4 Major Types of Group: Primary, Secondary, Formal, and Informal

Types of Group

A group refers to a collection of two or more persons in regular interaction with a common goal or interest and share a common identity (i.e. common ways of thinking and behaving. E.g. family, college graduates, lecturers, activists, sports teams, church groups, workplaces, etc. are the common group types.

The group plays an important role in the development of social organization, socialization, and formation of personality.

The most important types of group are:

  • Primary Group
  • Secondary Group
  • Formal Group
  • Informal Group

#1 Primary Group

American sociologist C.H. Cooley propounded the idea of the primary group. The term ‘primary’ is used with these groups because they are the primary source of relationships and socialization and therefore, play the most crucial role in our lives.

The primary group is intimate, informal, mutual typically small scale, includes, personal & direct relationships among the members, and is usually long-lasting. The members of this group feel a mighty personal identification with the group.

The relationships in our primary groups give us love, security, and companionship. Close affinity and the “we feeling” are found among them. The members of the primary group also have a spirit of sacrifice for one another. These types of groups serve emotional needs.

For e.g. family, friend circles, neighborhood, and sports groups are primary groups. These groups are characterized by intimate face-to-face associations and cooperation. A close relationship exists between such group types.

Characteristics Primary Group:

Face-to-face interaction and close relationship: Primary groups are characterized by close and intimate relationships among the members. It is the face-to-face interactions that provide close contact such as in family, neighborhood, etc. where everyone knows everyone else, one’s name and fame, one’s status, wealth, occupation, level of education, etc.

Personal/emotional relationship: There is an intimate relationship among members as everyone knows each other at a personal level. Such a relationship is so emotional that no one can replace it. For e.g. the relationship between husband and wife is such that no third person can replace it. replace it.

Spontaneous relationship: The relationship is voluntary, never planned, and happens spontaneously and naturally as the members have close and face-to-face contact and interactions. For e.g. relationships that develop between the mother and child, husband and wife.

Small-sized: Primary Groups are smaller in size. It is also a fact that the increase in group size will have a negative effect on the intimacy among members.

Physical proximity or nearness: As the members have face-to-face interactions, it facilitates the exchange of ideas, opinions, and sentiments among members. This ultimately brings them closer and nearer thus forming a group.

Stability of the group: A primary group is relatively a permanent group because they are emotional attached to huge time spent together.

Priority of group interest over individual or self-interest: Members of the primary group suppress their personal interest for the sake of the group interest. In fact, the fulfillment of group interest gives more satisfaction and pleasure to the members. For e.g father working in the interest of children and family than his personal interest.

Regular communication: Communication among members is very quick and effective because direct face-to-face contact helps easy communication between the members.

Direct cooperation: Members work directly and in cooperation with each other to achieve their common interests. It means that there is unity among the members while performing the function.

#2 Secondary Group

The secondary groups are just the opposite of the primary group. They have the opposite characteristics of primary groups. They can be small or large and are mostly impersonal and usually short-term.

The group’s role is more goal or task-oriented rather than emotional. These group types are typically found at work and school. An impersonal, formal, and indirect relationship exists among the members of the second group.

For e.g. school, workplace, members of club, professionals, political or trade unions, a graduate seminar group, etc. are secondary groups.

Characteristics Secondary Group:

Indirect relationship: There are no face-to-face interactions and even if it happens, it happened for certain interests or works. Sometimes, members even do not meet face to face and thus maintain indirect relations for certain purposes.

Impersonal relation: Secondary types of the group are characterized by impersonal, relations in which members know each other in course doing official works. They may not know each other at a personal level and just have workplace relations.

Large-sized: Secondary groups are relatively larger in size. They may have thousands and lakhs of members. For e.g. political parties, trade unions, corporations, universities, etc.

Membership: Membership in secondary groups may be voluntary such as political parties, international associations like Rotary club, lions club, etc., and involuntary as in the state (nation) whose membership is almost involuntary.

No physical proximity or closeness: Most secondary groups do not have a limited or definite area. Some are even international ones such as Rotary Club, Lions Club, etc, which are almost international in character and in which the members are scattered over a vast area and therefore they are physically at a distant far.

Has specific ends or interests: Secondary groups are formed in order to meet some specific interests or ends. Members join the group because they have specific ends to fulfill. For e.g. mothers’ group, cooperative, youth club, etc.

Indirect Communication: The communications among the members are indirect as the members-only have impersonal relations and are physically not closer.

Informal means of social control: Formal means of social control such as law, legislation, police, court, etc. are made use of to control the behavior of members.

Formal group structure: The secondary group has a formal structure as they are mostly organized, groups. The statuses and roles of the members are specified on the basis of competence, skills, and knowledge.

#3 Formal Group

A formal group is the type of group that is established by an organization to achieve its goals. This group has also various types:

Types of Formal Group:

Command Group:

Command groups are specified by the organizational chart and often consist of a supervisor and the subordinates that report to the supervisor. An example of a command group is a market research firm CEO and research associate under him.

Task group:

Task groups consist of people who work collectively to reach a general goal. Members are taken together to achieve a small range of goals within a stipulated time period. Task groups are also commonly referred to as task forces. The organization appoints members and assigns the goals and tasks to be accomplished.

Other common types of task groups are the Adhoc committee, project group, and standing committee. Ad hoc committees are temporary groups created to resolve a specific complaint or develop a process that is normally disbanded after the group completes the assigned task.

Functional group:

A functional group is formed by the organization to achieve distinct goals within an unspecified time frame. Functional groups remain in existence after the achievement of current goals and objectives. Examples of functional groups would be a marketing department, a customer service department, or an accounting department.

Characteristics of Formal Group:

Formed consciously: The formal group is consciously established by an organization to achieve its goals.

Fulfill social needs: Its purpose is well defined and centers around survival, growth, profit, and service to society.

Hierarchy: There is a well-defined hierarchy on the basis of authority. The higher authority supervises the lower level.

Division of labor and work specialization: Each member has a specialized task to perform.

Impersonal: There is an impersonal relationship among individuals which means that formal group is not influenced by personal, social, and emotional relationships/sentiments. People come and go as a normal event.

Existence of a standard set of rules and regulations: The organization operates under a certain standardized set of rules and regulations which can lead to the achievement of organizational goals.

#4 Informal Group

An informal group can be defined as a voluntary group that evolves spontaneously, not by the organization with the objectives of fulfilling the personal and social needs of its members. It also has various group types:

Types of Informal Group:

Interest Group:

Interest groups usually continue over time and may last longer than general informal groups. Members of interest groups may not be part of the same organizational department but they are bound together by some other common interest.

The goals and objectives of group interests are specific to each group and may not be related to organizational goals and objectives. An example of an interest group would be students who come together to form a study group for a specific class.

Friendship Group:

Friendship groups are formed by members who enjoy similar social activities, political beliefs, religious values, or other common bonds. Members enjoy each other’s company and often meet after work to participate in these activities. For example, a group of employees who form a friendship group may have a yoga group.

Reference Group:

A reference group is a group that people compare themselves to — it provides a standard of measurement. In other words, a reference group is that group that is the referring point of the individual, toward which he is oriented and which influences his opinion, tendency, and behavior.

In many societies, peer groups are common types of reference groups. We use reference groups to assess and understand how we should act, dress, and behave. Most people have more than one reference group. For e.g. a schoolboy might not look only at his classmate but also at his older brother’s friends, his favorite person, etc., and try developing a set of behaviors.

Characteristics of Informal Group:

Spontaneous formation: Informal group is not formed by the organization but springs up spontaneously.

Satisfaction of Needs: The needs which cannot be satisfied within the framework of a formal organization, such as the social and psychological needs of people are fulfilled by an informal group.

Voluntary Membership: Nobody is forced but they join an informal group voluntarily.

Multi-Group Membership: A member of an informal group can be a member of more than one informal group to pursue different interests or goals.

Systems and Processes: The informal group has its own norms and to which the members follow to remain cohesive.

Leadership: The informal group has a leader, selected by the group, and he/ she is capable of helping to realize the goals of its members. If the leader is found incapable, he/she is replaced with a new leader.

Differences between Formal and Informal Group

Differences between these two types of groups are as follows:

  • A formal group is legally constituted, rationally designed, and consciously planned. Whereas an informal group emerges naturally and spontaneously.
  • Formal group purpose is well defined and centers around survival, growth, profit, service to society. Whereas informal group purpose is ill-defined and centers around goodwill, friendship, unity, etc.
  • A formal group’s relationship is a hierarchy base. Whereas informal group relationship is personal and social.
  • There is an impersonal relationship among individuals which means that formal group is not influenced by personal, social, and emotional relationship/ sentiments. People come and go as normal events. Whereas informal group is influenced by the personal, social, and emotional relationship.
  • The formal group operates within set boundaries i.e. rules and regulations. Whereas the Informal group has no bounds.
  • A formal group is rigid and bureaucratic. And, informal group is flexible and has relative freedom.

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