Types of Groups

Learning Objectives

Identity different types of groups.

Not all groups are the same or brought together for the same reasons. Bilhart and Galanes categorize groups “on the basis of the reason they were formed and the human needs they serve.” [1]

Primary Groups

Primary groups are ones we form to help us realize our human needs like inclusion and affection. They are not generally formed to accomplish a task, but rather, to help us meet our fundamental needs as relational beings like acceptance, love, and affection. These groups are generally longer term than other groups and include family, roommates, and other relationships that meet as groups on a regular basis.[2]

Secondary Groups

A group of young people sitting in a circle

This team is formed around an activity; in this case, a software design competition.

We form secondary groups to accomplish work, perform a task, solve problems, and make decisions.[3][4][5]. Larson and LaFasto state that secondary groups have “a specific performance objective or recognizable goal to be attained; and coordination of activity among the members of the team is required for attainment of the team goal or objective”.[6] Bilhart and Galanes divide secondary groups into four different types.

Activity Groups. Activity groups are ones we form for the purpose of participating in activities. I’m sure your campus has many clubs that are organized for the sole purpose of doing activities. One example on our campus is the campus group devoted to disc golf.

Personal Growth Groups. We form personal growth groups “to come together to develop personal insights, overcome personal problems, and grow as individuals from the feedback and support of others”.[7] An example that is probably familiar to you is Alcoholics Anonymous. There are many personal growth groups available for helping us develop as people through group interaction with others.

Learning Groups. Learning groups “are concerned primarily with discovering and developing new ideas and ways of thinking.”[8] If you have ever been assigned to a group in a college class, most likely it was a learning group whose purpose was to interact in ways that that help those in the group learn new things about the course content.

Problem-Solving Groups. These groups are created for the express purpose of solving a specific problem. The very nature of organizing people into this type of group is to get them to collectively figure out effective solutions to the problem they have before them. Committees are an excellent example of people who are brought together to solve problems.

After looking at the various types of groups, it’s probably easy for you to recognize just how much of your daily interaction occurs within the contexts of the various types of groups. The reality is, we spend a great deal of time in groups; understanding the types of groups you’re in, as well as their purpose, goes a long way toward helping you function as a whole member.

Practice QUestion


  1. Galanes, Gloria J., and Brilhart, John K. Effective Group Discussion. United Kingdom, McGraw Hill, 1998, p. 9.
  2. Brilhart and Galanes
  3. Brilhart and Galanes
  4. Sherblom, John, and Harris, Thomas E. Small Group and Team Communication. United Kingdom, Pearson Allyn & Bacon, 2008.
  5. Cragan, John F., and Wright, David W. Communication in Small Groups: Theory, Process, Skills. United Kingdom, Wadsworth Pub., 1999.
  6. La Fasto, Frank M., et al. Teamwork: What Must Go Right/What Can Go Wrong. India, SAGE Publications, 1989, p. 19.
  7. Bilhart and Galanes, p. 11
  8. Harris & Sherblom, p. 12.