Groups generally pass through a standardized sequence in their evolution. This sequence is a five stage model of group development. Although research indicates that not all groups follow this pattern, it is useful framework to understand group development. In this article we describe the five-stage general model and an alternative model for temporary groups with deadlines.
The five stage model:
The five stage group development model characterizes groups as proceeding through five different stages: forming storming, forming, performing and adjourning.
The first stage, forming is characterized by a great deal of uncertainty about the group purpose, structure, and leadership. Members are ‘testing the waters’ to determine what types of behaviors are acceptable. This stage is complete when members have begun to think of themselves as part of a group.
The storming stage is one of intra-group conflict. Members accept the existence of the group, but there is resistance, there is conflict over who will control the group. When this stage is complete, there will be a relatively clear hierarchy of leadership within the group.
The third stage is one in which relationships develop and the group demonstrates cohesiveness. There is now a strong sense of group identify and camaraderie. This forming stage is complete when the group structure solidifies and the group has assimilated a common set of expectations of which defines correct member behavior.
The fourth stage is performing. The structure at this point is fully functional and accepted. Group energy has moved from getting to know and understand each other to performing the task at hand.
For permanent work groups is the last stage in their development. However, for temporary committees, teams, task forces, and similar groups that have a limited task to perform, there is an adjourning stage. In this stage, the group prepares for its disbandment. High task performance is no longer the group’s top priority. Instead, attention is directed toward wrapping up activities. Responses of group members vary in this stage. Some are upbeat, basking in the group’s accomplishment. Others may be depressed over the loss of camaraderie and friendship gained during the work group’s life.
Many interpreters of the five stage model have assumed that a group becomes more effective as it progresses through the first four stages. Although this assumption may be generally true, what makes a group more effective is more complex that this model acknowledges. Under some conditions high levels of conflict may be conductive to high group performance. So we might expect to find situations in which groups in Stage II out perform those in Stage III or IV. Similarly groups do not always proceed clearly from one stage to the next. Sometimes, in fact, several; stages go on simultaneously, as when groups are storming and performing at the same time. Groups occasionally regress to previous stages. Therefore, even the strongest proponents of this model do not assume that all groups follow its five stage process precisely or that Stage IV is always the most preferable.
Another problem with the five stage model, in terms of understanding work related behavior is that it ignores organizational context. For instance, a study of a cockpit crew in an airliner found that, within 10 minutes, three strangers assigned to fly together for the first time had become a high performing group. What allowed for this speedy group development was the strong organizational context surrounding the tasks of the cockpit crew. This context provided the rules, task definitions, information and resources needed for the group to perform. They didn’t need to develop plans, assign roles, determine and allocate resources resolve conflicts and set norms the way the five stage model predicts.