Secondary groups (project groups) are by definition formed for the purpose of accomplishing a task. Task needs include getting the job done, staying on track, critical thinking, research, generating and implementing ideas. A group which is constantly getting off track, tackling personal issues or joking around is simply not going to accomplish its task goals. It is, however, a mistaken belief that a group should concentrate only on fulfilling their task needs. Such groups will fail to establish a climate of trust, fail to validate individual group members, and will ultimately perform poorly.
As well as task needs, secondary groups have social and emotional needs. Socio-emotional needs are the needs group members feel for inclusion, control and affection. The need for inclusion manifests itself as a desire to be identified with others and be recognized as part of something greater than the self. Groups can satisfy this need by giving members something to belong to. The need for control manifests itself in two ways: one is the need for control over others, or the need to be able to say "I am respected" by influencing others. Groups can fulfill this need by giving people a forum through which they may exert influence on others opinions and decisions. The other aspect of the need for control is the need for autonomy or control over one's self. Groups are often arena's where this need may be frustrated, but can also meet members' needs for control if a climate of trust is established whereby members can express their opinions freely and with positive feedback. The need for affection is the need to be liked by others. Before people can like you, they must in some way get to know you. In a group, if members are able to let their guard down and allow other group members to get to know them, they can often meet their needs for affection. Satisfying the social and emotional needs of the group members will make a group more desirable to participate in, more cohesive, and ultimately more functional.
Groups benefit from striving to balance their attentions to both the task and socio-emotional dimensions of their interactions. Time should be taken in the initial formation phase of a group to "break the ice" and have groups members get to know each other beyond a superficial level. Group members who waste a lot of time should be reminded to return to the task at hand. In general, each group meeting should have both pleasant conversation and a task related goal accomplished. Groups can fulfill both task and social needs at the same time while in the way they work on their projects. An example of this might be in the way the group handles conflict, using it to both create a stronger task aspect by testing ideas, and improve the social dimension by establishing a climate of trust and respect. Remember that working together to achieve a goal is the perfect way to satisfy the social needs for inclusion and control.
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Copyright Alisa M. Shubb, 1999