The bona fide group construct grew out of a concern over the external validity and generalizability of studies conducted on zero-history, laboratory groups. More than just a focus on studying naturally occurring groups, a bona fide group perspective focuses on characteristics of naturally occurring groups that do not exist in laboratory groups. The first conceptualization of this by Linda Putnam and Cynthia Stohl (1990) emphasized that naturally occurring (bona fide) groups have stable but permeable boundaries, are interdependent with the immediate context, and have links between the boundaries and context. So unlike artificially created groups, in bona fide groups, group membership frequently changes, the group’s internal dynamics are influenced by the external environment, and its members are influenced by their simultaneous membership in other groups. For example, an ad hoc committee frequently experiences membership changes as personnel are reassigned, is interdependent with the administrator who convened the group and with other groups who provide it with resources, and is affected by the divided loyalties of its members as they balance their involvement in the ad hoc committee with other departmental and social groups.
Further elaborations of the bona fide group perspective have contributed to the understanding of the complexity of groups in context. Putnam and Stohl (1996) emphasized that bona fide groups cannot be considered containers with unambiguous boundaries, and focused on how group identity is formed. Group identity is influenced by the degree of belongingness to the target group and the loyalty and commitment to other groups. In an extension of the bona fide group perspective, John Lammers and Dean Krikorian (1997) elaborated on aspects of context including the fact that bona fide groups operate at multiple levels, are simultaneously tightly coupled (interdependent) in some areas and loosely coupled (independent) in other areas, are resource-dependent, and have competing internal and external authority or power systems. Further, a bona fide group should be considered in terms of its age, its task duration, the characteristics of its members, and its institutional history.
Since its conception, a bona fide group perspective has generated a significant body of research including at least one entire edited volume of studies (Frey 2003). The bona fide group perspective provides insight into understanding such diverse topics as how a medical device sales representative can temporarily become part of a surgical team (Lammers & Krikorian 1997), how members balance their simultaneous membership in work, family, and social groups while participating in a community theater group (Kramer 2002), and how the different agendas brought to a government community cooperative by its members’ multiple group memberships decreased its effectiveness (Keyton and Stallworth 2003).
Scholars sometimes mistakenly assume the importance of classifying or categorizing a particular group as a bona fide group. However, as Putnam and Stohl (1994) point out, all naturally occurring groups exhibit characteristics of the bona fide group; it is simply a question of the degree to which the researcher attends to these characteristics. In reflecting on research using a bona fide group perspective, Stohl and Putnam (2003) conclude that it will continue to expand the breadth of group research by exploring more varied group contexts through a range of research methods and by focusing research on the impetus and impact of both internal and external communication on group processes.
- Frey, L. R. (ed.) (2003). Group communication in context: Studies of bona fide groups, 2nd edn. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 1–20.
- Keyton, J., & Stallworth, V. (2003). On the verge of collaboration: Interaction processes versus group outcomes. In L. R. Frey (ed.), Group communication in context: Studies of bona fide groups. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 235 –260.
- Kramer, M. W. (2002). Communication in a community theater group: Managing multiple group roles. Communication Studies, 53, 151–170.
- Lammers, J. C., & Krikorian, D. H. (1997). Theoretical extension and operationalization of the bona fide group construct with an application to surgical teams. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 25, 17–38.
- Putnam, L. L., & Stohl, C. (1990). Bona fide groups: A reconceptualization of groups in context. Communication Studies, 41, 248–265.
- Putnam, L. L., & Stohl, C. (1994). Group communication in context: Implications for the study of bona fide groups. In L. R. Frey (ed.), Group communication in context: Studies of natural groups. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 285–292.
- Putnam, L. L., & Stohl, C. (1996). Bona fide groups: An alternative perspective for communication and small group decision making. In R. Y. Hirokawa & M. S. Poole (eds.), Communication and group decision making, 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 147–178.
- Stohl, C., & Putnam, L. L. (2003). Communication in bona fide groups: A retrospective and prospective account. In L. R. Frey (ed.), Group communication in context: Studies of bona fide groups, 2nd edn. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 399 – 414.