Professor Marshall

LESSON 5: Groups and Organizations

Groups and Organizations

Whether we are discussing sociology as a research discipline, issues in your workplace, or the application of some type of research, it is important to be able to determine exactly who is being discussed. To do this we have to understand the dynamics of groups and organizations.

Groups must share similar interests — in that respect, not all collections of people are groups (Steele and Price 33). Some basic differences between those that are groups and those that are not:

We also need to make sure we have a basic understanding of the different types of groups:

  • Primary groups: small and intimate these types of groups tend to endure over long periods of time and provide deep meaningful support to you.
  • Secondary groups: these tend to be groups which form for specific purposes and then disband; less intimate and larger in size than primary groups, they are less meaningful and provide limited support to you.
  • In groups: in groups can be primary or secondary and are comprised of people with whom we identify. We share interest with the people, and this provides us with a common sense of identity or collective. In groups can help us to form our sense of identity and our sense of self and help us to achieve a sense of value and worth within society. In groups help to validate us and also help to socialize us by sanctioning of — both positively and negatively.
  • Outgroups: out groups can be primary or secondary and are comprised of people with whom we do not identify. Out groups often exist of rivals or people with whom we feel we have nothing in common and with whom we don't identify. Out groups often behave in ways which we consider to be abnormal, deviant, or even criminal.
  • Reference groups: reference groups are very important to us as we begin our adult and professional lives as they give us a foundation from which to take our workplace norms and values. Reference groups include people that we compare our own selves to and show us the proper ways to behave as adults and workers in society. Reference groups do not just pertain to adult and workplace behavior (for purposes of this applied sociology course this is how we will use this definition). As an example, you may be studying to become a medical professional and part of the requirements of your degree may mean that you need to shadow or complete a clinical component before you can graduate. When you do this you will come in contact with reference groups either at the hospital or at the venue where you complete this component of your education. You will pick up specific behaviors, terminology, ways to dress, and other acceptable workplace elements as you observe the professionals in your chosen occupation — these professionals are part of your reference group. Once you graduate and begin to work in your chosen profession, you will become part of a reference group for others who will one day become workers in your chosen field.


Using the definitions of the different types of groups can help you in the workplace. Whether you go on to be a researcher or to work in some other profession, understanding group dynamics is beneficial to you not only as an employee but also as a potential supervisor or owner of a company.

It's easy to imagine how you might be able to use this type of information on the job. If your supervisor asks you to perform an evaluation of a particular division within your agency, is important for you to understand group dynamics within that division. Likewise, if you were given the task of training new employees, it would benefit you to understand how groups were functioning within your organization.


Steele, Stephen F., Jammie Price. Applied Sociology. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008. Print.