Sociometric Study of Intragroup Relations in a Work Group
Gelmar García Vidal
Universidad Tecnológica Equinoccial, Ecuador
Laritza Guzmán Vilar
Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
Reyner Francisco Pérez Campdesuñer
Universidad Tecnológica Equinoccial, Ecuador
Betty Alexandra Rivera
The aim of this study is to explore intragroup relations in retail. The article conduct a sociometric analysis that takes into account labor and affective criteria, using the probability theory method and the UCINET program. In so doing the paper observe that the group, despite having been formally established for more than five years, does not display any solid indicators of high cohesion. The article observe that formal authority and informal leadership do not coincide and that there are two group factions in both criteria, which supports the finding of low cohesion. But despite these deficiencies in terms of cohesion, paper do not find any completely ignored or solitary individuals; as such, the group has established relations that can be improved. To this end, group cohesion should be promoted through a work design that facilitates interaction between individuals and rewards group results, all of which will serve to enhance the performance of this group.
Keywords: Organizational behavior, groups, intragroup relations, sociometry.
Organizational behavior (OB) is comprised of three main elements: individuals, groups, and structure (Robbins & Judge, 2009). Studies of organizational behavior collect and analyze information related to these elements so that firms can work effectively and efficiently. The field is important since the development of an organization depends to a large extent on sound management of its human resources (Chiavenato, 2009; Chruden & Sherman, 2007; Dailey, 2012; Robbins & Judge, 2009; Werther & Davis, 2008).
But organizations that do not have a department dedicated to analyzing their human resources have difficulties with identifying organizational failings and problems at the level of individual employees. As far as staff are concerned, this can lead to a lack of motivation, high levels of absenteeism, low productivity, and even high levels of turnover, since employees who do not feel comfortable at the organization may seek opportunities at other firms that facilitate their development and provide a better working environment (Chiavenato, 2009; Werther & Davis, 2008). The optimal functioning of an organization depends largely on the effective performance of the members of its constituent groups (Dailey, 2012; Robbins & Judge, 2009)
As elements of interest in the study of groups, the structure and organization of personal and social relations require methods for their analysis, with particular emphasis on the role of human resources in the performance of any organization (Henttonen, 2010). This is based on the notion that individuals must be understood and investigated through their interpersonal relations (Lawless, 2015; Ruiz Berrio, 2014). Sociometric studies provide a clear and in–depth understanding of relations between group members. They are useful for addressing any issues affecting intragroup relations so that each group member can integrate and perform in a favorable working environment, and for creating strategies related to operations and achieving objectives. Ultimately, this favors individual evolution and internal cohesion for goal attainment and productivity improvements (Ballesteros–Pérez, González–Cruz, & Fernández–Diego, 2012; J. M. Bezanilla & Miranda, 2012; Gutiérrez, Astudillo, Ballesteros–Pérez, Mora–Melià, & Candia–Véjar, 2016; Henttonen, 2010; Orbach, Demko, Doyle, Waber, & Pentland, 2015). The sociometric method facilitates the study of interpersonal relations in small occupational groups in which the efficiency of each employee depends of the emotional comfort and well–being of all group members united by a common goal: the good performance of the organization (Zhukova, Lozhkin, & Guseva, 2016).
The goal of this paper is to carry out a sociometric study to identify the intragroup dynamics of a formally established work group, and thus improve its capacity to take corrective measures aimed at improving work and the working environment so that it can achieve its goals through the effective use of all its resources: economic, financial, and human (Chruden & Sherman, 2007; Forselledo, 2010; Lawless, 2015; Orbach, et al., 2015; Zhukova, et al., 2016). Most sociometric applications reviewed in the literature pertain to the field of education (Barrasa & Gil, 2004; Kuz & Falco, 2013; Kuz, Falco, Nahuel, & Giandini, 2015; Laet et al., 2014; Pineda et al., 2009; Sabin, Mihai, & Marcel, 2014; Soponaru, Tincu, & Iorga, 2014). But here we seek to apply this method to the business sector and demonstrate its effectiveness in identifying problems concerning intergroup relations in work groups, thus facilitating the improvement of these relations and, in turn, the performance of the group and the organization in which it operates.
Organizational behavior (OB).
According to Robert Dailey (2012), OB is based on a range of concepts from the fields of individual psychology (personality and cognition), social psychology (interaction between individuals), industrial psychology (individuals at work), political science (power and influence), anthropology (cultural systems), economics (incentives and transactions), sociology (nature and behavior of groups of people) and theories of complex organizations (how these organizations are created, how they grow, and how their groups interact).
Several studies approach the concepts and objectives related to the field of OB (Chiavenato, 2009; Chruden & Sherman, 2007; Dailey, 2012; Robbins & Judge, 2009; Werther & Davis, 2008). It is generally agreed that OB explores the impact that individuals, groups, and structure have on behavior within organizations so that they can work more effectively (Dailey, 2012; Robbins & Judge, 2009; Werther & Davis, 2008). Previous studies related to OB include:
* Performance and the attitudes of the individuals at the heart of organizations (Dailey, 2012).
* Individuals, groups, and the structure of the organization; what individuals do and the influence of their behavior on the organization (Robbins & Judge, 2009).
* The continuous interaction and reciprocal influence between individuals and organizations (Chiavenato, 2009).
The most widespread model of OB proposes a structured analysis based on three levels classified as independent variables: the individual, the group, and the organizational system, whereby knowledge of the behavior of individuals within the organization increases systematically the closer one moves from the level of the individual to that of the organizational system (Robbins & Judge, 2009). The dependent variables of this model are productivity (Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Robbins & Judge, 2009; Shepperd, 1993), absenteeism (Chiavenato, 2009; Robbins & Judge, 2009); staff turnover (Chiavenato, 2009; Krackhardt & Porter, 1986; McCain, O'Reilly, & Pfeffer, 1983; Robbins & Judge, 2009; Wagner, Pfeffer, & O'Reilly III, 1984); and job satisfaction (Mullena, Symonsa, Hua, & Salasb, 1989; Robbins & Judge, 2009).
This study is particularly interested in the group variable which, according to Robbins & Judge (2009; p. 284), is defined as “two or more individuals, interacting and interdependent, who have come together to achieve particular objectives.” Groups are common across all organizations, and have a significant influence on the organization’s performance and its members. Administration is not confined to individual workers but is always distributed among work groups (Chiavenato, 2009; Chruden & Sherman, 2007), these groups may be homogeneous, when they are made up of similar needs and personalities; or heterogeneous, when the members do not possess similar characteristics (Goodman, Ravlin, & Schminke, 1987; Jackson et al., 1991).
The formation of these groups is delimited by two major conditions (Davis & Newstrom, 1999):
* First, those related to work (and created by the organization), concerning type of role, seniority within the organization, and physical proximity between employees.
* And second, those not related to work (arising essentially from the personal backgrounds of the individuals concerned), linked to culture, sentiments, ethnic factors, socioeconomic elements, sex, and race.
Groups possess characteristics that mold the behavior of their members, such as: roles (Dailey, 2012; Hackman, 1992; Robbins & Judge, 2009; Schein, 1980); rules (Dailey, 2012; Robbins & Judge, 2009), status (Dailey, 2012; Davis & Newstrom, 1999; Robbins & Judge, 2009); size (Dailey, 2012; Robbins & Judge, 2009; Thomas & Fink, 1963; Yetton & Bottger, 1983); and cohesion (Casales, 1990; Hackman, 1992; Robbins & Judge, 2009). Analysis of the interaction between these characteristics is necessary to ensure the group contributes effectively to attaining the organization’s goals.
The use of sociometry to study intragroup relations has been widely recognized (J. M. Bezanilla & Miranda, 2012; Gutiérrez, et al., 2016; Henttonen, 2010; Lawless, 2015; Sociedade Paranaense de Psicodrama, 2006; Zhukova, et al., 2016). Sociometry is based on the conception that individuals must be understood and studied through their social relations at group level (Forselledo, 2010; Pineda, et al., 2009; Ruiz Berrio, 2014), supported by the idea that it is possible to understand individual identity as a set of relations of belonging (Moreno, 1947, 1954).
In the view of various authors (Casales, 1990; Hart & Nath, 1979; Moreno, 1947, 1954; Orbach, et al., 2015; Pineda, et al., 2009; Robbins & Judge, 2009), it is possible to consider sociometry as an approach to measuring social groups in an organization with the aim of investigating the following areas:
* social structures as a whole (the law of sociodynamics): proposes that within each group, choices are unequally distributed between group members. The bigger the group, the more these differences are accentuated.
* The situation of each individual, focusing on the network of interrelations (the law of the social atom): proposes that as group members project their emotions onto one another, models of attraction and rejection arise which remain relatively constant within the group.
* The network of centrifugal relations (responses given by a subject) and centripetal interrelations (responses of others addressed to the subject), of which the aforementioned atom forms the core (the law of gravitation): proposes that human groups form a social and organic unit.
Sociometric studies use sociometric tests as their fundamental instrument. This instrument is used to analyze the group, its evolution, and the positions occupied by the individuals therein and their relationships, as well as assessing and promoting change to the social structures whenever necessary (Forselledo, 2010; Pineda, et al., 2009; Sabin, et al., 2014). The test allows for the statistical description of members’ attractions and rejections in relation to one another (J. M. Bezanilla & Miranda, 2012; Ruiz Berrio, 2014).
In tun, sociograms provide a graphic understanding of relations between individuals in a group by exhibiting their dynamics and functioning; however, they cannot provide wholly precise explanations of (1) the reasons behind these relations; (2) their motivations; or (3) how long they will last (J. M. Bezanilla & Miranda, 2012; Forselledo, 2010; Gutiérrez, et al., 2016; Hoffman & Wilcox, 1992; Lawless, 2015; Pineda, et al., 2009; Zhukova, et al., 2016). Thus, the analysis of sociogram findings should be enriched by other techniques for studying groups. Moreover, these analyses should be repeated over time to establish how the behavior of group relations evolves.
Although studies have been conducted in a wide variety of contexts, sociometric applications have been no more prevalent than in the education sector (Barrasa & Gil, 2004; Kuz & Falco, 2013; Kuz, et al., 2015; Laet, et al., 2014; Pineda, et al., 2009; Sabin, et al., 2014; Soponaru, et al., 2014). In the literature reviewed, business is not a preferred domain for the application of sociometry; however, it has proven to be a powerful and effective tool for reducing conflicts and improving communication by promoting self–analysis of group dynamics (Ballesteros–Pérez, et al., 2012; Brass, 1984; Chancellor, Layous, & Lyubomirsky, 2015; Henttonen, 2010; Hoffman & Wilcox, 1992; Lawless, 2015; Orbach, et al., 2015; Tavares De Almeida et al., 2012; Tichy & Tushman, 1979; Zhukova, et al., 2016).
The sociometry literature concerning social relations within organizations presents interesting results. The results reflect a range of focuses. In the case of similarities in attitudes among group members, it has been found that strong relationship structures are characterized by comparable cognitive maps in terms of the means and ends required to obtain a successful output (Gutiérrez, et al., 2016; Walker, 1985). Likewise, other studies have found that cohesive groups encompass similar attitudes regarding the goals to be attained (Burkhardt, 1994; Shrader, Lincoln, & Hoffman, 1989).
Meanwhile, analyses of job satisfaction have found that peripheral group members with few choices are less satisfied that other members with more choices (Brass, 1981, 1984; Chancellor, et al., 2015; Mullena, et al., 1989; Roberts & O'Reilly, 1979).
In turn, studies of power in organizations have identified the role of more central group members through whom the relations of other members pass. These more powerful individuals are selected by most of their fellow members when they are asked who they would most like to follow as leader (Burkhardt & Brass, 1990). Along similar lines, studies on social relations in organizations have provided evidence that the more central group members are identified as leaders (Fernández, 1991; Leavitt, 1951; Mullena, et al., 1989; Sparrowe & Liden, 1997).
When it comes to the analysis of performance, the literature has noted that in small groups, centralized networks are efficient for simple tasks, while less centralized networks are more efficient for complex tasks with a high degree of uncertainty (Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Mizruchi & Galaskiewicz, 1993; Orbach, et al., 2015; Shrader, et al., 1989). Another finding of such studies is that group members with more relations perform better than those identified as isolated (Roberts & O'Reilly, 1979).
In the case of conflictive situations, studies have observed that organizations with strong social networks in their work groups tend to present lower levels of conflict, and are able to detect them when they do arise (Ebers, 1997; Ghoshal & Bartlett, 1990; Labianca, Brass, & Gray, 1998; Nelson, 1989; Zhukova, et al., 2016).
A sociometric study furnishes an organization with: (1) a clearer, more in–depth outlook on relations between group members with which to tackle the problems affecting isolated subjects in order to integrate them; (2) the opportunity of allowing each member to perform in a working environment best suited to their nature; (3) perspectives for creating strategies for work and achieving objectives; and (4) information that favors individual and group evolution towards goal attainment.
This study required the design and application of a sociometric test (measuring patterns of “attraction”) to establish sociometric status; popular and isolated members; groups and subgroups; social patterns of gender; and sociometric leaders and their position in the group. To this end, we took the following steps (Casales, 1990; Cuesta Santos, 2005):
1. Characterization of the group: We conducted a survey to determine what motives the group members individually.
This survey of individual motivation is based on those used in previous studies for similar purposes (Lussier, 1993; Robbins & Judge, 2009). It contains 15 items on a range of 1 (disagree strongly) to 5 (agree strongly), which can be broken down into three main motivational groups with five items each. These groups are: achievement or realization (impetus to stand out, to achieve something in relation to a set of norms, to struggle to obtain success); power (desire for others to adopt a behavior that they would not otherwise have adopted; and affiliation (desire to have close and friendly interpersonal relations). To determine the motivational orientation of the group members, we added together the scores for each of the items making up the groups. On this basis, the totals can range between 5 and 25 points. The column with the highest score denotes the dominant need.
We investigate any possible association between individual motivational orientation and the length of service and sex of group members through a correlation test.
2. Formulation of questions: We formulate the questions for group members so that they can state their preferences in relation to two criteria: functional (sociogroup) and affective (psychogroup). Based on these results, we prepare the sociometric template using the following format (see Table 1).
In no case is there a limitation on the number of choices that group members can make when selecting their workmates in relation to the above–mentioned criteria.
* The question related to the functional criteria (signaling the group members with whom the respondents would most like to work) corresponds to the fundamental activity in which the group engages.
* The question related to the affective criteria (signaling the group members with whom the respondents would most like to socialize after work) corresponds to group members’ preferences regarding activities outside work.
3. Preparation of a sociometric matrix: using the survey answers, we prepared a matrix to serve as an information source for the sociometric analysis. For these purposes, we employed the following format (see Table 2):
4. Sociogram construction We place the members who have received the largest number of choices in the center of the graph, with the other members at relative distances based on their choices, and take into account their interrelations by focusing on the position of the choices made between those involved .
5. Analysis and interpretation: To calculate the sociometric indicators, we use the theoretical probability method based on the elements set out in Table 3 (Casales, 1990; Cuesta Santos, 2005; Forselledo, 2010), with the aid of the UCINET 6 program for Windows Ver. 6.591 (Borgatti, Everett, & Freeman, 2002).
Using the above formulas, it is possible to identify popular individuals (those who receive the highest number of choices); isolated individuals (those who receive the lowest number of choices); the sociometric star (the individual who receives the highest number of choices of all group members); and the “eminence grise” (the first choice of the sociometric star). At this point, it is of interest to calculate sociometric expansiveness, for which we use the following formula:
CE: Index of correlation between the subjects for unlimited choices.
Sh: Total choices made (Hs) (Horizontal sums obtained from the dociometric matrix)
N: Number of group members.
This indicator is interpreted as follows:
0 to 0.3: low interrelation index
0.4 to 0.6: medium interrelation index
0.7 to 1.00: high interrelation index
Likewise, we calculate reciprocal choices using the following formula:
Irec: Reciprocity index, which reflects the degree to which subjects mutually favor one other
Er: Number of reciprocal choices.
N: Number of group members.
This indicator is interpreted as follows:
0 to 0.45: low reciprocity index.
0.46 to 0.55: medium reciprocity index
0.56 to 1.00: high reciprocity index
Other indicators that need to be calculated are the network density, the degree centrality of group members, and betweenness centrality. We calculate these indicators using UCINET 6 for Windows Ver. 6.591 (Borgatti, et al., 2002).
Network density is the number of relations observed relative to the number of possible relations. This density is an expression of group cohesion (José Manuel Bezanilla, 2011; Borgatti, et al., 2002; Tichy & Tushman, 1979; Tichy, Tushman, & Fombrun, 1979; Zhukova, et al., 2016). Degree centrality measures an individual's contribution based on their position in the network, according to the number of links they have with others, whether in terms of importance, influence, relevance, or prominence (Bezanilla, 2011; Borgatti, et al., 2002; Zhukova, et al., 2016). A basic aspect of indirect relations lies in the importance of an individual, or the frequency with which they act as a broker (betweenness centrality) between another two individuals through the shortest or geodesic path. An individual’s betweenness in their relations with others means that this individual may have some control over other individuals who are not directly related. The more an individual depends upon this to relate with others, the more power that individual will accumulate, rendering them a natural broker (José Manuel Bezanilla, 2011; Borgatti, et al., 2002; Zhukova, et al., 2016).
We use the abovementioned method to measure the sociometric factors of the group comprising a retail establishment in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, Ecuador, in an attempt to determine their functional and affective relations. This establishment is a family business founded in 1995, occupying a small facility located in a major commercial zone in the province. Despite its small size, and operating out of a single premises, the establishment is considered a leader in the marketing of mass consumption goods, footwear, toys, plastic goods, and other high–quality products. The establishment caters for the community's needs and desires by seeking to provide an excellent service at affordable prices with the support of its human resources, the trust of its suppliers, and technological retail development in the interests of society's well–being.
Some of the establishment’s sales are seasonal, so staff numbers are occasionally insufficient for serving customers adequately and displaying and reviewing products at the same time. Thus, at times of growth the owners are compelled to hire more employees to meet market demand. However, this gives rise to problems related to the onboarding of new members, given their lack of familiarity with the formally established intragroup dynamics. As such, the necessary measures are not taken to address changes in the group’s social relations, in terms of: integrating new members; involving long–standing members in new members’ engagement with the business philosophy; promoting group cohesion; and accepting new members and their approach to achieving company objectives. This situation causes occasional conflicts between workers, with consequences for the effective functioning of the organization, which requires the group to work in a cohesive manner.
It was in this context that we conducted our study, composed of 15 operational employees (73% male and 27% female) with an average length of service of 4.4 years. Given that sociometric studies are conducted especially for small groups and because the sample cannot be determined so as not to bias the results, we explore the establishment’s human resources in their entirety (Cuesta Santos, 2005; Zhukova, et al., 2016).
The results of the survey to determine the motivational orientation of each group member (α de Cronbach = 0.888) are shown in Table 4.
From the table above, and taking into account the findings from the abovementioned procedure, it can be concluded that a general achievement motivation exists in the group. In particular, Subject 3, who occupies a management role, stands out for their clear power motivation. In turn, subjects 2, 4 and 11 display a high power motivation, although this is not their predominant orientation.
To determine whether there is an association between power motivation, sex, and length of service, we conducted a correlation analysis (see Table 5).
The statistical test allows it to be affirmed that there is no association between the variables analyzed.
The information from the sociometric test allowed us to build the sociometric matrix and template for the criteria analyzed and to apply the theoretical probability method; the results are presented in Table 6.
Table 7 shows the results of the sociometric indicators.
Figure 1: Sociometric network graph for the functional criteria
Degree centrality: Subject 3. Betweenness centrality: Subjects 5 and 3. Freeman betweenness centrality
Figure 2: Sociometric network graph for the affective criteria
Degree centrality: Subject 14
Betweenness centrality: Subjects 14 and 4. Freeman betweenness centrality
The popular subjects, with a high level of choice in the functional criteria (5 and 6), are employees who display a clear affiliation motivation. These members do not occupy management positions, and so formally established authority is excluded from this category. In the affective criteria, one of the subjects (13) is a second–line supervisor, while the other (7) is a regular employee. Subject 13 is notable for not having an affiliation motivation; rather, their main motivation is achievement.
Figure 3 shows the EgoNet of the sociometric stars, the subjects with whom they connect (alters), and the reciprocal choices of these alters.
Figure 3. EgoNet of the sociometric stars