Theoretical Perspectives for Team & Small Group Research

There are generally nine theoretical perspectives for structuring your analysis or for developing theoretical models for team and small group research. These nine perspectives are presented by Poole and Hollingshead (2005) book titled Theories of Small Groups. These perspectives can also be found in the special issue in Small Group Research (2004, Volume 35, Issues 1-3), edited by Poole et al. (2004)

The theoretical perspective listed are provided in the aforementioned references:

1) Functional Perspective

2) Psychodynamic Perspective

3) Social Identity Perspective

4) Conflict-Power-Status Perspective

5) Symbolic-Interpretive Perspective

6) Feminist Perspective

7) Social Network Perspective

8) Temporal Perspective

9) Evolutionary Perspective

Each perspective listed meet the following requirements:

  • The perspective had to advance a distinctive view of groups, group processes, and group outcomes.
  • The perspective had to have the potential for application in multiple disciplines, even some that had not previously employed it.
  • Contemporary scholars working with the perspective could be identified. (Poole, Hollingshead, McGrath, Moreland, & Rohrbaugh, 2004, p. 5)

Perspectives offer different points of view when viewing groups and group dynamics. Offering different perspectives is essential to providing the discipline alternative ways of viewing how groups work, function, learn, operate, etc… The nine perspectives presented here by Poole et al. (2004 & 2005) are characterized “in terms of their conception of what groups are and what they do; in terms of the types of inputs, processes, and outcomes they focus on; and in terms of the relative emphasis they place on input, process, and outcome variables” (Poole et al., 2004, p. 7).

The following brief definitions are provided below for each of the nine perspectives. The definitions provided are from Poole and Hollingshead, 2005). For more detailed information review the references listed.

The Functional Perspective

A normative approach to describing and predicting group performance that focuses on the functions of inputs and/or processes in groups. (p. 4)

The Psychodynamic Perspective

An approach to the study of groups that focuses on the relationship between the emotional, non conscious processes and the conscious, rational processes of interpersonal interaction. (p. 5)

The Social Identity Perspective

Explains groups in terms of members’ sense of the social groups to which they belong, their identification with these groups, the social identity they construct based on this identification, and the dynamics between ingroups and outgroups driven by social identity. (p. 5)

The Conflict-Power-Status Perspective

Explains groups in terms of the dynamics of power, status, resources, and social relationships and the group structures associated with these processes. (p. 6)

The Symbolic-Interpretive Perspective

Focuses on the social construction of groups and offers explanations based on the meaning groups have for their members. (p. 7)

The Feminist Perspective

Challenges traditional approaches to studying groups by investigating and theorizing how power and privilege are enacted through interactions that favor one gender over another. (p. 7)

The Social Network Perspective

Considers groups as interlinked structures embedded in larger social networks. Groups, their properties, and their processes are conceptualized in terms of patterns of relationships among members. (p. 8)

The Temporal Perspective

Explains groups in terms of how they change or develop over time. (p. 9)

The Evolutionary Perspective

posits that groups structure and interaction reflect evolutionary forces that have shaped human social behaviors over tens of thousands of years. (p. 10)


Poole, M. S. & Hollingshead, A. B. (2005). (Ed.s). Theories of small groups: Interdisciplinary perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. 

Poole, M. S., Hollingshead, A. B., McGrath, J. E., Moreland, R. L., & Rohrbaugh. J. (2004). Interdisciplinary perspectives on small groups. Small Group Research, 35, 3-16. doi:10.1177/1046496403259753

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: