Formal groups share several characteristics with informal groups (e.g., members interact, groups set norms, groups are part of members’ social identity), but they add two critically important factors. First, they show a more well-defined and stable structure. In formal groups, duties, roles, and responsibilities are often assigned to positions (e.g., Treasurer) rather than to persons, and roles are often defined in documents, charters, and the like. Second, power and authority are more clearly defined in formal groups, and these groups often have access to types of power (e.g., legitimate power) that are not available to most informal groups. There are, however, important variations in the structure of different types of formal groups that can have important implications for understanding how these groups might encourage or restrict misbehavior.

There are, for example, variations in the level of interdependence shown by different groups, with some groups representing little more than a set of people who are located together but who act independently. Teams, on the other hand, often show high levels of involvement, commitment, and interdependence, and these characteristics can increase the impact of team norms and values on the behavior of members.

Many associations exhibit a hybrid structure, with a small number of professional employees, a small cadre of highly dedicated members who are consistently involved in the activities of the group, and a large membership whose involvement in and attachment to the group is highly variable. Some groups, such as political parties and social movements, can successfully motivate and engage their members, while others (e.g., professional associations) may rarely have much impact on the bulk of their membership.

In many formal groups, a combination of well-defined roles, clear lines of power and authority and norms that support the legitimacy of that authority greatly enhance the likelihood of certain categories of misbehavior, particularly if group members can be persuaded to go along with behaviors that seem to be required by the group or mandated by group leaders. Virtually every large-scale violation of laws and social norms (e.g., corporate frauds, wartime atrocities) involve many individuals who are simply following orders or acting in what they perceive to be the best interests of the group. In Chapters 8–12, I will explore misbehavior in work organizations, and these chapters will make clearer how various features of formal groups can become springboards for misbehavior.