Types of Groups

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe various types of groups

If you went to high school, then you already know more about groups than you think! Were you one of the cool kids? One of the brainy, studious ones? Did you join the chess club? French club? The football team? All of these, the clubs and cliques you were a part of, and the ones you weren’t, are groups. And they can be classified in a number of ways. Let’s talk about the types of groups one might encounter, in life and especially in the workplace.

A group is defined as two or more individuals, interacting and interdependent, who have come together to achieve a particular objective. Groups are either formal or informal. A formal group is a designated work group, one that is defined by an organization based on its hierarchical structure, with designated tasks related to its function. In the workplace, that might be the finance group or the human resources group.

Practice Question

Formal groups are relatively permanent and usually work under a single supervisor, although the structure of the formal group may vary. For example, the finance group works under the chief financial officer at an organization. There may be groups within the finance group, like the accounts payable group and the treasury group, each with their own supervisor as well.

Task forces and committees are also formal groups, because they’ve been created with formal authority within an organization. Task forces are usually temporary and set up for a particular purpose, while committees can be more permanent in nature, like a planning committee or a finance committee, and can be an integral part of an organization’s operation.

several people in a huddle, placing their hands together in the center.An informal group is one that’s not organizationally determined or influenced and usually formed by the members themselves in response to the need for social contact. For instance, your workplace might have a group of people who get together during the lunch hour to knit and help each other with yarn projects, or a group that is drawn together by cultural similarities and wants to introduce the rest of the organization to their traditions.

Informal groups are important in that they exist outside the formal hierarchy of an organization but are the structure of personal and social interactions that managers are wise to respect and understand. Employees motivate one another, informally (and formally) train one another and support one another in times of stress by providing guidance and sharing burdens. In fact, if one employee in an informal group is subject to an action by the organization that the others see as unfair, strikes can happen until that situation is corrected.

Within the group categories of formal and informal, there are sub-classifications:

  • Command group. This is a formal group, determined by the organization’s hierarchal chart and composed of the individuals that report to a particular manager. For instance, the manager of training has a command group of his employees, the training group.
  • Task group. This is also a type of formal group, and the term is used to describe those groups that have been brought together to complete a task. This does not mean, though, that it’s just a group of people reporting to a single supervisor. The training group, used in the last example, is not the same as the task group that provides onboarding training for a new employee. The training department might provide the outline for how a new employee is brought into the company, but an onboarding task group would include that employee’s manager, an IT manager who equips the new employee with a computer and phone, and so on.
  • Interest group. An interest group is usually informal, and is a group of people who band together to attain a specific objective with which each member is concerned. Within an organization, this might be a group of people who come together to demand better working conditions or a better employee evaluation process. Outside of an organization, this term is frequently used in political situations to describe groups that give a point of view a voice. This includes groups like the National Rifle Association, the AFL-CIO and the NAACP.
  • Friendship group. These are groups of people who have come together because they share common ideals, common interests or other similarities, like age or ethnic background.

People join groups for a number of reasons. They might be looking for affiliation, a fulfillment of social needs. Groups also add to an individual’s sense of security, status or self-esteem. Or perhaps a goal is easier to accomplish if a group of people concentrate on achieving it, pooling their talents and knowledge. Or, the sheer size of the group might provide the power and influence needed to accomplish the goal.

Practice Question

Groups are an inevitability in the workplace. Understanding how and why they come together is the first step in understanding how they function and how they can function well. However, there are plenty of arguments out there for individual work, and understanding the individual’s need to succeed in the workplace independent of others. Which is right? We’ll discuss that next.


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