The Group Communication Dynamic

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Written by: Jennifer Scott

In the 2001 remake of the film “Ocean’s Eleven,” the group dynamic is intriguingly complex. When Daniel Ocean sets out to seek revenge on Terry Benedict, the man he feels stole his ex-wife from him, he puts together a group of criminal geniuses to help him carry out his master plan of stripping Benedict of $150 million dollars and winning back Tess, the love of his life. With the promise of receiving well over  $13 million dollars each, the men agree to play their role in the heist for not only the greater good of the group, but also for self-gratification.  As defined by educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman, the group moves through the five stages of group development, but not without incident , and not without the occurrence of role reversal.

During the forming stage of group development, Daniel, the initiator-contributor of the group, first seeks out Frank Catton, a card dealer who serves as the recorder for the group, keeping track of all of the comings and goings of everyone in the casino. Daniel then goes on to locate  his right-hand man, Rusty Ryan. Rusty, a card magician by trade—one who is known for his ability to read people while keeping his poker face intact—is the coordinator for the group. He assists Daniel in deciding exactly how to execute his plan, with the goal of stealing $150 million dollars from the vault which houses the money for three casinos owned by Terry Benedict. They put their pal into action, recruiting eight more men, each with his own special skill set.

Daniel and Rusty know that funding will be essential to carrying out their plan. They go to Reuben Tishkoff who lost his own casino in previous dealings with Terry Benedict. Tishkoff first plays the role of an opinion-giver, telling the two men they are crazy for attempting to steal from a casino. However, after hearing that they were planning to rob the man who took his casino, Tishkoff plays the role of the evaluator-critic, sharing stories about the downfall of other men who had attempted to rob their target casino.

The men found themselves in need of an electronics expert, someone who could bug the target hotel and set up hidden cameras throughout. For this specific task, they would recruit Livingston Dale who had recently worked in collaboration with an undercover task force. Livingston plays a dual role as the group’s procedural-technician and as their gate-keeper/expeditor. It is his job to make sure the group has the means to stay in constant contact with one another by setting up cameras and bugs inside the Bellagio Hotel and providing the men with the proper equipment for effective communication.

At this point, Daniel and Rusty decide on their get-away drivers, Virgil and Turk Malloy. These two brothers both followers and aggressors. They drive the group wherever they need to go without any hesitation, while ritualistically arguing among themselves about anything and everything. Virgil and Turk never get anything resolved for themselves individually, but they always seem to get the group from point A to point B without a hitch.

Basher is the explosives expert and also another procedural-technician for the group. It is his job to make the gadgets to be used for opening the vault door and causing the blackouts. Basher could also be considered an energizer for the group. Although, he is good at what he does, his near mishaps with the explosives seems to keep the group on their toes.

Yen is also a procedural-technician for the group, although he does this in a different manner that the others. Where the other procedural-technicians in the group use their intellectual abilities to perform logistical functions for the group, Yen uses his physical abilities. As an acrobat, Yen has learned to conform his body into many shapes, which allows him to be the “grease man” on the inside of the vault.

With all these professionals on board, Daniel and Rusty concur that they should enlist the help of Saul Bloom, a retired con man with many years of experience under his belt. Saul is a gentleman of sorts, and, as the standard setter, he sets the bar high for the group. It is never said aloud, but it seems to be understood that Saul is part of a dying breed of top-notch gangsters.

The last man brought on board is Linus Caldwell, the son of a notorious thief. In the beginning, Linus comes across as a recognition seeker. He is more interested in making a name for himself that the purpose of the task at hand. As a few of the more experienced member of the group break into a building to steal the nuclear generator that is needed to cause the blackout on the night of the heist, Linus ignores instructions to stay put in the van and sneaks in behind them to taste the glory for himself. To his dismay, and to the complete dissatisfaction of the others, he almost gets himself and the rest of the group caught by the night watchmen.

During the storming stage of the group’s development, Linus throws off the harmonic balance of the group by exposing Daniel’s true intent behind the heist—he wants to get back together with Tess. While following Tess around in the hotel, Daniel had been spotted by hotel security and was “red-listed” as a man of interest who should be followed at all times. Rusty decides that Daniel is now a liability to the operation and can no long lead the group in an effective manner. Rusty then takes over as the initiator-contributor of the group.

Once the group has moved past the problems caused by Daniel’s indiscretions and Linus’ overzealous desire to fit in, the group transitions into the norming stage of group development. Daniel’s crew functions more efficiently at this stage and the men seem much more in tune with each other. This synchronization of personalities leads the men to become comfortable with one another’s abilities, advancing them into the performing stage of group development. I believe this happens during the heist itself. Every man does his job to the best of his ability, while trusting in the other men’s abilities to do the same.

After the heist is completed, the group advances to the adjourning stage of group development. The men, feeling complete satisfaction for a job well done, watch the fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel burst into the night air, before smiling to one another and disbanding.  It is obvious that all of the group members are proud of their accomplishments and are now ready to move on with their lives. Well, that is with the exception of Daniel who must spend the next three to six months in jail for a parole violation.

It is clear, through the mistakes made by some members of the group, there are a few communication weaknesses presented by this group. This is never more obvious than when it is revealed that Daniel is not in on the heist just for the money. He tries to keep his true agenda and his emotional state hidden from the rest of the group, making them question his trustworthiness and his ability to lead the group. The effectiveness of the group’s communication also comes into question when their equipment does not function properly during the heist. This unintentional breech in communication almost cost Yen his life.

In spite of all of their personal dilemmas and equipment glitches, the members of the group do demonstrate some communication strengths. The fact that they are capable of pulling the heist off at all, without getting caught, is proof positive that they can be effective communicators. Each man understands what is expected of him and uses his skills accordingly for the greater good of the group. This effective communication dynamic between the member of the group is what allows the men to walk away with the money, free and clear of any repercussions from the authorities or from Terry Benedict.

According to Tuchman’s Stages of Group Development model, there are five stages of group development; however, not all groups go through every stage of this process. For example, not all groups reach the stage of performing. In the performing stage, the members of a group become comfortable with all of the members of the group, reaching a level of trust not found in the storming or norming stages. During this stage, member of a group become versatile enough to take on the roles of other, if it is deemed necessary. In the movie “Ocean’s Eleven,” each of the members of Daniel Ocean’s group did go through each stage of group development, including the performing stage and the adjourning stage, which Tuckman later added to the Stages of Group Development model.

Although it was surely not intentional, “Ocean’s Eleven” is a good representation of Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development model. It is important for one to know the benefits of effective communication skills and how to use them efficiently within a group setting. It is also equally important to understand how the roles of individuals play into the group communication dynamic.

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