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The Group Behavior Model is a framework for conceptualizing how various aspects of the external and internal environments of a work group influence the group's performance of its task(s) and the group members' level of satisfaction with the experience of group work. External conditions include an organization's authority structure, rules and regulations, corporate culture, resources, setting, and market competition. Internal factors include the individual skills, talents, and experiences each member brings to the work group; the nature of the group's structure; and the dynamics of the group's work processes. The model helps one understand how the interplay of these four components -- external conditions, group member resources, group structure, and group processes -- determine how the group performs its task and how much satisfaction the members of the group derive from the experience of doing performing the task and the outcome of their efforts (Henderson, n. d.).
This paper will apply the Group Behavior Model to an examination of a small work group charged with improving the organization of a collection of links to online research resources on a college library's web site. Each of the model's four components will be explained and examined in this particular context, and the effects of the components on the group's performance of the task and the group member's satisfaction with their work experience will be explored. Then recommendations for improving the group's performance and satisfaction will be discussed.
The work group under consideration here is composed of reference and instruction librarians employed in the main branch of an academic library system serving a liberal arts college. The college is located in the urban core of a small city known for its rich history, pleasant climate, and the friendly disposition of its citizens. The college serves a student population of about 11,500 -- 10,000 undergraduates and 1,500 graduate students -- and offers 47 bachelor's degree programs and 19 master's degree programs. The college faculty numbers more than 1,000, and the librarians have faculty status.
The college's library system holds a growing collection of more than 700,000 volumes and provides access to tens of thousands of electronic publications and millions of full-text digital documents through online subscription periodicals databases. Maintaining, developing, and growing these collections requires great collaborative effort between librarians and the teaching faculty, and collection development is also costly in financial terms. Therefore, student and faculty awareness, access, and use of these library resources are of great concern to the librarians. It is important that the college gets its money's worth of use out of these pricey resources. This concern motivated the creation of the work group that is the subject of this paper.
The work group was composed of three reference and instruction librarians selected by their supervisor, the head of reference and instruction services at the library. The supervisor tasked them with coming up with a new and improved way of arranging the online course guides -- library research guides that are customized to provide easy access to resources relevant to individual courses or course assignments -- other than the alphabetical order that was the default arrangement of the software they used for guide creation and maintenance. While at first alphabetical order seemed like a good system for organizing the course guides, different librarians named the guides they created in a variety of ways, and thus the course guides lists became more confusing and unruly as time went on. The supervisor felt that user access could be improved and course guide use increased if the arrangement of the guides were different.
External conditions relevant to this case study are primarily found at the level of the department of reference and instruction services. The department is composed of seven professional reference librarians, three full-time support staff, and two part-time support staff. All reference staffers provide customer assistance at the reference desk, but only professional reference librarians conduct library research instruction sessions and create and maintain library research guides. This dichotomy is part of the formal regulation of department work activities.
While the course guides work group was created with the above-mentioned goal in mind, it was created, along with a few other work groups, for another, larger reason. As the fall term was coming to a close, the supervisor called a meeting of the department members. In general, at that time in the academic year, student and faculty demand on library services declines. Similarly, the intensity of reference staff activity was dropping off as well. The short responses the librarians gave when the supervisor asked about current projects and plans prompted him to use his authority to spur staff activity out of the end of term lull.
Per his prerogative, the supervisor selected the membership of each work group. Task evaluation lay largely in his hands, as did immediate rewards regarding performance and task completion. The reference staff viewed the supervisor as a micromanager, and this impression affected the corporate culture of the department in a negative manner, usually lowering staff morale and stifling motivation.
The supervisor chose Alice Chang to head the course guides work group. He assigned Bernie Johnson and Cory Jackson to her group. The selection of Ms. Chang to run the work group was, in the supervisor's view, instrumental to the success of the mission. Alice was the department's China-educated science librarian and was highly skilled with computer technology. She was also the librarian most responsible for convincing the library's administration to acquire the research guides software and served as the staff administrator for that software. Alice knew more than anyone else about the software's parameters, limitations, and workflow processes. She was the natural pick for leading the work group. In addition, Alice was a creative person who dabbled in watercolor painting, pottery, and poetry.
Bernie Johnson was the most senior librarian in the work group. In addition to his reference and instruction duties, blond-haired, blue-eyed Bernie also ran the library's ever-growing and evermore popular media collection, located on an upper floor removed from the reference department office, where DVDs and videocassettes where collected and circulated. Johnson was person in the department for which the term "technology geek" was most apt. He was an avid gamer and very interested in digital photography and video. Because his daily duties necessitated that he be in a few different places during the typical workday, Bernie was often difficult to locate in the vast, relatively new library building.
Cory Jackson, an African-American, was the epitome of the generalist reference librarian. He was a jack of all academic subjects but not really a master of any of them. Cory took great pleasure in his ability to anticipate needs and see problems before others did. This talent informed his approach to creating the library research guides for which he was responsible. He had an easygoing personality that set him on good terms with all of his coworkers. In a group he had a knack for listening to the inputs of the other group members and synthesizing them in a way that helped unify the collective vision of the members. The department supervisor often put Cory and Alice on work groups together because the two department mates had a deep friendship and they liked working with each other. They had collaborated successfully on other projects, including instruction sessions and a conference presentation.
Right away Cory had a couple of ideas for reorganizing the course research guides and was eager for the group to meet and complete the task before the end of the fall term. Advocating a fast group process, he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible in order to minimize the amount of time the supervisor would have to continue asking the group members about the progress of the project. Cory found the supervisor's constant questioning about projects more nagging than encouraging, supportive, or motivational as the supervisor intended them to be. After the intensive activity of the beginning and middle of the busy fall term, Alice was more inclined to enjoy the end of term lull and put the course guides project off until the beginning of the spring semester. Alice knew from experience that the supervisor's deadlines for tasks like this one were soft and mobile, so she felt neither internal nor external motivation to quickly start the group work or hurry the process to completion. Bernie, as was often the case with him, was mostly absent and only peripherally involved in these deliberations, primarily through email correspondence. Cory capitulated to Alice's more relaxed approach to initiating the task; Bernie went along with the delayed start, too.
After the relaxing winter holiday break, the spring term began, and so did the work group's activity on the assigned task. Overall, this activity included some impromptu discussion in the reference office and three group meetings. During one of their first days back from the holiday, Cory and Alice discussed Cory's ideas for a new arrangement of the course guides. Alice didn't like one of them because it would…[continue]
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