Group Interaction Sequences & Group Mood

Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Renee A. Myers, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Simone Kauffeld, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Alexandra Neininger, Technische Universität Braunschweig, and Angela Henschel, Freelance Consultant, recently published “Verbal Interaction Sequences and Group Mood: Exploring the Role of Team Planning Communication” in  the March 2011 issue of Small Group Research. Professor Lehmann-Willenbrock discusses the article below.

Who is the target audience for this article?

This paper addresses an important issue for team interaction researchers and team consultants alike: How does group mood become tangible via verbal interaction between team members? We show how complaining cycles are linked to a passive group mood, and interest-in-change-cycles are linked to an active group mood.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

Moods are diffuse feeling states that affect us every day. We were interested to find out how these moods are constructed in a team setting and how what we say to each other affects how the group “feels”. Research on complaining in team meetings shows that this sort of negative behavior tends to occur in cycles (Kauffeld, 2007; Kauffeld & Meyers, 2009; Lehmann-Willenbrock & Kauffeld, 2010). For example, one team member starts complaining, someone agrees, then another team member complains some more, and so forth. What happens in this sequence can be explained by the concept of emotional contagion: If someone complains, he or she “infects” me with that behavior, and I’m more likely to complain myself afterwards. Our idea was that these cycles in the team interaction behavior flow can construct group moods, which are considered collective affect (see Barsade & Gibson, 2007). While we thought that complaining cycles could be an expression of a negative group mood, we also looked at positive group moods. As opposed to complaining, we examined interest-in-change statements (e.g., “That sounds promising”, “Yeah we should try that”). We expected that, if these positive statements occurred in cycles as well, then they should be linked to a positive group mood.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

We measured group mood on two dimensions: pleasure (unpleasant/pleasant) and arousal (active/passive). We initially thought that complaining behavior would be linked to an unpleasant and passive mood, while interest-in-change behavior would be linked to a pleasant and active mood. Our findings show that this is only partly true though. Complaining was significantly correlated with a passive mood and interest-in-change with an active mood, but the pleasure dimension was not affected by these statements. One explanation for this finding is that we used trained observers to rate the group mood, and they may have detected arousal (active/passive mood) more easily than pleasure (unpleasant/pleasant). We would have to compare these observer ratings with self-reports of the team members in the future to find out whether this explanation is true.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

Research studying the communication behavior in naturally occurring team meetings from real organizations is rare, partly because it’s difficult to get videotaped team meetings. Our study on naturally occurring team meetings shows that group mood is indeed a socially constructed phenomenon that is built through verbal interaction. Moreover, we show that group mood can be rated by observers and that it is significantly linked to interaction cycles.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

We have published on the phenomenon of complaining in work teams (e.g., Kauffeld, 2007; Kauffeld & Meyers, 2009; Lehmann-Willenbrock & Kauffeld, 2010), but this was the first time we compared complaining cycles with interest-in-change behavior patterns. The link between our coded interaction data and the new observer measure of group mood is a promising addition to our previous research and we hope to expand on this measure in the future.

How did your paper change during the review process?

The most important change during the review process concerns our measure of group mood. A reviewer suggested that we should link the verbal interaction cycles to an actual measure of group mood. So we set out to develop an observer rating instrument and went back to rate the team meetings on that measure.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

If we were to do this study again, we might look at a more diverse sample. We analyzed the meeting interaction in German industrial teams where no supervisor was present. Our results might look rather different if the supervisor was included, if the gender ratio was more even, and especially if we analyzed teams from a different cultural background. We have started examining cultural differences in team interaction and it looks like German teams tend to complain more than US teams. This is an exciting field of future research!

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