Group Cohesion: The Relationship Between Cohesion and Performance

May 19, 2020
Group cohesion is one of the most important elements to understand how a group can come to be, how it influences its members, and the consequences of this membership in different variables (such as performance). The present article shows studies, such as the minimum group paradigm, to explain what cohesion is and how it relates to the overall performance of a group.

Many elements characterize the structure of a group, such as order, hierarchical distribution, influence, prestige, and differentiation. Although most people know this, the truth is that the operation of a group is based on the distribution and configuration of some elements, such as roles, norms, and group cohesion. All these elements act like a “glue” that turns ordinary people into a group.

That way, people can come together and call themselves a group. However, that wouldn’t necessarily make it a group per se. Groups require a shared identity, a structure, and interdependence. Based on these variables, it’s safe to say that group cohesion is different.

Therefore, cohesion is the “glue” of a group. Now, several types of cohesion can manifest in a group. Let’s see what they are.

  • Cohesion by personal attraction. This cohesion has its foundation in interdependence, which we could define as the force that holds the members of the group together. It comes as a result of the shared interests and reciprocal appeals within the group members. This cohesion could occur between school friends.
  • Cohesion by goals. The foundation of this type of cohesion is wanting to remain in a group because it facilitates goal-achieving. Usually, the group members think it’d be too difficult to achieve their goals outside the group. Consequently, they remain in the group as long as there are certain tasks and interests. This cohesion may exist in work environments, for example.
  • Cohesion by group attraction. In other groups, cohesion can be based on how interesting or attractive the activities that group does are. In this case, the familiarity within the group or the goals that can be met through it don’t really matter. The cohesion exists because people like the organization and work that the group performs. This is the reason why group members choose to stay. This cohesion can manifest in companies that appeal to us beyond personal goals or objectives, as well as in non-profit organizations, among others.

The paradigms of group cohesion

The world is a very globalized place with large companies being developed in the blink of an eye. However, sometimes people don’t consider important elements of individual and group psychology in favor of greater benefits.

The managers of a company seek the best possible performance from the workers, but sometimes they do it through the use of unnecessary tools or in scenarios that don’t work. In a way, they don’t finish refining or incorporating the elements that need enhancement. This could be the case of group cohesion.

Haste and poor organization can help a conglomerate of people work together to obtain the best results. Although incentives can be offered to make it that way, it seems a wise solution to study the relationship between group cohesion and performance in order to know if this independent variable would modify the dependent one.

To do this, we’re going to talk about group cohesion based on interdependence, shared identity, and structure. Some paradigms shape the idea of ​​group cohesion, which explain it through experiments. Now, said experiments helped researchers conclude that cohesion is very relevant when it comes to predicting people’s behavior and performance.

A group of hands piled up.

The minimal group paradigm: shared identity

In the minimal group paradigm (Tajfel et al., 1971), the researchers asked the following question:

What’s the minimum condition for a group of isolated individuals to be considered a group?

The people were divided into two groups: the Klee group and the Kandinsky group, without knowing each other previously. Through this experiment, the researchers wanted to see if each individual would raise their social identity within the group and favor it despite not knowing anyone there.

The answer was yes. 77 percent of people chose the option that benefited their group against the other. 15 percent acted with equity. However, they observed that the general tendency was to systematically favor everyone in the group regardless of whether one individual was harmed.

Through the minimal group paradigm, we can explain cohesion based on a social category. In this sense, the fact that several people can become actual group members seems to be enough of a differentiating element for a group to come together.

Theory of social identity: self-concept as a regulator

Once again, Tajfel studies group cohesion by analyzing self concept, an important variable in personal psychology. Basically, self-concept refers to the image every individual has of themselves. Now, there are two important aspects to consider in self-concept.

  • Personal identity. This is part of the self-concept that derives from meanings and emotions, as well as from personal emotional experience and from the person’s most intimate aspects.
  • Social identity. It’s related to the self-concept that derives from belonging to social groups, associated with the value and emotional meaning related to it. Believe it or not, some aspects of the image people have of themselves come from their position in certain social groups.

In order to truly belong to a group, it’s important to know yourself first. Moreover, something crucial that defines group membership is each member’s search for positive aspects of their identity. Some aspects of the group may be beneficial to some of its members and detrimental to others.

From this theory, group cohesion emanates from the need to maintain self-concept. Those who join a group are looking to nurture their self-concept in a positive way.

A group of workers showing group cohesion by sticking together at work.

The relationship between group cohesion and performance

From the studies and experiments conducted by social psychology, and knowing the reason for group cohesion in certain groups, we’ve come to some conclusions about the relationship between cohesion and group performance.

According to the satisfaction of needs model, group cohesion isn’t previous to the performance in the work carried out by the group. Actually, it seems to work the other way around. Performance favors cohesion. If a political party wins the elections in a country, cohesion in that group is likely to increase as a consequence of the good results.

Is there a relationship between the two?

The data suggest the following conclusions:

  • There’s a significant relationship between cohesion and performance or productivity.
  • Such relationships occur especially in natural or small groups.
  • The groups that require a high degree of interaction to execute their actions effectively aren’t the ones that show a greater relationship between cohesion and execution.
  • The commitment to the task is the component that best explains the relationship between cohesion and productivity.
  • Interpersonal attraction and group attraction play a secondary role.
  • The direction of the effect is greater from performance to cohesion than the other way around, as we explained above.

Group cohesion is the foundation of group phenomena, such as interaction, norms, pressure, conformity, group identity, group thinking, performance, power, and leadership.

The greater the cohesion, the greater the pressure or influence of the group on its members, both in socio-emotional aspects and in those related to the tasks. On the other hand, the attraction that gives rise to cohesion and, consequently, to the ability to influence, can be an attraction fueled by the personal characteristics of the members and the group’s goals.