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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Collectivism and Individualism in Group Dynamics

It seems academics in the field of management sciences are obsessed with the study of culture, particularly the aspects of individualism and collectivism. Both these variables vary significantly over different cultures, some cultures are regarded as very individualistic in nature such as European cultures particular low context European cultures such as Britain and Germany, on the other hand Asian cultures such as that of Japan and Korea are regarded as cultures that are very collective in nature. Individualism in a culture implies focus on individual achievements, ambitions self and possessions, while collectivism as seen in Asian cultures implies that the combined welfare of a group, a team or a community is more important than the singular individuals in the group, and in most cases, the welfare is extended to include everyone in the group. From Consumer behavior in marketing to Human Resource Management, it seems everyone wants to understand this mechanism to get an idea of how we as human beings behave, and whether our exposure to individualism or collectivism affects us, and also our ability to adapt coming from one culture as opposed to another.
Individualism may have brought significant prosperity to the world, but had collectivism been a redundant concept it would have long died out. It's importance is still very prominent in today's world as without the pursuit of greater good, it is due to the understood importance of collectivism that even in cultures known for their individualism, human beings are put in situations where they have to work as a team or as a group collectively. Be it working in a group assignment at university level or be it in the practical world.
The purpose of putting individual human beings in a group or a team as opposed to pushing individual work is to encourage collectivism and stimulate group dynamics. In all its essence, when human beings are put together in a team, their expected to show some degree of collectivism, team work and emotional empathy towards other members of the group. Part of the purpose is to balance out the human drive towards individualism and apathy that exists in some cultures. In other words, when members of a group resort to individualism and lack of emotional empathy instead of following a collective approach, it not only serves to kill the purpose behind group work, but can result in a break down of collective effort and communication.
Breakdown in communication among groups and teams is not uncommon and has been occurring since the concept of team work dawned on the human civilization. In theory when people work in teams and groups, their differing personalities and approaches are meant to serve to compliment one another as opposed to create friction, but in reality that is not always the case. Individual goals, ambitions, targets and efforts can distort one's reality of working in a group and collectivism starts gradually diminishing. Each team has its strong and weak links, and it is collectivism within the group if approached properly that manages to make the strengths and weaknesses compliment each other, which otherwise would be nothing more than a source of friction. To create synergy within the group, a start to every collective effort would begin with understanding of what real collectivism is, and how it distinguishes itself from individualism in a team setting.

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