Introduction to Organizations and Groups

What you’ll learn to do: define the characteristics of organizations and types of groups; describe how group dynamics are impacted by leadership, size, and conformity

This photo shows rows and rows of people sitting on benches all facing a central point in the room where former president Barack Obama is standing at a pulpit giving a speech.

Figure 1. Former president Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress. (Photo courtesy of Lawrence Jackson/Wikimedia Commons)

 

Earlier, we discussed the hardware of a cell phone (social institutions) and the software of society (culture) and examined explanatory theories of society using the three main theoretical paradigms. Another way to advance our understanding of society is to study formal organizations and groups, which can help us think about how the various social institutions operate.

We live in a time of contradiction: while the pace of change and technology is requiring people to be more nimble and less rigid in their thinking, large bureaucracies like hospitals, schools, and governments are more hampered than ever by their organizational format. At the same time, the past few decades have seen a trend toward the standardization of previously individualistic local institutions. Increasingly, Main Streets across the country resemble each other; instead of a Bob’s Coffee Shop and a Jane’s Hair Salon there is a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Supercuts. This trend has been referred to as the McDonaldization of society.

While an analysis of formal organizations helps us understand macrosocological processes in society, or the “hardware” in our phone example, we will also examine the role of groups, and take a close look at group dynamics. “Would you jump off a cliff just because your friends are doing it?” You may think about this age-old question differently after reading this section about groups and conformity. You’ll see that the pressure to conform within a group sometimes leads people to do uncharacteristic and sometimes obviously stupid things. You’ll also learn that the size and leadership styles of a group greatly affect how members act. Even weak connections with others form an important network that provide us with benefits and opportunities.

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