Mediated Group Development

Mediated Group Development

John A. McArthur (Queens University of Charlotte, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-827-2.ch016


This chapter focuses on an interpersonal approach to understanding small group development in mediated environments. Whereas much of the literature in this area has emerged in the study of workplace and organizational development, this chapter is grounded in small group development theory and folds in relevant studies of virtual communication in groups. This approach is designed to complement a larger work based in interpersonal communication by providing students of interpersonal communication with a basic introduction to small groups and the impact of communication technology on small group development.
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  • Three marketing staffers engage in a conference call about ad copy for a product launch.

  • A twenty-member interpersonal communication class gathers around a seminar table.

  • Twelve avatars study together in a gray stone church in a virtual world.

  • A family of five gathers for a mother’s birthday dinner.

  • A reporter chats with two news anchors via satellite hologram.

These scenarios deviate from the scope of study in interpersonal communication, not because of their varied uses of technology, but rather because they include too many people.

A dyad of two people becomes something different when a third member is added. Their collective communication changes. Harris and Sherblom (2005) suggest that when members are added to a communication environment, the number of interactions increases exponentially. A dyad in communication shares two possible interactions, one from person A to person B; one from person B to person A. Three people communicating share nine possible interactions. When a group reaches eight people, a possible 1,016 interactions are available for study. This exponential growth of the possible number of interactions creates a complex environment in which communication can flourish.

The collective study of these interactions, small group and team communication, has been well defined over the last five decades, and its study has been compiled in various textbooks on the subject (e.g. Beebe, Beebe, & Ivy, 2009; Beebe & Masterson, 2006; Engleberg & Wynn, 2007; Harris & Sherblom, 2005; Rothwell, 2006). As part of a greater body of work in this text, this chapter’s main objective is to provide a brief introduction to small group development for people studying interpersonal communication by synthesizing some of the key theories in the study of small group development and folding in a discussion of current technology which impacts this development.

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