Skip to main content

Paradoxes of Group Life: Understanding Conflict, Paralysis, and Movement in Group Dynamics



Paradoxes of Group Life: Understanding Conflict, Paralysis, and Movement in Group Dynamics

Kenwyn K. Smith, David N. Berg

ISBN: 978-0-787-93948-9 October 1997 Jossey-Bass 336 Pages


During the past decade, leaders have increasingly relied onself-managing work groups, multifunctional teams, andcross-national executive groups to create the organization of thefuture. Yet groups are not a panacea for organizational problems;conflicts between individuals or factions within a group oftencreate seemingly contradictory situations?paradoxes?that canprevent the group from reaching its goals.

In this groundbreaking classic, Kenwyn Smith and David Berg offera revolutionary approach to understanding groups and overcoming theproblems that often paralyze group members, the group as a whole,and relations among groups. They explore the hidden dynamics thatcan prevent a group from functioning effectively. And they show howan apparently paradoxical suggestion?for example, inviting asuccess oriented group to risk failure, or affirming the benefitsof going nowhere to a group focused on moving ahead?can breakaction barriers, overcome conflicts, and improve groupperformance.

Smith and Berg offer a different way of thinking about groups thatwill open new avenues of inquiry for professors and students ofgroup behavior, and they propose many innovative ideas that willprove valuable to consultants, trainers, therapists, and others whowork with groups on a regular basis.
Part One: Locating Paradox.

1. Defining Paradox.

2. Tracing the Roots of Paradoxical Thought.

3. Understanding Paradoxical Processes: Negation, Self-Reference,and Double Bind.

4. The Sources of Paradox in Group Dynamics.

Part Two: Exploring Paradox.

5. Paradoxes of Belonging: Identity, Involvement, Individuality,and Boundaries.

6. Paradoxes of Engaging: Disclosure, Trust, Intimacy, andRegression.

7. Paradoxes of Speaking: Authority, DepAndency, Creativity, andCourage.

8. Contextual Influences: The Process of Importing and ExportingFrames of Reference.

9. Intergroup Influences: The Paradoxes of Scarcity, Perception,and Power.

Part Three: Applying Paradox.

10. The Cycles of Group Movement and "Stuckness".

11. Using Paradoxical Thinking in Organizational Analysis: A CaseStudy.
"Paradoxes of Group Life is probably the most important volume ongroup dynamics written within the last twenty years. It hasinfluenced an entire generation of scholars andmanager-leaders?often without the explicit recognition it deserves.For those who are ready, this work offers thoughtful, clear andenriching concepts about the most troubling and potentiallyliberating elements of group life." (Clayton P. Aldefer, Ph.D.,ABPP, distinguished professor of organizational behavior, RutgersUniversity Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology;editor, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science)

"Smith and Berg have provided a new and interesting frame ofreference for the study of behavior in groups that iscomprehensive, often counterintuitive, and interesting." (LeopoldGruenfeld, professor of organizational behavior, New York StateSchool of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University,Administrative Science Quarterly)

"Professionals and academics will find a very intelligent andvaluable examination of many classical theories of personality andgroup interaction. Involving ourselves in the Smith and Berg modelwas, without a doubt, educational and intellectually provocative."(Samuel A. Culbert, Graduate School of Management, University ofCalifornia, Los Angeles, and Oscar Ortsman, Departement desSciences Economiques, Humaines et Sociales, Ecole Centrale deParis, Academy of Management Review)

"Paradoxes of Group Life is an empowering book ofpossibilities....It is a book that proposes that we think aboutgroups in a different way and that by thinking in that way, we opennumerous possibilities for altering the nature of social systems.It is in illustrating this way of thinking that this book has donea very good job, and it is in the possibilities that stem from thisway of thinking that this book gains a power beyond what itsimmediate subject appears to be." (Jeffrey D. Ford, associateprofessor of management and human resources, Ohio State University,Contemporary Psychology)