Training of trainers – NFL and interactive methods in Youth work – ACHIEVE

Lesson 22 – Working with groups: Stages of Group Development (group dynamics) 1 – text

text lesson

Stages of Group Development

All ongoing groups go through certain stages of development, regardless of their particular tasks. The facilitator needs to be able to determine which stage a group currently is in, what options for growth are available at any given stage, and what group-interaction problems might be anticipated in that stage. Patterns that deviate from the usual suggest problems and a need for intervention. However, interventions should be located: the trainer must know what he or she is responding to, what the intervention is designed to do, and how it fits in with the general needs of the group. In this way, the trainer can monitor and influence the development of the training group. Such flexibility requires an intervention repertoire.

An understanding of the development of the group also creates implications for leadership behavior. A trainer’s reluctance or inability to change leadership styles limits the trainer’s effectiveness and the group’s chances for success. The objective is to help the group to progress from a collection of individuals to a cohesive unit whose members can work together proficiently. Of course, there always will be a struggle to maintain the balance between personal relations and task accomplishment, but the trainer who knows what to look for can maintain this balance more easily.

Numerous classifications of the stages of group development have been presented literature (e.g., Charrier, 1974; Cooke & Widdis, 1988; Kormanski, 1985; Tuckman, 1965; Tuckman & Jensen, 1977). The figure that follows illustrates the relationships between some of these classifications.

Tuckman Charrier Cooke & Widdis
Forming Polite Polite
Why We’re Here Purpose
Storming Bid for Power Power
Norming Constructive Positive
Performing Esprit Proficient
Adjourning (Unforming)

The stages are sequential and developmental. A group will proceed through these five stages only as far as its members are willing to grow. Group cohesiveness seems to depend on how well group members can relate in the same phase at the same time. Each member must be prepared to give up something at each step in order to make the group move to the next stage. The timing of each will depend on the nature of the group, the members, and the leadership of the group. Issues and concerns must be resolved in each stage before the group can move on. If the group is not able to resolve such issues, the dominant behavior will become either apathy or conflict, and group disintegration will result.

In Tuckman’s model, the first stage is called “forming.” This initial stage is broken into two in other models; Charrier calls them the “polite” stage and the “why we’re here” stage, while Cooke and Widdis call them the “polite” stage and the “purpose” stage. Personal relations are characterized by dependency, and the major task functions concern orientation.

The Polite Stage

Relationship and Task Behavior

In the first phase of the group’s life, members are occupied with orienting themselves personally and interpersonally and becoming comfortable with the physical setting. In general, they have a desire for acceptance by the group and a need to be sure that the group is safe. Members set about gathering impressions and data about the similarities and differences among them and forming preferences for future subgrouping. Many members are aware of their own hidden agendas. There are differences in members’ needs for structure, but there is a general desire for cohesion through successful interaction and task accomplishment.

Rules of behavior seem to be to keep things simple and avoid controversy. Serious topics and feelings are avoided. To grow from this stage to the next, each member must relinquish the comfort of nonthreatening topics and risk the possibility of conflict.

Trainer Interventions

Formal leadership is needed to provide structured interaction. The group has low task maturity, so the trainer style that is required is a highly directive approach involving high task, low relationship behavior. The trainer should make expectations clear, instruct the group members in what is to be done and how and when it is to be done, and supervise closely. One of the trainer’s tasks is to help the group members to resolve dependency relationships and to become oriented toward the task at hand.

At this point, nonverbal and verbal activities that allow for private data gathering can help the group members to move on. The trainer must create an atmosphere of confidence and positive attitudes. Establishing pairs and/or subgroups that work together briefly can enhance the interactions among group members. As members give up individual comfort in controlled topics and tasks, they begin to risk possible conflicts.

Recommended interventions include structured getting-acquainted tasks (not unstructured milling), introductions, name tags, personal information sharing, review of agenda items, exploring similarities among members, and brief physical tasks such as assembling notebooks, moving chairs, distributing materials, and checking rosters. These help members to anticipate one another’s future responses to group activities.

It is too early in the life of the group to attempt activities that force team formation, present fixed time schedules or agendas, explore differences of opinion, require consensus or voting, or rush into content areas or participate skill building.

The Purpose Stage

Relationship and Task Behaviors

In the next stage, participants begin to seek clarification and agreement about the purpose of the group and may express concern about the fit between individuals and the group’s purpose. In the interpersonal realm, there is increased desire for and attempts by individuals to win subgroup approval (it is too early for members to feel group identity). Members seek identification with others whom they perceive to be similar and desire evidence that they are valued by others. Cliques may emerge.

In the task realm, the members tend to depend on the leader (the trainer) to provide structure, establish ground rules, set the agenda, and so on. Some members may demand a written agenda. Tasks must be specified and clarified so that there is a common understanding of what the group is expected to do. A common theme is why they are there, what they are supposed to do, how they are going to do it, and what their goals are. There is a sharply higher need for evidence of structure and a fear of loss of control over tasks and topics. There may be concern about requirements of commitment to an unacceptable group goal. When the objectives come from outside the group, the members still will discuss them in order to gain understanding and commitment.

Trainer Interventions

The most effective trainer style in this stage is one of high task behaviors with some relationship behaviors added. The trainer should supply a visible structure and materials and facilities geared to the tasks of the group. The participants should have the opportunity to participate in setting norms and to experience various pairings and subgroupings. What is needed for movement in this stage is the opportunity for input and participation. Each member must be able to put aside a continued discussion of the group’s purpose and commit to a purpose with which he or she may not agree completely. Activities that will surface negative reactions and bipolar dimensions among members’ attitudes, experiences, and preferences can help the members to move into risking personal attack. The participants should begin to give up task clarification and move into task commitment.

Useful interventions in this stage include clarifying goals, setting goals, checking expectations, planning to reduce gaps, discussing task relevance, making conforming agreements, and brief activities relevant to the group’s task. Also helpful are subgroup discussion tasks yielding procedural suggestions or recommendations.

Interventions to be avoided included group problem solving, preference-based team formation, consensus tasks, tasks requiring volunteers for fishbowl activities or demonstrations, and skill-practice sessions.

The Power Stage

Relationship and Task Behaviors

Tuckman calls the next stage “storming”; Charrier calls it “bid for power”; and Cooke and Widdis call it the “power” stage. Competition and conflict in the personal-relations dimension and organization in the task-functions dimension characterize it. Even if the conflict remains hidden, it is there: the result of members’ unresolved conflicts with regard to authority, dependence, rules, etc., and the conflict generated by organizing to get work done.

It is expected that the participants will develop a desire to probe and explore their own and others’ hidden agendas. Because of fear of exposure or weakness or fear of failure at tasks, there will be an increased desire for structure or clarification and commitment to structure. Attempts to resolve struggles will rely on rules, voting, arbitration, and appeals to the formal leader. Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, what the rules are, what the reward system is, and what the criteria for evaluation are. These reflect conflicts over leadership, structure, power, and authority. There may be wide swings in members’ behavior based on emerging issues of competition and hostilities. Members will attempt to influence one another’s ideas or opinions, and there will be competition for attention, recognition, and influence. Cliques will be most potent (as members find that they can wield more power), and there will be testing of clique commitment. Because of the discomfort generated during this stage, some members may remain completely silent while others attempt to dominate.

Progress in this stage requires some testing and some risk taking. This includes establishing a norm for and strategies to engage in positive confrontation, nondefensiveness, listening, and openness to influencing and being influenced. It means risking exposure of personal agendas and the effects of personal attacks. It also means giving up personal or subgroup preferences and establishing recommitment to the purpose of the total group. Individuals must give up defending their own views and risk the possibility of being wrong; in other words, they must develop some humility. The members must move from a “testing and proving” mentality to a problem-solving mentality. The most important trait in helping groups to move on to the next stage seems to be the ability to listen.

Trainer Interventions

At this point, the most effective trainer style is one of high task and increasingly high relationship behaviors. Although still providing task directions, the trainer now adds clarification, explains the rationale behind the task, and provides the opportunity for questions from the group. It is essential that the trainer also manage the conflict in the group effectively; too little control can allow chaos, while suppression of all conflict can lead to apathy. The objective of this developmental phase is to assist the group members to assume more responsibility for tasks. As the participants demonstrate that they are willing and more able to carry out tasks, the facilitation engages in relationship behaviors such as support, praise, encouragement, and attention.

Interventions that can help during this stage of the group’s development include confronting dysfunctional behaviors; training in communication, influence styles, and conflict management; and helping the group to create a common language. Assigning roles and functions and role negotiation also can be helpful. Activities can include demonstrations, structured experiences, presentation of models, third-party work, and assigned tasks.

Interventions to be avoided are those that establish formal leader roles that could have long-range implications, those that overemphasize norms of cooperation and polite behavior, and activities that emphasize nonverbal communication. Because suspicion of motives is high and trust is low, feedback in this phase can be stinging, so attempts to promote feedback should be managed with great care.

The Positive Stage

Relationship and Task Behaviors

The “constructive” (Charrier) or “positive” (Cooke & Widdis) stage corresponds with Tuckman’s “norming” stage and the beginning of his “performing” stage. Now the personal relations are characterized by cohesion: group members are engaged in active acknowledgment of all members’ contributions, community building and maintenance, and solving of group issues. They can celebrate strengths and accept or plan to address weaknesses. They are open minded, listen actively, and accept differences. They are willing to change their preconceived ideas or opinions on the basis of facts presented by other members, and they actively ask questions of one another. Leadership is shared, and cliques dissolve. Free-flowing subgroups are based on task needs rather than on members’ similarities or previous cliques. Norms are upheld, and there is trust in the group and a willingness to change and grow. As trust and acceptance have increased, the need for approval has decreased. It is during this stage of development¾assuming that the group gets this far¾that people begin to experience a sense of groupness and a feeling of catharsis at having resolved interpersonal conflicts. They begin to share ideas and feelings, giving and receiving feedback, sharing information related to the task, and exploring actions related to the task. The major task function is data flow. Creativity is high. The members may, however, choose to abandon the task briefly in order to enjoy the cohesion being experienced.

The down side of this positive stage is that members may fear the loss of cohesion that they have worked to establish; they may cling to the hope of maintaining the status quo and regret the inevitability of future change. It is very disruptive to bring in a new member at this stage, so it is important that there not be a change in group membership.

Trainer Interventions

The group members now are committed to the task but may be somewhat unwilling to assume total responsibility for it because of a lack of confidence. The appropriate trainer style now is one of low task behaviors and high relationship behaviors. By reducing the amount of directive behavior, the trainer allows the group to assume increased, shared, task responsibility. This participative leadership style includes sharing ideas, facilitating group decision making and problem solving, and providing feedback and socio-emotional support. As the group progresses toward the end of this stage, it will become more self-motivating and will need less support from the trainer.

This is a good time to foster celebration. Strategies can be developed to explore the “magical” aspects of group interaction, to reinforce cooperative and collaborative attitudes and activities, and to develop a group identity. The trainer can aid in this process by generating planned celebration. The group can be encouraged to develop a motto or symbol, and group photos or other tangible group-identity vehicles can be created. Group interviews, group assessments, and planning for group needs all can help in affirming cohesion. Activities can include those based on sharing, helping, listening, questioning, and building.

Less structure needs to be imposed on the group; it now should be ready to act cohesively to take on certain challenges. These include creating tangible benchmarks for checking progress toward goals, cross-group competition, the ability to risk breaches of trust, and the willingness to give up group cohesion. It is necessary to achieve these if the group is to move on. The group can be given internal tasks such as exploring group weaknesses and external tasks such as competitor analyses. External resource people can be used to help stimulate new visions. The trainer also can ask constructive questions, summarize and clarify the group’s thinking, and refrain from making any comments that tend to reward or punish group members. At this stage, the leader should trust the group to achieve its maximum potential and try to blend in with the group as much as possible.

It would not be helpful in this phase to introduce changes in routines or in group composition, to generate intragroup competition (which could cause regression), or to emphasize individual members’ preferences, strengths reactions, or decisions. Nor is this the time to bring up the subject of termination of the group.

The Proficient Stage

Relationship and Task Behaviors

The “performing” (Tuckman), “esprit” (Charrier), or “proficient” stage (Cooke & Widdis) is not reached by all groups. It is marked by interdependence in personal relations and problem solving in the realm of task functions. By now, the group should be most productive. Differences in members’ goals are accepted, are not threatening, and do not impede work toward group goals. Group members’ personal agendas are assumed or accepted and do not elicit threat or suspicion. Individual members have become self-assuring, and the need for group approval is past. Members can work singly, in any subgrouping, or as a total unit. They are both highly task oriented and highly person oriented. A nonpossessive warmth and feeling of freedom result, so individuality and creativity are both high. Relationships between individuals are empathic. There is unity: group identity is complete, group morale is high, and group loyalty is intense. Both collaboration and functional competition mark activities. There is support for experimentation in solving problems and an emphasis on achievement. The overall goal is productivity through problem solving and work.

Trainer Interventions

In this ultimate stage, the trainer should be willing to turn over responsibility for decisions and implementation to the group and engage in both low task and low relationship behaviors. The group is competent, confident, and highly motivated; it does not need the task directions or the socioemotional support that the trainer has provided heretofore. The leadership style is one of delegating with minimum supervision. In fact, the group members may regard more task or relationship behavior from the trainer as interference or a lack of trust. However, although the trainer’s role is reduced, it is not eliminated. Channels of communication must remain open to provide for pertinent interchanges of task-relevant information. In addition, periodic reinforcement for outstanding achievement may be appropriate.

This is the stage toward which the group has been progressing, so interventions now are geared toward maintaining it. Group membership should be closed; if a new member is introduced, the feelings of esprit will be destroyed and the group will regress to an earlier stage. Any attrition should be de-emphasized. There should be plans for the maintenance of group identity. This can include items of membership identification such as buttons, sweatshirts, or signs. The vitality of the group is maintained through planned rotation of roles and functions and planned changes in membership on task projects. Achievements are celebrated through rituals of visibility and congratulation.

It would be dysfunctional at this stage to institutionalize roles, functions, or procedures, such as having a permanent chairperson or permanent decision-making processes. It could be equally dysfunctional to test radically new procedures.

The Final Phase

The last stage of the group’s life prepares for termination of the group. Tuckman calls this stage “adjourning.” It involves the termination of task behaviors and disengagement from relationships. A planned conclusion usually includes recognition for participation and achievement and an opportunity for members to say personal good-byes. Adjournment of the group should be accomplished within a set time frame and have a recognizable ending point.

Concluding a group can create some apprehension ¾ in effect, a minor crisis. The termination of the group is a regressive movement from giving up control to giving up inclusion in the group. If such a crisis results in a decrease in task ability or willingness (regression to a previous stage of group development), the trainer can reassess the current needs of the group members and use the appropriate degrees of task and relationship behaviours. Usually, the participating style (low task behaviors and high relationship behaviors) will be most appropriate because it facilitates the task termination and disengagement process.

By now it should be obvious that the ability to diagnose the group’s stage of development is not enough. Employing the appropriate trainer style and appropriate interventions or activities with each stage of the group’s development means attaining skill in actually changing to and using different styles and in using a wide variety of interventions. This is a challenge and a necessary developmental step for the group trainer.


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The training program “Training of Trainers” is an educational product that is currently missing in the partner countries – Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania. Due to the early stage of development of the youth sector and youth work in these countries the educational materials aimed at non-formal learning are still limited and insufficient. The lack of adequate educational framework for training of youth workers in the field of formal education leads to inefficient use of the capacity of professionals.

This course fills a gap in the youth sector, namely the need of methodologies for the preparation of trainers, who are able to train youth workers. This course will set the basis for the preparation of teams of trainers of youth workers. The course will serve the goal of development of youth work in the participating countries and other interested parties. A large number of youth workers can be trained according to the methodology at national and international level to use and promote non-formal learning as a tool to enhance the realization of young people in the labor market and increase their social cohesion.

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