Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Group Tasks and Process Loss

Groups engage in all different kinds of tasks, with outcomes differing depending on how much effort the group puts in. However, the type of task can also have an effect on the outcome. Ivan Steiner (1972) identified three different types of tasks that groups engage in: additive tasks, conjunctive tasks, and disjunctive tasks. In additive tasks, the outcome depends on the sum of the effort and performance of all the members of the group. In conjunctive tasks, the group can only perform as well as the member with the poorest performance. In disjunctive tasks, the performance of the group can be determined by the group member with the best performance. Steiner (1972) also identified something called process loss, which can occur when group work interferes with performance. For example, process loss would occur in a situation where an individual would be able to perform better by his or herself and is actually hindered by working in a group.

The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about group tasks and process loss is music. When I was in high school I played electric guitar in several bands. Most consistently, I played electric guitar in the worship band at my church. Playing live music is very much a disjunctive group task, because the band is only as good as its weakest member. For instance, if one person has trouble learning the music, then the rest of the band can't move on with practice until that person has learned the music. The band depends on everyone, and even a band composed of great musicians can be brought down by one member that struggles. We often had the same person have trouble learning music while we were practicing, which could get frustrating at times. I experienced being the weak member myself one time when I was asked to fill in for a band that had great musicians in it. I was definitely not as good of a musician as the rest of the guys, and on top of that I didn't know their music, which caused me to be even more behind. I could definitely see how my slow progress in learning the music slowed the whole band down.

Process loss can also be seen in music, especially in the writing process. I was able to record on three CD's while in high school and during the summer before I came into college. Writing music in a group can be sometimes be good, but it often ends up being pretty frustrating. It seems great at first because you get a chance to bounce ideas off other musicians, but it then becomes easier and easier to fall into social loafing, a concept that Latane (1979) defined as the effect that occurs when members of a group begin to slack and exert less effort. This would often occur as we would be trying to write in a group, and eventually these sessions would end with us deciding to all come up with our own ideas separately and then come together at another time. We eventually found that it worked better when we came together with ideas that we had come up with individually so that we could then have something to work with and merge our ideas together.


Latane, B., Williams, K., & Harkins, S. (1979). Many hands make light work: The causes and consequences of social loafing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 822-832.

Steiner, I. D. (1972). Group Processes and Productivity. New York: Academic Press.

1 comment:

  1. I think your example was a great way of explaining these concepts! It also made me realize that the three different types of tasks can also be applied to athletic team. Which to me is helpful, because I can relate to it better.