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Groups and teamwork
Groups and teamwork

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3.2.5 Group development

Next on the list of priorities in the functioning of groups is the process of group development. One popular conception of the way in which groups 'gel' and become effective was first suggested by Tuckman (1965) and then extended by Tuckman and Jensen (1977). Tuckman originally identified four stages in this development process, which he named 'forming', 'storming', 'norming' and 'performing'. These stages (see Figure 6) can be summarised as follows:


The group is not yet a group but a number of individuals. At this stage, the purpose of the group is discussed, along with its title, leadership and life span. Individuals will be keen to establish their personal identities in the group.


Most groups go through a stage of conflict following the initial, often false, consensus. At this stage, purpose, leadership, roles and norms may all be challenged. Personal agendas may be revealed and some interpersonal hostility is to be expected. If successfully handled, this stage leads to the formulation of more realistic objectives and procedures. It is particularly important in the formation of trust within the group.


During this stage the group members establish the patterns of work and norms for the group. What degree of openness, trust and confidence are appropriate? At this stage, there will be a lot of tentative experimentation by individuals testing the climate of the group and establishing their levels of commitment.


Only when the previous three stages have been successfully completed will the group be able to be fully and sensibly productive. Although some kind of performance will be achieved at all stages prior to this phase, output will have been diminished by the energy put into resolving the group processes and by the personal hidden agendas. In many periodic committees the basic issues of objectives, procedures and leadership are never resolved and continue to plague the group in almost every meeting, leading to frustration and substantially reduced effectiveness.

To these four stages were later added a fifth stage:

Adjourning or mourning

The phase when a team eventually disbands, having completed its task, is also characterised by distinctive processes. Members may face significant uncertainties as they move away to new challenges. They may need feedback on how well they have done, what they have learned and how they are likely to cope with new challenges. The team leader may need to minimise the stress that is associated with changes and transitions. The team members may be feeling some sadness if their experiences within the team were particularly satisfying. If appropriate, the team leader may encourage the team members to maintain links with each other and develop their relations through new activities and projects.

Figure 6
Figure 6 The stages of teambuilding (adapted from Tuckman and Jensen, 1977)

It is in the nature of the team development process that people need to exercise considerable sensitivity and judgement. There is an understandable tendency to think that we must always be actively intervening to move the process along, and exercising the appropriate team development skills. Very often, however, this is not the best course of action. An appreciation of team dynamics and the ability to 'read the situation' may suggest that a lightness of touch is called for. Far from intervening and trying to make things happen, the requisite skill is that of detachment. Team cohesion and productive norms can often be nurtured most effectively by turning attention elsewhere. We need to be able to judge when it is appropriate to work directly and intensively on teambuilding and when it is best to allow the processes to occur less consciously. As Stanton (1992) discovered, teams which persistently give undue attention to their own development often end up being unproductive – and, indeed, generally unsatisfactory for their members.

In a group in which the task is clearly defined and regarded by everyone as highly important, the first three stages of the development process may initially be dealt with during the first meeting and some degree of consensus reached about how best to proceed. However, for most groups these stages will take time to work through or will recur from time to time. The stages may overlap, operate concurrently or be repeated, as old issues resurface or new problems appear. When people leave a group and/or new members join, the cycle may start again. Sometimes quite violent storming can occur at this time if the new members are strong personalities and raise issues that have previously been suppressed. The acceptance and appropriate handling of the storming phase is particularly important. If ignored, the disagreements and hostilities will be regarded as unacceptable and this will undermine the group's performance. The issues will still be discussed, however, and this discussion may go on outside the formal meetings in the form of politicking and the formation of cabals, thus further undermining the development of the group. In many organisations it is recognised that it takes time for a group to form and that this time should be included in the scheduling of projects and programmes. Many organisations also make use of team-building exercises and training programmes to encourage team members to work together more effectively.