Professor Marshall

LESSON 7: Groups and Organizations

Lesson 7

Target Competencies (Outcomes)

Describe differences in basic types of groups and organizations

You will demonstrate your competence by:

Completing the learning activities in this Learning Plan

Your performance will be successful when:

You can define basic forms of groups and organizations (primary, secondary, in- and out-groups, reference groups, formal organizations and bureaucracies, etc.)

You can explain how group size and leadership styles influence group dynamics

You can articulate how conformity is both good and bad for groups

You can explain the importance of Ritzer's "McDonaldization"

Learning Activities

1. If you have not yet done so, READ Chapter 6 of your text.

2. COMPLETE the lesson below.

Group Formation

What are the elements that cause us to form into groups and what types of groups exist in society?

There are two basic types of groups from which all others form:

Primary and Secondary Groups

Ideal Types and Characteristics of a Bureaucracy

Much of the information and theory we have about groups is very easy to understand: primary groups, secondary groups, in-groups, out-groups and reference groups are basic and easy to envision. Other concepts about groups may more challenging. Consider the group called a "Bureaucracy." Why do we have to know what the characteristics of a bureaucracy are? Well, perhaps some of us don't have to know. But for others of us, this would be important information. Consider someone who works in a large organization which is dysfunctional. It would be good to know what the characteristics are which are causing this dysfunction to occur. For example, a human resources manager may be tasked with finding out what the problems are within an organization. Being able to study the organization and the different aspects of it via Weber's "Characteristics of a Bureaucracy" will help that human resources manager to figure out exactly where the issues are and potentially how to correct them. Max Weber was the German sociologist who studied the structure of organizations through history. He came up with ideas about bureaucracy studying some of the governmental agencies of the West.

However, before Weber came up with the characteristics of a bureaucracy, he developed his idea of ideal types. He asserted that we had to have a measuring stick by which to measure reality. Reality can never exist as an ideal. It can only exist as what it is, with all of its problems, dysfunctions, and issues. We do however have ideas about what the perfect society could be like. In fact, we have ideas about what the perfect state of anything could be. Whether discussing gender, ideals of beauty, the perfect man or woman, the perfect college, or the perfect worker in society, in our minds we have an idea of what that perfection would be. That ideal type becomes the measuring stick by which we look to society to figure out where the problem areas may be. The idea of the ideal type helped Weber to come up with his theory about the characteristics of the bureaucracy:

You can see how the use of the characteristics of a bureaucracy model could help someone in the workplace who may have been tasked with figuring out where the problems are within an organizational structure. Organizational/industrial psychologists would find this theory useful in their work as would others who work in highly structured and bureaucratized settings, such as prisons, the military, and government.


George Ritzer, and American sociologist from the conflict perspective, came up with the theory of McDonaldization to describe how the model of fast food business is taking over many aspects of our culture. The business model for fast food centers on efficiency and monitoring. In all aspects of the fast food restaurant are maximized for predictability, meaning that when a customer goes into any fast food establishment in a society, they can expect the same experience. Further, the employees of the establishment behave in a predictable manner. A positive outcome of McDonaldization has been to maximize profit. And negative outcome has been to decrease variability in product and services as well as to impact local cultures and traditions.

We must consider how McDonaldization has changed not only the way we interact in small groups (the micro perspective) but also how it changes our culture (the macro perspective). Ritzer argues that when a culture or society begins to adapt the characteristics of fast food establishments it changes the foundation of our society. As Max Weber developed his "characteristics of bureaucracy" model for theory early in the 20th century he was also concerned with how modernization would impact the structure of society and how groups within it would interact with each other. Today, Ritzer expresses the same concerns with his McDonaldization theory.


In conclusion, the concepts related to groups are easy to grasp. However, the deeper we dig the more we realize that this invisible element of the structure of society contributes to the framework under which we all live and function.