Did you know that groups go through stages of development, just as small businesses go through growth stages, and employees go through learning curves? Understanding the life cycle of a group can assist you as you attend or run meetings, work with your employees, or volunteer for nonprofit activities. The stages a group goes through are frequently referred to as: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.
FORMING takes place when a group first gets together. At this point excitement is high, and those involved are positively minded about what might be accomplished. Group members go through basic introductions and orientation with each other. Members may feel ambiguity and confusion as they get acquainted. As you interact and listen to what others are saying, you are sorting through who you may get along with the best. During this phase, what it means to be a group member becomes evident, and members work to move to similarities. Communication is superficial and polite. You just don’t feel like you know others well enough to disclose more. You stay away from conflict because you really want to be accepted into the group. The group is dependent on the leader for direction.
If you have ever moved to a new area, joined a new organization, or started work in a new place, you have experienced this. As you introduce yourself, you are absorbing the culture of the group. Within a short amount of time you know whom you will fit in the best with, and whether this is situation is a good fit for you. If there is no one calling the shots for barn policy, organization mission, or to provide workplace orientation, you will feel somewhat directionless. A good leader helps this first stage to go smoothly, minimizing the confusion of your new beginning.
The group then moves into the STORMING stage. STORMING is when the honeymoon is over. Think about when you first learned a new skill that was challenging – your initial reaction was probably, “This is really hard and I don’t know if I can really do this.” Or think about a time when you volunteered to help run a charitable event. At first you are really excited to be involved, and then you move to thinking you must have been crazy to get involved because you really didn’t know all that there was to it.You can probably recall thinking “Oh, this is way more than I had intended.” Your leader, or coach, needs to be giving you direction and lots of encouragement at this point for the group to move into the third stage.
The STORMING stage is characterized by power and influence issues. The decision-making process is established during this stage. Because of the uncertainty felt during FORMING, members attempt to create order and establish operating rules. Members may feel that the wrong approach is being taken, the group priorities aren’t the same as they had expected, or that they are better suited to take charge. This can result in attacks on the leadership. Some members may feel that it is harder than they thought to accomplish the group task. The group is counter-dependent on the leader.
Out of the “storm” and into NORMING, the group becomes cohesive. Conflict experienced during STORMNG is resolved, and the group’s trust level rises. The competition and testing that took place have now moved to problem solving. Negotiation takes place amongst members so that functional relationships are formed. You have had enough time with the others to determine who is comfortable and/or most skilled at doing the tasks that have been identified. The group is now interdependent with the leader, and leadership is shared. You feel like you are getting somewhere now, and are glad to be a part of this horse farm staff, horse association committee, or riding stable show team.
Finally, the group reaches the PERFORMING stage. This is where the group will achieve its greatest levels of productivity. Group members are collaborative, gain insight from each other, and find growth within the group. Friendships are formed, creativity is expressed in the tasks accomplished, and it’s fun and exciting to be a part of this group. Commitment is high in this stage. The group is interdependent with the leader, who can now delegate. People outside this group can see the vitality and achievement of the group, which makes the group attractive to others to want to be part of. Success breeds success. People seek you out to work with or to take on a volunteer role in your organization.
Groups can move quickly or slowly through these stages. It all depends on how well the members know each other and if they know how to deal with the issues. There may be times when the group doesn’t complete all the stages if people refuse to deal with the issues and push for results while all is in chaos.
You can probably think of groups you’ve belonged to that have clearly exhibited these different stages. If not, see if you can tell the next time you’re in a group. It may be tough at first, but with practice you’ll be able to pick the stages out clearly as. Let others know about these group stages too – it may be just the insight they need so that you all can achieve more together.