Arrow, Berdahl & Mcgrath - Group Formation & Club Theory

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

In their exploration of complex systems approaches to small group dynamics, Arrow, Berdahl and McGrath (2000) present a model of the dimensions of social space within which small groups form. Group formation can be more or less planned or emergent, and this can be due to internal or external forces. The two crossed dimensions result in a four-part typology of group formation as follows:

P – Circumstantial Groups (External, Emergent): People walking around doing their own thing and pursuing their own goals end up in a group due to the structure of the goal-seeking environment, e.g. people waiting for a bus.

A – Concocted Groups (External, Planned): A manager or other group commander announces that a group or work team is going to be formed, who will be on it, and what each of their roles will be. The assignment of a flight crew to a plane is an example of the concoction of a team, driven by scheduling and technical roles.

E – Founded Groups (Internal, Planned): An individual or a few people develop a concept requiring group support, and they invite others to join as charter members of a newly founded entity. This is a quintessentially entrepreneurial dynamic.

I – Self-Organized Groups (Internal, Emergent): These groups form informally through the interactions of people who discover some point of commonality or reason for developing bonds. Most friendship circles form in this way.

In the context of their discussion of self-organized groups, the authors describe the process by which these groups form in terms of club theory. Club theory features the construct of “club goods”. Members gain access to these club goods in exchange for their supporting contributions of energy, time, money, space or other resources. A balance must be struck between keeping enough active members to maintain the ability to deliver club goods, and letting in so many members that their club goods become diluted. Clubs form for various reasons and lengths of time. The authors review 3: Activity clubs, Economic clubs and Social clubs.

P – Activity clubs: The primary draw for an Activity club is some project or activity that the prospective members want to do that they cannot do alone, such as play a team sport or discuss books that they are reading. The P purpose is served by an A structure, making the people fairly interchangeable and able to flow into or out of the group as needed.

A – Economic clubs: Economic clubs involve the pooling of resources to realize group savings, increase economic power, enjoy economy of scale, or to pool risk etc. Examples are housemates who split the rent but are not otherwise close friends, time-share organizations or firms of associated professionals such as lawyers or architects who all share the same offices and pool of resource staff, thus enjoying efficiency gains.

I – Social clubs: In Social clubs the club goods are the members themselves and the pleasures of interaction among them. Social club members do things together that technically speaking they could do on their own, but prefer not to. This includes studying, jogging, going to movies or simply eating. They also do things that inherently require group participation, like throwing parties.

I do not know if Arrow, Berdahl and McGrath recognize other groups beyond these three. Due to the nature of my own project, it is hard to resist postulating a fourth type of club, namely “Meaning” or “Significance” clubs, where people come together in order to express or explore shared beliefs or topics of mostly intellectual or spiritual interest. Small groups of this nature form both inside and outside organized educational and religious institutions. This would furnish an E type of club that seems to be as pervasive and important as the others listed, but of course the process of addition could continue indefinitely, with political clubs, ethnic clubs, geographical/neighborhood clubs etc. The authors do not indicate that their typology is intended to be either final or exhaustive. However, the three club types they do mention cover recognizable regions of the structure of concern.

1. Arrow, H., McGrath, J. E., & Berdahl, J. L. (2000). Small Groups as Complex Systems: Formation, Coordination, Development and Adaptation. London: Sage Publications.
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