Stages of Group Development

Bruce Tuckman’s Model of Group Development

Stage 1: Forming

Individual behavior is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, and avoid controversy or conflict.  Serious issues and feelings are avoided, and people focus on being busy with routines, such as team organization, who does what, when to meet, etc.  But individuals are also gathering information and impressions – about each other, and about the scope of the task and how to approach it.  This is a comfortable stage to be in, but the avoidance of conflict and threat means that not much actually gets done.

Stage 2: Storming

Individuals in the group can only remain nice to each other for so long, as important issues start to be addressed.  Some people’s patience will break early, and minor confrontations will arise that are quickly dealt with or glossed over.  These may relate to the work of the group itself, or to roles and responsibilities within the group. Some will observe that it’s good to be getting into the real issues, whilst others will wish to remain in the comfort and security of stage 1.  Depending on the culture of the organization and individuals, the conflict will be more or less suppressed, but it’ll be there, under the surface. To deal with the conflict, individuals may feel they are winning or losing battles, and will look for structural clarity and rules to prevent the conflict persisting.

Stage 3: Norming

As Stage 2 evolves, the “rules of engagement” for the group become established, and the scope of the group’s tasks or responsibilities are clear and agreed.  Having had their arguments, they now understand each other better, and can appreciate each other’s skills and experience.  Individuals listen to each other, appreciate and support each other, and are prepared to change pre-conceived views: they feel they’re part of a cohesive, effective group.  However, individuals have had to work hard to attain this stage, and may resist any pressure to change – especially from the outside – for fear that the group will break up, or revert to a storm.

Stage 4: Performing

Not all groups reach this stage, characterized by a state of interdependence and flexibility. Everyone knows each other well enough to be able to work together, and trusts each other enough to allow independent activity.  Roles and responsibilities change according to need in an almost seamless way.  Group identity, loyalty and morale are all high, and everyone is equally task-orientated and people-orientated.  This high degree of comfort means that all the energy of the group can be directed towards the task(s) in hand.

Ten years after first describing the four stages, Bruce Tuckman revisited his original work and described another, final, stage:

Stage 5: Adjourning

This is about completion and disengagement, both from the tasks and the group members.  Individuals will be proud of having achieved much and glad to have been part of such an enjoyable group.  They need to recognize what they’ve done, and consciously move on.  Some authors describe stage 5 as “Deforming and Mourning”, recognizing the sense of loss felt by group members.

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