Groups in EM organizations are impacted by the goals throughout every phase of the disaster management’s decision process. A goal is the desired final status of the situation, the consensus opinion, recommendation, or mandate (Anderson, Riddle and Martin, 1999). The intensity of an individual’s commitment to the group’s goal is dependent upon the ability of the members to give and receive information that will help them attain the group’s goal (Allen and Meyer, 1990).
“A role is a set of communicative behaviors performed by an individual and involves the behaviors performed by one member in light of the expectations that other members hold toward these behaviors” (Ellis and Fisher, 1994). As EM groups work out their own roles in cooperation with other team members, each member takes on a role that differentiates him or her from the other group members. A major influence on role development is the openness of the group to outside advice. Group roles form because of intergroup interaction, but more quickly identified through outside input. As open systems, outside influences not only impact the shaping of the roles, but also the shaping of the incoming and outgoing information.
Although EM organizations are open systems, they must also draw on their system’s ability to consider the integrity of the input. Propp (1999) sets forth this filtered input and coordinated output of information in her Distillation Model of CIP (collective information processing). CIP is a distillation process that progresses from a substantial collective knowledge base to a distilled information base that is purged of irrelevant or unsound information. A decision is then brought forth based on the final collective information. Propp describes four developmental stages in the Model: 1) individual knowledge base—knowledge that each member brings to the group concerning the task; 2) group knowledge base—collective knowledge available to a group as a whole; 3) communicated information base—information exchanged and shaped through group discussion; 4) final collective information base—information accepted and utilized by a group to come to a decision (Propp, 1999).
This separate identity—a group within an EM organization for instance, assumes the qualities of a system. Groups, as systems, demonstrate unity in three ways: wholeness (Appendix E) , groupness, and synergy (Mabry, 1999) .
Groupness was mentioned for the first time in 1967 by John Brilhart. Brilhart described groupness as a property only found in real groups—groups of individuals who perceive themselves as a group. According to Brilhart, groupness evolves slowly—and is developed as the group becomes cohesive (Ellis and Fisher, 1994). More research could show what events or situations accelerate or decelerate the development of unity.
The other aspect of unity is found in synergy—from the Greek word sunergos, which means “working together.” Synergy empowers groups to make better decisions. The combination of ideas generated by brainstorming is an example of synergy—the outcome is usually greater than a simple summation of individual ideas (Harris and Sherblom, 2002).
Unity fosters compromise, cooperation, and consensus. Unified groups begin to adopt methods to facilitate their performance as a group: they adopt procedures to facilitate discussion, analyses, creativity, and agreement.
Although formal procedures are time-consuming, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that formal discussion and problem-solving procedures improve group performance (Poole, M., 1991). Further in-depth study could determine what procedures to use for specific situations. One assumption is that the choices are largely dependent upon how culturally diverse the members are. The philosophical approach to group formation and problem solving varies between cultures—and task groups like those found in EM organizations, are becoming more and more culturally diverse with the increased participation of ethnic minorities.
The most significant difference among cultures is attributed to value differences between individualistic and collectivistic cultures. When working in task groups, people from individualistic Western cultures, like the United States, tend to concentrate primarily on the task dimension and secondarily on the social dimension. Conversely, people from collectivist cultures—East Asia, Latin America, and Africa—tend to concentrate primarily on the social dimension and secondarily on the task dimension (Jetten, Postmes and McAuliffe, 2002; Sosik and Jung, 2002).
Individualistic and collectivistic values also affect group interactions and consequently, group outcomes. Individualistic members cultivate task roles early on whereas collectivistic members cultivate social roles first, however Oetzel (2001) did not find that groups composed of both individualistic and collectivistic members had communication problems. Surprisingly, even in individualistic cultures like the United States, EM team members can become unusually devoted to the social dimension, particularly groups with a highly powerful or persuasive leader who encourages yea-saying—blind support of the members to every view or suggestion of the leader.
Yea-saying, also called groupthink was outlined by Janis (1982) who believed that certain conditions were indicative of a tendency to promote the urgency of a quick consensus. Janis conditions for groupthink to occur are: cohesive decision-makers; isolated/insulated group—no external influences; members with similar backgrounds and attitudes; provocative, stressful situations and outside pressures.
Although the groupthink theory has been said to lack generalizability (Chen and Lawson, 1996; Park, 2000), Janis’ theory has been used to entertainingly describe many U.S. presidential decision fiascoes including Roosevelt’s complacency before Pearl Harbor, Truman’s invasion of North Korea, Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs failure, Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War, and Nixon’s Watergate ignominy. (If Janis updated his presidential study, he might include Carter’s political asylum for the Shah of Iran, Reagan’s Iran Contra affair, Ford’s pardon of Nixon, George Bush’s leadership in the Gulf War, Clinton’s approval of the Branch Davidian raid, and George W. Bush’s rush into Iraq.) Now that groupthink is a relatively known term, a current study of high-profile leaders could be very enlightening.
Groupthink is highly observable in EM, especially when the decisions impact nations. Equally as powerful, yet nearly invisible, are social norms, the most influential form of group control.
Norms are “regular patterns of behavior or thinking that come to be accepted in a group as the usual way of doing things (Keyton, 1999)” Unlike rules, which are explicit guidelines of behavior, norms are implicit guidelines of behavior that emerge as the group evolves. These conventions, though unsaid, are powerful enough to shape group members’ conduct, viewpoints, and interaction. Norms become apparent early in the group’s formation. They are typically developed as members observe each other and become cohesive. What is acceptable and not acceptable is just understood as group members come to know each other. Norms and rules determine how, when, and why decisions are made; they also are instrumental in whether a leader emerges from the membership or if the group members maintain equal status. The understood rules dictate how an EM team evaluates and allocates authority—a concept that suggests leadership, as well as power.
Studies show that most groups need a leader to plan meetings and empower members to carry out tasks. Leaders are also ultimately responsible for the management of conflict. So called “leaderless” groups usually have an unofficial leader that gradually assumes the leadership role (Brown and Miller, 2000; Ellis and Fisher, 1994) This “leader emergence” is evident in many groups, especially groups that must make critical decisions. Leader emergence is found to be common in emergent groups at disaster scenes.
Some outstanding leaders are faced with contentious groups: groups composed of dominators, aggressors, conformists, or naysayers. Most leaders, however, find that their greatest challenge is managing members who consistently conform to majority or minority influence.
The majority/minority concept discussed here does not relate to consensus—it instead refers to tendencies of task group members to be influenced to conform to a majority opinion or minority opinion. Little research has been done in this area, however, studies have shown that minority dissent is many times as powerful in swaying group decision as is majority consent (Hartley, 1997). Interactions among group members and members of majority and minority subgroups should be examined to determine the communication similarities and dissimilarities. Recent research shows that having a small majority consensus—52% to 48%—sways the undecided members toward the majority view as much as having a large majority consensus—82% to 18% (Martin, Gardikiotis and Hewstone, 2002). Interestingly, minority influences were posited to be stronger, regardless of the consensus size, if their views were highly distinctive from the majority views. A markedly atypical view is given even greater consideration by group members (Hartley, 1997).
Interdependence is apparent in the group system as members interact and respond to each other. The attributes of the members—personality, skills, attitudes—affect the experiences of all of the other members in the group. These attributes of all of the members also affect cohesiveness, relationships, and member satisfaction. Conversely, cohesiveness, relationships, and member satisfaction affect the behaviors and attitudes of all of group members.
The output of the task dimension is productivity; the output of the social dimension is cohesiveness—which are also interdependent. The more productive the group is, the more cohesive it is. The more cohesive the group is, the more productive it is (Bonito, 2002; Ellis and Fisher, 1994; Harris and Sherblom, 2002; Keyton, 1999; Mabry, 1999; Meyers and Brashers, 1999)
Conflict can be defined as recognition by all group members that there are differences, disagreements, contradictory or irreconcilable desires among group members (Sell, Lovaglia, Mannix, Samuelson and Wilson, 2004). Conflict can be exacerbated or diminished based on group behaviors during a heated discussion (Sillince, 2000). Conflict can be described as either affective or substantive. Affective conflict involves an emotional conflict or struggle that is usually based on selfish or personal issues. It may involve differences of opinions, interpretation of rules, or attitudes toward established norms.
Substantive conflict involves intellectual opposition to the content of ideas or issues pertinent to the decision. It may involve bargaining, negotiations, or intellectual evaluation. The advantages to conflict outnumber the disadvantages.
Interdependence also exists in the flow of information between and among EM team members. As the members sharing of information becomes more organized, a structure becomes evident. This structure includes both intangible and tangible frameworks that organize group interaction. Two forms of group structure are networks and proxemics. Networks are links between and among members that develop into recurrent patterns for the exchange of information. Proxemics, sometimes called group ecology, is concerned with how group members arrange, use and are affected by physical space in their interaction with others.