The five stage group-development model

The five stage group-development model suggests that all groups go through distinct stages in their overall development. These five stages are:

  • the forming stage
  • the storming stage
  • the norming stage
  • the performing stage
  • the adjourning stage

Forming stage

This is the first stage of group formation. At this stage, there is a degree of uncertainty about the group, individual relationships may be new, and standard and accepted approaches and behaviors are generally unclear

As an example, a good way of thinking about this stage is when students first form their group for a group project in university or college. They may not know each other very well or at all, they have limited understanding of how the group will work together, what each other’s strengths are, the best way to interact with each other, and so on.

At the initial group formation, there may be some members who are reluctant to join the group or see themselves as being more individual. Throughout this stage of group development, there should be a realignment of attitude over time so that individuals start to see themselves as part of the overall group.

Storming stage

The second stage of group development is the storming stage. As suggested by the word “storm”, there is some potential conflict involved between the individual members. This conflict usually occurs because individual views and approaches need to be aligned with overall group thinking. Occasionally there are very dominant individuals who want to make all the decisions, but in a relatively equal group this is unlikely to be agreed by all its members.

Sometimes there is conflict on over who should be the group leader (if there is one) or how the group should proceed and whose plan should be implemented.

It is common to see the storming stage of group development portrayed in reality TV shows where contestants are required to form groups for an activity or task. Typically, you will see some of these contestants continuing to “battle for control”. To move past this stage, there must be an acceptance to make decisions on behalf of the team, rather than being focused on individual decisions.

Norming stage

The norming stage occurs when the group finally settles into some sort of agree pattern of behavior and decisions. This is after the conflict has been resolved from the storming stage (perhaps not to everyone satisfaction), but sufficiently enough for the group to go forward on a consistent basis with an agreed plan and approach to their operations.

Performing stage

The performing stage of group-development is when the group is focused on getting the job done. At this stage, the team’s focus passes to the actual activities and tasks required. The individuals of the group are keen to move forward and complete the objective.

Please note, that the word “performing” does not necessarily relate to high-performance, it simply relates to the completion of the task.

Adjourning stage

The final stage of group development relates to temporary teams and groups, where there is an end to the group and the individuals stop being a group.

Depending upon the group dynamics and the success of team, there will be mixed reactions and emotions in regards to the finalization of the group. For example, some members may be quite upset that the project has come to an end, whereas others would be pleased that the project has finalized. This would be due to a combination of personal interactions along the way, as well as the overall enjoyment/satisfaction of the project and its ultimate success/failure.

Group performance should improve over time

The research into this five stage group model research generally suggests that group performance will increase over time as the group moves through its different stages. This occurs because a more established team will have a better alignment of skills, a clearer agreement of goals and approaches, and the synergy of the overall team and the individual’s skills and capabilities.

As you can probably imagine, each of these stages may take considerable time to progress. This time factor will relate to the importance of the task, the personality of the individuals involved, as well as the individuals’ experience in dealing with these sorts of groups. For example, an experienced manager who has been assigned to multiple project teams previously would have a good sense of how teams evolve, as opposed to somebody relatively new to organizational teams.

The expectation of conflict

There needs to be an expectation that groups will move through this form of process. For example, the second stage – the storming stage – is sometimes viewed as unusual or negative. With the result that on occasions the “conflicting” team members being counseled. However, this storming stage should be viewed as a natural progression of a group development and is an important stage to help clarify roles, plans and the working process.

Inefficient group development

Depending upon the time period involved – such as a weekend management retreat – there may not be time enough for groups to evolve through the five stages. As a consequence, it is possible that quickly formed groups end up operating both in the storming stage and in the performing stage. In this case, there is no set agreement about the approach or plan, with the individuals in the group implementing the task (that is, the performing stage) but essentially executing their own plan or ideas (working somewhat independently).

The role of the organization with the five-stage group development model

Given the five stages of group development, the organization’s management has a role to play in ensuring that groups develop effectively and achieve their required outcomes.

As part of this, there should be an expectation of conflict in the early stages (that is, the storming stage). And rather than this stage being seen as abnormal, the organization should view it as a normal progression of group  development that will lead to a clarification of approaches.

Likewise it is helpful to provide sufficient time for the group to progress through these various time group development phases. To aid this process, some organizations allow “bonding time” (that is, “getting to know” time). Although some organizations may see this as an inefficient use of time, it should generally help improve group performance (particularly for new teams of  employees less familiar with working in groups).

The use of experienced people along with inexperienced employees (relative to group work) would also be helpful. This is because experienced employees (having been on various groups/committees before) would have a good sense of how groups progress over time, whereas relatively group members may perceive conflict and the progression of group development as a sign of concern and problems.

The only time that organization should be more directly involved in group issues is where it is apparent that two or more individuals within the group are refusing to align to group decisions and continually pursue individual ideas and tasks. That is, the group is unable to navigate past the storming stage due to particular individuals – the solution here is generally a new team composition (that is, adding/removing on or more team members).