Interpersonal Leadership: Communication
“Small Group and Team Communications”
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 7.3
Interpersonal Communication

Group Communication: Interpersonal communication is very dynamic and has great diversity of application in your life and leadership. Let’s examine how the small groups of your life situations fit into the picture. First, what about small groups and teams?

Matthew 18:20 (NIV)–For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.

Group or Team?
In most congregations there are significant numbers of small groups and teams, which may look just alike and be called by similar names. Although they are dissimilar in many ways, both require effective communications to function well:

  • Glossary–group
    “A group is a collection of three or more individuals who perceive themselves as a small group but who may work independently to achieve organization goals.” –Guffey, Business Communication, p.41
  • Glossary–team
    “A team is a group of individuals who interact over time to achieve a purpose. Members recognize a need for each others’ expertise, talent, and commitment to achieve their goals.” –Guffey, p.42
  1. Definition/Identification
    A small group is usually composed of at least three members, but no more than twelve to fifteen, with each one enabled to interact and communicate openly and freely in seeking to achieve a common goal(s).

    Social: Some small groups primarily provide interpersonal needs such as esteem, control, influence, affection, belonging; we may see this as essential to the true fellowship life of the church. On almost any team or small group, there are those who focus on relationships and process.

    Task: Some work groups join together to initiate and complete a specific task–offering guidance, support, and commitment.
    There are those on any group who are best at focusing the group on task performance and results.

    Synergy: Other small groups/teams combine both of these characteristics, using their ideas, skills, resources, and time to complete higher, better tasks or decisions. This is synergy at work, and communication is at the center of it.

    In an interactive communication model, synergy is more likely to occur because each member can freely participate. Review the following model and explanation.


    Interpersonal communication may be one-on-one as a message Sender(s) and Receiver(s) in immediate interchange of roles through selected channels. This may also be true within a small group, or team, showing that communication is open and interactive. There may be a group leader (S/R) who facilitates the process and participates in it but does not control the communication. Both relationships and results stay in the mix.

  2. Communication–Leader Controlled
    On the other hand, in small group communication, there is a style that is least effective but perhaps too often experienced. See if you recognize this in any groups you belong to. Also, where do you fit into the picture below?

    groupleader - Copy

    The group leader is the source and controller of the communication stream: usually sets the agenda, shares selected information, proposes the solutions, and seeks or expects group members’ approval.

    Group members listen passively or in frustration, join in little interaction, provide insignificant feedback, and voice approval; then run to the underground communication network.

  3. Small Group Development/Communication

    Just how does a group develop in stages from a collection of individuals to a functioning productive group or team? Although some members are more adapt at task, others at process, all the members participate to move the group toward fulfilling the task. Succinctly put: “Our job is to make widgets and take care of one another.”

    Bruce A. Tuckman, a research psychologist, is first credited (Psychological Bulletin, 63, pp. 384-399) and often quoted for small-group development stages–and communication is an obvious component in each stage:

    • Forming–“Who are we as a group?” “Why am I here?” Group members learn about each other and the task at hand (orientation). Moving slowly through this stage could be the best gift of the leader.
    • Storming–“How are we going to work together?” Members engage each other’s ideas, roles, and status and become more comfortable with each other; conflict is treated as “in-bounds.”
    • Norming–“What are we gong to attempt together?”
      Establish and address goals, rules, and communication patterns; consensus develops and leadership moves around.
    • Performing–“How can we get this done?” Establish a common goal and implement the goal; completion happens through commitment, loyalty and a “can-do” attitude.
    • Adjourning–Project ends and the group disbands (closure); or reforming takes place around another task.
  4. Small Group Types/Sizes
    The ideal size of a team or group has much to do with its purpose and its needed communication components. Teams may be from three to fifteen or so; some types of groups may be much larger. Let’s consider examples of small groups and teams requiring communication strategies based on task, type, and size:
  • Staff/Volunteer Teams–May number three to twelve, having diverse service and leadership tasks and communication strategies, such as: supervision, reporting, coordination, training, etc.
  • Volunteer Teams–From five to much larger with the central component being communication, but many tasks performed as individuals. Some church councils and committees may function both as a group and as a team.
  • Problem Solving Teams–Five to seven members with the right expertise, commitment and resources to identify, analyze and act toward problem solution.
  • Brainstorming/Ideation–A group of ten to fifteen who may seek to identify problems, explore opportunities, generate options, but without making decisions or judgments (open-communication style needed). Members are gathered and requested ahead of time to participate fully in generating as many ideas as possible on a particular topic, task, or direction. No idea is bad or wrong; each is recorded. No decisions or judgments are made at this meeting.
  • Nominal group techniques–Could be twelve to twenty-four members (or more with subgroup processes). Following a brainstorming group meeting, group members individually rank options from highest to lowest priority. Finally, the facilitator averages the ranking scores to find the established priority of the group.
  • Decision-making group–Three to twelve including those with authority to decide, knowledgeable people to resource, and those to direct implementation. When it’s time to make a decision, there are standard decision-making steps, all of them involving communication:
    • Identify the problem, the challenge, the opportunity.
    • Analyze the situation as it is now–the pluses, the minuses; gather adequate information.
    • Establish the final goals of the decision; what criteria are needed?
    • Generate options; for example–brainstorming and nominal technique.
    • Evaluate every option against the goals established. Implement the option/alternative/solution.
  • Informational/Motivation Groups–Beyond the normal dimensions of small groups, larger groups, three or more (unlimited) may be convened to represent the congregation and its ministries. These large meetings may actually be convened by teams or small groups for reporting, informing or motivating.

For Reflection/Assessment/Application
In a one-week period, what small groups/teams are included in your schedule? Reflect on the most critical, time consuming, or dysfunctional. As you study this article, keep these especially in mind: family? Sunday School class? choir council? deacons/elders? project team? school board? nominating committee? staff meeting? other?

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© 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership