Primarily due to the task allocated and the time period involves, temporary groups do not have the capacity (or interest) to progress through the five stage group-development model (that is, from forming, to storming, to norming, to performing, to adjourning).
Temporary groups are usually formed with the expectation of completing a task within a limited time period and then disbanding (adjourning). Often these groups are formed from representatives or experts from various parts of the organization that bring particular skills to the project.
Therefore there is a different sequence of group development for these time restricted temporary groups.
The punctuated-equilibrium model
With the punctuated-equilibrium model, the general agreement of the project/team is usually outlined at the very first meeting. This often occurs by discussion of the more senior people within the group, or potentially a formally designated project manager.
At this initial meeting it is even possible that a timetable, along with deadlines and responsibilities, is allocated to various members of the group.
Because this is a temporary group, it is most likely that the group’s tasks will be in addition to their usual workload. As a consequence, the individual members will have a conflict of competing priorities and, as a result, there is a tendency to delay action on the new project. This means that in the early part of the group’s timetable there is a relatively high amount of inertia and lack of progress.
A good example of this type of inertia would be for a university student that has been allocated to a group project. Often the team project is outlined early in the semester, but nothing much is progressed until much later when the deadline becomes more evident. Perhaps surprisingly the same concept applies in a workplace when there is a set task and a reasonable deadline to deliver.
Generally around halfway through the project’s deadline, there will be a follow-up meeting for the temporary group, in order to check-in on progress to date. It is common that at around this halfway point, that a follow-up meeting triggers a greater sense of urgency and the result is a transition in the thinking of the members of the group to their approach to the project.
This transition will drive more action and the progression/completion of key tasks, often in a short period of time. However, once things are back on track, there is a potential for a second period of inertia – as individual members tend to relax having completed their own immediate priorities and tasks.
Second inertia example
Again using the example of a group university/college assignment, this is the pattern that students within groups will usually follow. An initial meeting at the start of the semester (or task allocation) to outline responsibilities. A check-in at a later stage often reveals that nobody has really started the project. This triggers the individual students to complete their assigned tasks, but once completed they again switch off free (inertia) as they are satisfied that their part of the project is now up-to-date.
Near the end of the project (that is, the deadline is looming), there is a significant level of workload undertaken in trying to complete and finalize the project as a team. This occurs as often the finalization of the overall project usually needs to be coordinated as a team effort.
The punctuated-equilibrium model = stop/start approach
As you can see, the above stages (outline the tasks/responsibilities – inertia – progress tasks at the midpoint – inertia – rush to complete project by the deadline), represents a stop/start pattern of work commitment.
This pattern of stop/start work load is referred to as the “punctuated-equilibrium model”.”Punctuated” itself means divided or interrupted, while equilibrium refers to a sense of balance. Therefore, the work task will generally be stopped (punctuated) when the task is in equilibrium (that is, no pressing deadlines). When it is out of equilibrium (project task not being adequately progressed according to the deadline) then activity will occur.
According to researchers of this model, the first period of inertia lasts until around half way through the time allocated for the project. This is because there seems to be a recognition that the team has used up half their time that they need to make something happen.
This punctuated-equilibrium model is more applicable to groups that have a reasonable time deadline period, as well as the ability to allocate tasks somewhat individually, and a project that can be mapped out at the start(rather than requiring continual assessment and decisions).