theory for Constructing a Research Program

Implications of our theory for constructing a research program

Our theory of groups as complex systems carries with it what Lakatos (1970) might call an implied research program. If we construe small groups as complex systems in fundamental ways, we will have to reexamine many of the implicit and explicit assumptions of past theory and research on small groups. Our approach highlights many issues that have received scant attention in past small group research in the experimental social psychology tradition. It places new demands on but also opens up new opportunities for research on groups.

Treating small groups as complex systems raises substantive, epistemological, and methodological issues. The research program implied by our theory requires that we examine ...

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