How groups develop

Getting Started
How groups are formed
How groups develop
The first meeting and building a real team
What do we need to produce?
How do we produce it?

Once groups have been formed they often go through a number of stages as members work towards a common goal. A well known set of stages has been identified by Bruce Tuckman who has observed many groups and how they work together. Tuckmann has published research results that identify the following stages that groups will typically go through.

Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning.

It is important to realise that groups will often go through different stages, and that 'storming' is an important and creative stage. Groups often experience creative tensions that result in new ideas and novel approaches to the task at hand. The following table summaries Tuckman's stages of group development:


Group Structure

Task Activity

  The pattern of interpersonal relationships; the way members act and relate to one another The content of interaction as related to the task at hand

Forming:
  orientation, testing and dependence

Testing and dependence Orientation to the task

Storming:
  resistance to group influence and task requirements

Intragroup conflict Emotional response to task demands

Norming:
  openness to other group members

In-group feeling and cohesiveness develop; new standards evolve and new roles are adopted Open exchange of relevant interpretations; intimate, personal opinions are expressed

Performing:
   constructive action

Roles become flexible and functional; structural issues have been resolved; structure can support task performance Interpersonal structure becomes the tool of task activities; group energy is channeled into the task; solutions can emerge

Adjourning:
   disengagement

Anxiety about separation and termination; sadness; feelings towards leader and group members Self-evaluation

Source: Tuckman, B. W. (2001) Developmental sequence in small groups. Group Facilitation (3) pp66-81.

Forming

What you can expect at this stage:

  • At the first meeting, group members are polite
  • There is generally little planning
  • There is little leadership or agreed leader or group roles
  • Goals have most probably not been set, and those that have been are vague
  • Members are cautious and guarded
  • Decision making is minimal
  • Conflicts tend to be avoided as people find their feet

Storming

What you can expect at this stage:

  • Group members are beginning to understand each other
  • Members argue about what actions the group should take
  • People start to feel confused and incompetent
  • There may be arguing and competition between group members
  • Group members may also question the leader(s)
  • The group is not acting like a group
  • Destructive conflict may develop
  • People blame each other

This is the immature stage of the group's development.

Norming

It is not possible to assume that once a group has passed through the storming stage, the group will be able to perform. Group members need to work on relationships as well as the content of the task. Group members need to:

  • Reconcile competing loyalties/responsibilities
  • Work on ground rules, roles, individuality
  • Aim to encourage competitive relationships to become more cooperative
  • Develop a growing sense of group cohesion/common spirit
  • Increase productivity and sharing of opinions and skills
  • Reflect on the group processes, with the aim of improving them
  • Try not to focus completely on the content of the task, also give attention to developing relationships
  • Start to work through problems

Performing

What you can expect at this stage:

  • Group members have discovered and accepted each other's strengths and weaknesses
  • Group members have insight and a better understanding of each other
  • Group members are satisfied with the group's progress
  • Everybody understands their roles
  • There is good group spirit and confidence
  • The group has developed an ability to prevent and work through problems
  • The primary focus is now the task and a high level of performance
  • Interpersonal and group issues are dealt with in the group through open communication, support and trust.
  • People are working in harmony - pooling their strengths to maximise group output.

Adjourning

What you can expect at this stage:

  • Group members may experience some anxiety about the termination of the group
  • There may be some sadness
  • Group members may experience different feelings about the group leader and group members
  • Group members will reflect upon the experience of working in the group