Qualitative Research Methods
Behind the Line: A Qualitative Study of Family Dynamics within a Small Working Group
The restaurant industry continues to be an economic powerhouse because of its ability to sell a desirable dining experience to customers. These sales rely heavily on the collective communicative abilities of the employees. If the servers are able to make larger sales, restaurants are more likely to thrive. Additionally, bigger sales often lead to bigger tips, as tipping is often based on a percentage of the bill. Therefore, interpersonal strategies are central to the success of the American restaurant industry. Relationships between employees within a workplace are important to the functionality of the business. If employees are unable to cooperate together, important tasks may go uncompleted, which would diminish the level of productivity within the company. While numerous studies have focused on improving the communication, productivity, and functionality of a business, few have explored the inter-relationships of a small group and their work together as a family unit. This study explores the relational dynamics of a small group of employees at a privately owned restaurant in the mid-Atlantic region of the US through in-depth interviews and observations while bringing to light the family dynamics the group shares. The interpersonal relationships shared between members of the group may be of interest to others in the field of communication because these relationships demonstrate how small groups interact, communicate, and cooperate together.
Previous has been conducted on the relational dynamics of small groups. Many of those studies evaluate the solidarity group members experience within a group. As Shields and Coughlin (2000) discuss, solidarity is a sense of community that members of a group share. Jones et al. (2007) further defines solidarity as “closeness and shared beliefs, attitudes, and values between friends” (p. 64). This solidarity, according to Hay (2000), is achieved through four strategies: similarities, sharing, boundaries, and teasing. He argues that individuals, as they enter a new group, find it necessary to uncover similarities they possess with other members. This allows for group members to enter the next degree of solidarity, sharing. Once members have discovered similarities among, they begin to share their experiences with one another in order to gain a level of understanding and comfort. The information exchanged while sharing assists with the establishment of boundaries—what is and what is not acceptable within a relationship. Teasing cannot be reached if the first three degrees of solidarity are not met (Hay 2000).
Beebe and Masterson (1986) present a model which depicts “small group communication as a constellation of variables” (p. 33). These variables consist of: goals (both individual and group oriented), norms, roles, cohesiveness, outcomes, and leadership (Beebe and Masterson 1986). Each of these variables make up what is referred to by Kelly, Kuehn, and McComb (1990) as communication competence: “knowing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it” (p.71). Communication competence allows for the group to achieve a communicative based social identity which further allows for an enhancement in group performance (Tajfel and Turner, 1979; Turner, 1987 cited by Crooks, 2007).
Group performance according to Hackman (1983) as cited by Bowers, Pharmer and Salas (2000) has been described as the “...outcome of dynamic processes reflected in coordination and communication…” (p. 9). The communication established through group performance promotes a sense of belonging and trust among its members, which inherently leads to effective communication (Crooks, p. 7). According to Kodish (2007), there are many different levels of trust which exist and assist with group function. More...
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