Small Group Characteristics

Learning Objectives

Identify different characteristics of small groups.

During your life, you have no doubt been part of countless small groups, whether it’s a social group, a committee at work, a sports team, or an assigned group project at school. In this section, we will explore what qualities create a small group.

A gathering of people doesn’t necessarily constitute a “small group,” as the term will be defined in this section. For our purposes, small groups have three primary qualities: identity, goals and interdependence[1]. Furthermore, a small group needs at least three members and possibly up to as many as 12 members, so long as the group is small enough to permit all members to freely speak and listen.

Let’s look at these three characteristics of small groups in more detail.

1. Shared Identity: In a small group, members feel like they are part of a group—that they belong or identify with the group. Likewise, they see others as members of this group because of this shared identity. For example, members of a group project for a class, a PTO committee, or a problem-solving team at work have a sense of belonging to a group and feel that other members do as well.

2. Shared Goals: Groups have at least one purpose in common. These goals might be very obvious and precise, like in a work group where colleagues are on a committee to plan an event or to evaluate a proposal. In other small groups, the goals might be more loosely defined, such as a goal to have fun or hang out. At times, not everyone will agree on what the actual goals are or how they should be met.

3. Interdependence. Interdependence in a group means that members are connected and each member’s behavior influences the behavior of the other group members. The members need each other. There is often dependence on one another to reach the group goals. This interdependence is related to the first characteristic—identity. Knowing that you are needed gives you a sense of ownership and belonging.

Practice QUestion


  1. O'Hair, Dan, and Wiemann, Mary. Real Communication: An Introduction. United States, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012.