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Stages of Group Development

Ever wonder why the group you are working with seems to behave so different from one part of the meeting process to another? Many groups can be testy and argumentative one session, and then, in the next session, they be group-oriented and work together so effectively.

All groups go through stages of development, and your task as a facilitator changes from one stage to the next. We use Bruce Tuckman's model of four meeting stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

In the forming stage the group is polite and cautious. They are waiting to get to know each other better before they do anything risky. The facilitator's job is to plan ways for people to feel more comfortable in and trusting of the group. You can plan various introductions or warm up exercises, organize an orientation, and clarify the task of the group.

When the group is storming, they are testing the rules and jockeying for power. There will be disagreements, challenges to the process, and emotional responses. The facilitator's task is to keep disagreements from becoming personal conflicts, be a calming influence, and enforce the ground rules. Recognize that you're not really the target of their testiness.

Key Points To Take Away

--- Groups move through different stages of development.
--- Each stage calls for a different approach from the facilitator.
--- Groups can occasionally circle back through earlier stages.

Norming means that members have moved towards interdependence and a sense of belonging to the group. They begin to demonstrate group-oriented behaviors. The facilitator can affirm the emerging norms, value differences of opinion, and guide the group through collaborative negotiations.

Finally the group is performing. Members support each other, manage their group process easily, and focus on their task. The facilitator can provide good tools and techniques for the tasks, affirm their good work, and stay out of the way when not needed.

Your group's development will not be a simple linear affair. Groups often circle back into previous phases. If new members join the group, the whole group may need to start its development all over again. If a particularly contentious or emotional issue is on the agenda, the group may slip back to an earlier phase. Your goal as facilitator is to recognize where the group is and support its development into a well functioning group. Recognizing where your group is in its development will guide your choice of meeting design and tools and help you understand what kinds of facilitative interventions may be needed.

For more information about the stages of development, order your copy of Great Meetings! Great Results today.

NEXT WEEK IN GREAT MEETINGS: Setting a meeting purpose and desired outcomes.

About Great Meetings

Pam Plumb and Dee Kelsey are your facilitators in charge of Education World's Great Meetings series. They are also authors of the popular guide to meeting facilitation, Great Meetings! Great Results. Together, Pam and Dee have more than 40 years' experience facilitating change and training meeting leaders.

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