In Search of Synergy in Small Group Performance (Paperback) book cover

In Search of Synergy in Small Group Performance

By James R. Larson, Jr.

© 2010 – Psychology Press

442 pages | 17 B/W Illus.

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About the Book

This volume critically evaluates more than a century of empirical research on the effectiveness of small, task-performing groups, and offers a fresh look at the costs and benefits of collaborative work arrangements. The central question taken up by this book is whether -- and under what conditions -- interaction among group members leads to better performance than would otherwise be achieved simply by combining the separate efforts of an equal number of people who work independently. This question is considered with respect to a range of tasks (idea-generation, problem solving, judgment, and decision-making) and from several different process perspectives (learning and memory, motivation, and member diversity).

As a framework for assessing the empirical literature, the book introduces the concept of 'synergy.' Synergy refers to an objective gain in performance that is attributable to group interaction. Further, it distinguishes between weak and strong synergy, which are performance gains of different magnitude. The book highlights the currently available empirical evidence for both weak and strong synergy, identifies the conditions that seem necessary to produce each, and suggests where the search for synergy might best be directed in the future.

The book is at once a high-level introduction to the field, a review of the field's history, and a scholarly critique of the current state-of-the-art. As such, it is essential reading for graduate students, advanced undergraduate students, and researchers interested in group dynamics generally -- and small group performance in particular.


"In Search of Synergy is … beautifully written. Although the material is often dense and detailed, the writing is clear and relatively jargon-free. … Larson also has a real knack for inventing excellent concrete examples to illustrate key ideas. … For the topics I (thought I) knew well (e.g., the work on group problem solving and group motivation), the text was both very accurate and full of provocative new ideas. And for the topics I was less familiar with (e.g., the work on group learning and memory; the work on group diversity), the presentation was accessible and illuminating. … It will be of greatest interest and use to scholars of group processes, especially those with abiding research interests in group/team productivity. It is reasonably accessible to and could be read with profit by graduate students and even by capable, well-motivated undergraduate students. … It could have as much impact on how the next generation of students and scholars think about and study the performance of small groups and teams as Steiner’s text had nearly four decades ago." - Norbert L. Kerr, Michigan State University, in the Journal of Social Psychology

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Mapping the Territory. 2. Tasks: What Groups Do. 3. Idea Generation: Creative Thinking in Groups. 4. Problem Solving: Performing Tasks with Correct Solutions. 5. Judgment Calls: Performing Tasks with Hard-to-Demonstrate Correct Answers. 6. Decision Making: Selecting from Among Discrete Choice Alternatives. 7. Learning and Memory: Acquiring, Retaining, and Retrieving Knowledge in Groups. 8. Motivation: Energizing and Directing Behavior in Groups. 9. Group Composition: The Problem of Diversity within Groups. 10. Conclusion: Prospects for the Future in the Search for Synergy.

About the Author

James R. Larson, Jr. holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Washington (Seattle), and is professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Larson's research is in the areas of group decision making, problem solving, and performance. He has published widely on these topics, and his research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Library of Medicine. Dr. Larson is a past associate editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is currently a member of six editorial boards, and is a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. Dr. Larson teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in social and organizational psychology.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Social Psychology