Life cycle of a group

Topic: Discuss the life cycle of a group, showing how the process involved in each stage can affect the overall effectiveness of any group in the performance of an assigned task.

A group is a collection of two or more people who, over a period of time develop shared norms of behavior, are interdependent, and interact with each other for the purpose of achieving some common goal or set of goals. There are two types of groups namely; a formal group and an informal group. For example, a formal group in an organization is deliberately formed to achieve specific objectives.

This is achieved through organization, co-ordination and delegation of work load within the group. Within a formal group exist set rules and procedures to be adhered to, all information is declared and taken note of. All formal groups have a formal point of origin and an end point.

An informal group however is formed by personal preferences and satisfies psychological and social needs (Mullins, L. 2005). A lack of official information will quickly reveal informal groups within an organization. The grape vine will pass information swiftly through the organization.

This cuts through the organization’s structure ignoring the formal channels of communication. The group members are spread across departments; they may be friends who do lunch, or smokers who meet outside the building. This networking is informal, and can benefit the individual member; each group has its own culture. These groups are cross sectional, and are formed without any involvement from the formal structure (Mullins, L. 2005).

According to B.W.Tuckman (1965), as a group develops towards an effective, productive and healthy team it will pass through a number of distinct and natural sequences of stages. Each stage has both specific a task and socio-emotional issues. Knowledge of these stages and relevant behaviors can assist greatly in the understanding of the needs of the group. By understanding this, one can ask the right questions to discover at what stage the team is and what needs to be done to progress its development.

The five stages of a group’s life cycle as defined by B.W.Tuckman (1965) are forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. Each of these stages is unique and is characterized by its own set of distinctive behaviors and issues for the team and the leader (Tony Chapman et al).

The first stage of the life cycle of a group is a stage commonly referred to as “forming” or testing and dependency stage. Forming is the initial meeting stage of proposed members of the group just coming together. The term “testing” refers to an attempt by group members to discover what interpersonal behaviors are acceptable in the group based on the reactions of other group members. It is at this first set of encounters the members of the group decide explicitly on the purpose of the formation of the group and formal rules may be set. At this stage, members establish base level expectations, norms and sort common goals that are agreed upon.

The group also begins the process of contact and bonding, and development of trust within its members. Members identify similarities in behavior and may even form sub groups or even allies based on such similarities or differences. Individual roles and responsibilities are usually not set and still unclear to its members. This forming stage of the group, also referred to as the “childhood” stage of the group because of its dependency, is often characterized by feeling of shyness, uncertainty, anxiety, anticipation and diffidence among the members.

An extravert member may rapidly assume some kind of leadership (B.W. Tuckman) in order to commence progression of the group. The leadership of the group however, can be set either by council, members of the group themselves or leadership of the group can be done simultaneously, but must be done in order to provide some sort of structure for the group. There is usually high dependence on the group’s leader for guidance and direction, and little agreement on the group’s aims other than those which are received from the leader.

The leader of the group must be prepared to answer questions about the group’s purpose, objectives and external relationships (B.W.Tuckman 1965). Hence without the quick establishment or selection of a leader in this stage of the group’s life cycle may cause the group to stagnate, thus unable to move forward with its assigned task.

The second stage of the group’s life cycle is referred to as “storming” or the “adolescent” stage of the group. Storming is a period of jockey for position, authority and influence among members (B.W.Tuckman 1965). Team members vie for position as they attempt to establish themselves in relation to other team members and the leader, who might receive challenges from team members. At this point of the “storming” process, members may test the tolerance of the system and may challenge the leadership and control of the group.

Such challenges may be brought about by other extravert members who wanted an opportunity to be the leader, or may be brought about by sub groups or cliques that were formed within the group itself. With this creation of a power struggle within the group, the initial leader(s) may not even survive this period because he may be voted out or forced to withdraw his leadership by other members of the group. When such disputes arise, the progression of the group’s life cycle stagnates and will be unable to move forward with its assigned task until such issues are dealt with and agreed upon unanimously within the group.

Apart from power and control differences at this phase of the group’s life, inter group conflict is prevalent in this phase. Conflict and tension may ensue as group members and sub groups become hostile towards each other as a means for expressing their individuality and resisting the formation of the group structure (B.W.Tuckman 1965). Interaction is uneven and “infighting” is common.

The lack of unity may be an outstanding feature existing in this stage, thus decision making becomes a difficult task. One of the most crucial elements at this stage is to resolve any conflicts within the group by enforcing the norms of communication established in the previous stage. By getting the group to re-focus on the goals of the given tasks and avoid becoming distracted by relationship and emotional issues, the more likely progression will transpire to the next stage of development.

The third stage in the life cycle of a group is referred to as “norming” or the “adulthood” stage. Having sorted out its internal structure, there is then the issue of what the group stands for. What behavior and contribution is acceptable and what isn’t. Members explore behind the power processes and begin to form some idea of the group’s identity; the ‘group in the mind’. This is rarely done explicitly, of course, and it can readily slip back into storming (Atherton J.S.), causing regression of the group.

Norming promotes openness to other group members and the development of cohesiveness and that ‘in-group’ feeling of belongingness. Agreement and consensus is largely formed among the group, who respond well to facilitation by the group leader. This can be attributed to the norms of interaction are fully formed at this particular stage and members of the group begin to comply.

Group members accept the group and accept the idiosyncrasies of fellow members. The group becomes an entity by virtue of its acceptance by the members, their desire to maintain and perpetuate it and the establishment of new group-generated norms to insure the group's existence. Harmony is of maximum importance, and task conflicts are avoided to insure harmony (B.W.Tuckman et al) and the emblem of membership starts to occur.

Roles and responsibilities are clear and accepted, as well as the process for the solving of problems is also established. Decisions are made by group agreement, through the process of negotiation and consensus building. At this stage of the group unity and commitment is strong and mutual support is possible, since group members have the similar desire to achieve the same task. The team discusses and develops its processes and working style. Since the main goal of cohesion and general respect for the leader is achieved, some of the leadership is also shared by the team, where smaller decisions may be delegated to individuals or sub groups within the group.

At this particular stage of a group’s development, members of the group should be mindful that a strong feeling of cohesiveness does not override the realistic appraisal of alternatives causes of action. This process is referred to as “groupthink”. Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist, occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”. Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups.

A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making (Irving Janis 1972). It can also occur when members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions. Hence it is crucial to have members who are willing to challenge the direction of the group, but not challenge the group itself, which will result in regression of the group’s progress, hence affect the effectiveness of assigned tasks.

The forth stage of the life cycle of a group is referred to as “performing”. It is at this stage the group is at its most powerful, in terms of efficiency and performance, because it now more strategically aware of its purpose. The team is able to work toward achieving the goal of the group, and also to attend to relationship, style and process issues along the way.

The group, which was established as an entity during the preceding phase, can now become a problem-solving instrument (B.W.Tuckman 1965). It does this by directing itself to members as objects, since the subjective relationship between members has already been established. Members can now adopt and play roles that will enhance the task activities of the group, since they have learned to relate to one another as social entities in the preceding stage (B.W.Tuckman et al). This performing stage is an advance continuation of stage three, which is the norming phase.

The group now switches from collecting to processing the information given, then works collaboratively to find solutions to these problems using appropriate control measures, also try different solution methods, without being committed to one line of action. One problem that may occur at this stage is when ideas set forth by group members are challenged by other members within the group. This may result in personality conflicts and can cause regression as far back as stage one; hence a longer timeframe is needed for the completion of the given task.

The fifth and final stage of the group’s life cycle is known as the “adjourning” phase, and is commonly referred to as the “mourning” phase because the group’s life has literally come to an end. This stage is about completion and disengagement from both the task and the group members (B.W.Tuckman). Members will be proud of having achieved accomplishment of the given task and glad to have been a part of the group. In this stage group members need to recognize what they have done and consciously move on.

This stage is helpful particularly if members of a group have been closely bonded and have derived status or identity with in the group. It is important to manage carefully the adjourning of the group, since this emotional time should be made as meaningful as the group was.

In conclusion, it should be noted that there are no fixed time limits for each stage of the group’s life cycle. Each step of the development process builds on the previous one and prepares that phase to progress to the performing phase. With every new challenge that the group is face with, the process repeats and initial phases may have to be revisited, causing regression of the group.

Phases of the group’s life cycle may also overlap at any given time during the execution of the assigned task, however phases cannot be skipped as this will result in a negative effect of the performing stage of the group. Words (2156) Reference

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4. Tuckman, Bruce W. (1984) 'Citation classic - Developmental sequence in small groups'

5. Janis, Irving L. (1972). Victims of Groupthink. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

6. Mullins, L. (2005). Management and Organizational Behavior

7. Tony Chapman, Bill Best, Paul Van Casteren – Executive Coaching