1. Characteristics of a group

1.3 Group Size

Two opposite tendencies exist with regard to the number of people in a group. The larger the group, the greater is the pool of talent and experience available for solving problems or sharing the effort. On the other hand as the size increases, fewer members have the chance to participate, and indeed the differences in relative participation increase to the point where one or two members begin to dominate. It thus becomes more likely that reticent members will fail to contribute, though they may well enjoy the relative anonymity a large group affords them.

The smaller the group, the greater is the likelihood of close relationships, full participation, and consonance of aims. Whereas in a small group or team, leadership and other roles are likely to be shared or rotated, the formation of subgroups, and the increasing differentiation of roles in a large group will ensure the emergence of a leader. Where there is an agreed leader (e.g. the teacher) the need to counteract the above tendencies places special demands on his or her awareness of the problems and skills in coping with them. When does a group become "large" and does it still have any merits? Most theorists, researchers and practitioners agree that five to seven members is the optimum for leaderless groups. In the case of led groups, as for academic discussion, the maximum for member satisfaction according to students (NUS 1969) is 10 to 12. Larger groups are an advantage when it requires the combining of individual efforts as in brainstorming. They are of less value when everyone must accomplish the task, which is the general situation in most discussion groups. If the group is small (i.e., two or three in number), the tutor is likely to be dominant from the start. With a large group (eight or more) the divergence of aims and the need for role differentiation may push the tutor into a dominant position. However, the use of subgroups can overcome some of the difficulties of large group discussions.

Questions to ask about group size:

  • What size of group is appropriate to the aims?
  • How many people can be fitted into the room and still have good eye contact?
  • Will the tutor take a leadership role or will students take responsibility for the process?
  • Does the tutor intend to split the group into subgroups?
  • Is the group large enough to avoid total dominance by the tutor?
  • Will the group still be large enough if one or two members are absent?

<< 1.2 physical environment | 1.4 Group composition >>