Five stages of group development

There are five stages of group development. However, not all groups reach all stages of development. The five stages of group development are Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. The stage which many groups do not necessarily reach is the Performing stage. It is possible that a group never develops past Storming, but this will often be either a dysfunctional group or a group in extreme chaos and stress.

During the Forming stage, members of the group are generally trying to get to know one another and feel accepted into the group. At this point, no one in the group makes big waves, everyone just tries to get along and find their place. This is often experienced for a month, up to 8 months, if the work group is in the same location. It is also experienced when a group undergoes major changes in staff. If the staff is mostly new, and a few “old-timers” are planning on leaving in a few months, then Forming starts again. In other words, the stages are cyclical, to some degree and under some circumstances.

During Forming people relate to one another through sharing joint challenges and joining alliances. Each individual works to identify their particular contribution that is useful, and they begin to “fit” in somewhere. Frequently, a group will single out who is part of the “in” crowd and the “out” crowd within the first couple months of the group’s formation. Then should there be another major change right away, like a re-location, the group may go through the Forming stage again. A new environment, including physical space, culture and adjustments of major responsibilities, can create a need to re-set the group dynamics.

It turns out that some members not originally a part of the “in” crowd may earn a place the second time around, while others who had originally achieved being a part of the “in” crowd may fall by the wayside because they are not perceived to be key players, for various reasons, in the new environment. Storming is the second phase of the group dynamic. The storming phase is marked with considerable competition and personal conflict. After a group has been through Forming (and mostly achieved this), then they face different challenges, and if the situation is highly stressful, it can exacerbate a more typical Storming stage.

Perhaps the competitiveness for the product or service is greater than before, or there are greater levels of pressure on the staff to avoid errors and mistakes. Sometimes, in an effort to improve areas of responsibility, the environment fosters “each person for him/herself”, even when the exact opposite would actually be a more effective response for everyone. If there is this perceived mentality, team work may be a struggle and there is an added strain of not being able to operate at greatest efficiency.

Some members of the staff can be very aggressive, while others may make quiet, subtle changes. And once these habits and attitudes have been employed for a while, it may be very difficult to change them. In such conditions, communications and information sharing between staff sections is critical, yet because there are frequently previous methods relied upon, it makes it more difficult to adjust to the changing situation. Nevertheless, communications and information sharing is the bread and butter and the reason for success in many situations. Part of the Storming stage is a vying for power or leadership.

Individuals who have strong opinions about their ideas or points of view are interested in influencing the group’s work. When these positions conflict with others’ positions, then a leadership issue becomes evident. A group has to work out the direction it will go and the way it will function…herein lays the potential leadership conflicts.

On occasion, groups who reach the next two stages may revert back to the Storming stage as they are faced with a variant of stressors and last minute emergencies. This is the circular nature of group dynamics, under some conditions. During the Norming stage, cohesion of individuals in the team is present and each section or individual understands the importance of a contribution made by other members of the team to the accomplishment of the shared goal. It is also characterized by the group deciding upon the operational directions or approaches and processes they will use.

Depending on the business or operation, the Norming stage can typically begin from two to twelve months after a major change or start up; however it is possible that it takes longer to accomplish. When most staff learn to share information by answering the ever-present question of “who else needs to know?” then it is a strong indicator that the group is moving forward in the Norming process. This can be an unspoken test of whether or not communications is being adequately managed with other sections. In many business circumstances, it can be critical that information is shared at all levels so that operations are run efficiently with the intent to avoid being blindsided.

An operations manager needs to know who is available and where every individual within the section is located, what they are working on, how long it is expected to take, and how it fits with other projects and tasks. This information helps allocate personnel to new or outstanding projects. Additionally, an office manager needs to know current and up-dated personnel information in relation to work tasks. This is so that they can adequately handle the work related to supplies, equipment, and other materials getting to the proper place.

The Performing stage is not reached by all groups. Many groups do not achieve it because the environment or demands are ever-changing and unpredictable, e.g. as an Army battalion in a combat zone, or, a business on the brink of bankruptcy. It can also occur when the standards for a company are changed overnight. It also correlates to the degree of stress everyone is under in trying to meet the new expectations.

Optimum stress allows a group to have a chance at reaching the Performing stage; excess stress reduces this possibility. When new staff is added to handle the work load, or the group seems to understand the cultural demands well enough to have more control or success, then the blockage is eliminated. It allows the group a chance at reaching the higher stage of group development – to be more productive as well as feel that progress is being made in working together….all indicators the Performing stage is near or at hand.

The final stage of group development is the adjourning stage. The group accomplishes its stated purpose and recognizes their accomplishments as a separate entity from the individual achievements. They officially adjourn as a group entity. This never fully occurs in ongoing work groups, although when individuals leave the group there needs to be some level or acknowledgement of the group’s work together, and how it will be a somewhat different group, without a particular individual’s participation.

The stages of group development do not necessarily happen in the exact order discussed in the above description. A group can easily go from Norming to Storming and back to Norming again. Changes in group dynamics, such as mission/vision, time frame for planning factors, and emergencies can quickly change a group’s function or further meld them into a more efficient and effective team for tackling problems as they emerge. The goal is and always will be to reach the Performing stage of group development and maintain it for an indefinite period of time, to the extinct the environment and demands allow it to be created by the individuals involved.