Understanding group needs

  • Individual needs
  • Task needs
  • Group needs
  • Balance of task and group needs

Groups are comprised of individuals, but they also have a life of their own. To recognise what is required for dealing with both the needs of the group and also each of the individuals is an important skill of leaders. There are two very useful models which illustrate the needs of outdoor adventure groups and the individuals in those groups. The first is the three circles of needs and the other is Maslow's (1943) hierarchy of needs, both described in this chapter.

The three circles of needs illustrates the desirability of balancing individual needs, task needs and group needs. It also emphasises the interaction between these three needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model identifies five levels of human needs and gives a priority ranking for each. Maslow argues that an individual cannot progress up this ladder until their basic needs on the lower levels are satisfactorily met. All leaders need an understanding of these two concepts.

Individual, task and group needs

The functioning of groups in most situations is heavily influenced by the three-way interaction of the needs of individuals, the need to complete the task or activity, and the needs of the group as a whole. Outdoor adventure leaders should have the ability to focus attention on the group as well as the activity, the person as well as the task. They should carefully influence the group to work together toward their goals, while at the same time facilitating the progress of each individual along the path of enjoyment, satisfaction and personal growth.

A useful model for identifying the range of Individual needs within recreational groups is the three interlocking circles shown in Figure 45.1.

Figure 45.1 Interactive nature of needs

Leaders should be aware of the importance and interdependence of all three areas of need, and should ensure that no single area is neglected. The interaction of the three areas of nature of needs need can best be illustrated by two examples. Encouraging individuals by praise, reward or support leads to an enhancement of group morale, which in turn facilitates accomplishment of the task. Coordination of group activities is made easier by the allocation of work and resources which utilise individual talents and skills of group members, which in turn gives them satisfaction.

This model can also be used to show that leadership development which is simply task oriented not only neglects the skills necessary to develop a group to its full capacity, but also fails to make leaders aware of individual and group-building needs. Some key functions in each of the three areas of need are listed in Table 45.1.

Table 45.1 Needs of groups
Individual needsTask needsGroup maintenance needs
Understanding individual needs and motivation to participateDefining the taskPlanning group composition
Recognising basic needs (physical and security)Making a planEncouraging participation
Recognising individual needs, individuals with problemsPossessing competence in all skill areasMaintaining discipline
Recognising and encouraging talent and skills potentialEnsuring necessary equipment is availableFacilitating communication
Creating opportunities for exploring individual interests, training and developmentGiving information, teaching skillsBuilding team spirit, cohesion and trust
Encouraging by praise, reward and supportAllocating work and resourcesSolving interpersonal differences
 Controlling pace and maintaining standardsRelieving tension
 Checking performance against plansBuilding group morale
 Adjusting plans as necessaryTraining the group
 Winding upCoordination of group activities

Individual needs

Looking at individual needs in groups is a useful starting point, since group members must have some of their own needs met before they can contribute to the group and task.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs model
Maslow suggested that needs can be pictured as a ladder with five rungs, as shown in Figure 45.2. He showed that a person will only climb another rung on the ladder if the rung below is secure. As a leader it is important to be aware of this, and to be able to identify the position of individuals in a particular circumstance. For example, a group which has run out of water and is thirsty on a hot day, with little chance of finding more water for several hours, will have concern for little else. Similarly, a group member who has never camped before may be unable to enjoy anything on the first day of a trip because of their anxiety about shelter that night.

Maslow's Hierarchy

Figure 45.2 Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Group members may also have their own priority system or agenda for what they want from the group. These may not be the same as the group's goals, so it is useful to be aware of them. It is highly desirable that leaders be aware of any issues influencing the position on the ‘needs ladder’ of any members of the group. Problems of confidence, unrealised ambitions and social tensions are three examples of such issues.

Balance of task and group needs

Most constructive behaviour in a group can be classified either as actions directed toward the achievement of a task,or actions directed toward building the group and maintaining its cohesiveness and morale. Typically, groups are primarily task oriented (Figure 45.3), especially during their initial stages of development. Participation is characteristically related to information and opinion giving and discussion of details related to the task. However, while these factors are important, achievement and morale will be limited unless the leader is aware of group needs and deliberately facilitates the development of trust, cohesion and effective functioning.

Outdoor adventure groups exist for the purpose of carrying out a task that a group can do better, more enjoyably and more safely than an individual. It is the leader’s responsibility not only to ensure that the task needs are met, but also to help this collection of individuals, all with their own needs, to work together as a group. A knowledge of group needs and group dynamics enables you to make better plans, understand what is happening in the group and more effectively meet its changing needs by modifying behaviour and style as appropriate.


Maslow A.H. 1943. A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review June, 370–396.