Appendix 3: Types of Groups

What is a group?

“A group can be defined as a gathering of people who share certain common objectives” [translation].fn 234

On the basis of this definition, several types of groups exist, including:

· The audience in a concert hall, where the common objective is to listen to a singer.

· Patients in a waiting room, where the common objective is to see a doctor.

· Employees of a company, where the common objective is to offer a service in exchange for a monetary reward.

· Members of a sports team, where the common objective is to have fun or to beat the opponent.

· Members of a spiritual group, where the common objective is to live in harmony with cosmic laws.

This is an extremely broad definition that can be used to describe many different groups, without providing any means to distinguish between them. The following categorizations, however, help us to distinguish various types of groups that exist in our community.

Small groups

“A small group is a psychosocial group that can be composed of 3 to 20 people, who meet and interact with a view of attaining a common goal” [translation].fn 235

Compared to the first description, this definition specifies the number of people that make up this small group. But is a small group defined solely on the basis of the number of people that form the group? Here are some of the characteristics that define a small group.

· The members of the group all know each other personally and have a direct relationship with one another. A member can, for example, name each member and describe his or her daily life.

· The group values certain goals and the members of the group jointly pursue the achievement of these goals.

· The members develop friendly relations with each other.

· The members become dependent on one another even when they are not meeting as a group.

· Different roles develop within the group. As such, each member has a different function. Some members can be leaders, others recruiters, workers or spectators.

· Norms or specific rules emerge within the group. A group may, for example, require that each member attend all weekly meetings in order to maintain their status as members.

· The group creates its own culture. Indeed, over time, it may adopt its own system of beliefs, rituals and language.

In short, the characteristics most often used to describe small groups are: low numbers, face-to-face interaction, the development of interpersonal relationships, a sense of belonging, the development of a structure and systems of norms and roles.fn 236


A crowd is a very large number of people brought together by a combination of circumstances, such as an outdoor concert. A crowd does not allow people to structure their interactions toward a common objective. This group forms with the beginning of the event and dissolves once it ends.

This type of group is different from a small group in that it is a one-time, short-term occurrence that does not involve direct relationship among the people present.fn 237


“Organizations, big or small, can be defined as a social formation deliberately and formally established or structured by individuals. The functioning of organizations is based on prescribed decision-making, execution and control processes, all geared towards a specific objective that underpins the general meaning of all interactions” [translation].fn 238

Organizations differ from small groups in a number of ways, including:

· The number of members.

· The very institutionalized nature of relations among members. For instance, pre-established methods or structures exist within the group to resolve conflicts or to make decisions.

· The relations among members who are influenced by the group's different hierarchical levels and the status of its members.

· The possible geographical isolation among members of the organization.

Organizations are sometimes similar to small groups in that direct interaction exists among members, between staff and management, among a work group or members of a board of directors.

Possible contrasts among groups

Various studiesfn 239 on cultic groups and new religious movements mention that groups can be distinguished by their degree of openness to their surrounding environment. Accordingly, groups that are open will freely accept interaction between members and non-members.

In a closed group, however, ties with the outside environment are limited. In an extreme case, this type of group may isolate itself geographically or socially in order to avoid interaction between members and non-members.

In conclusion, while these opposing characteristics cannot be used to distinguish all groups from one another, they do provide a better understanding of the subtleties between various types of groups.


©Info-Cult 2006