Group Development

What Is a Group?

A group is defined as two or more interacting and interdependent individuals who come together to achieve specific goals. Groups can be either formal or informal.

Formal groups are work groups that are defined by the organization’s structure and have designated work assignments and specific tasks directed at accomplishing organizational goals.

The table below provides some examples of formal groups.

Examples of Formal Work Groups  
  • Command groups — Groups that are determined by the organization chart and composed of individuals who report directly to a given manager.
  • Task groups — Groups composed of individuals brought together to complete a specific job task; their existence is often temporary because, when the task is completed, the group disbands.
  • Problem-solving teams — Groups in which members collaborate to improve work activities or to solve specific problems by sharing ideas or offering suggestions on how work processes and methods can be imposed.
  • Self-managed work teams — Formal groups of employees who are responsible for executing a complete work process or segment and for managing themselves, which includes planning and scheduling of work, assigning tasks to members, collective control over the pace of work, making operating decisions and taking action on problems.
  • Cross-functional teams — Groups that bring together the knowledge and skills of individuals from various work areas or specialist area groups whose members have been trained to do each other’s jobs.
  • Self-managed teams — Groups that are essentially independent and that, in addition to their own tasks, take on traditional managerial responsibilities, such as hiring, planning and scheduling, and evaluating performance.
  • Virtual teams — Groups that use technology such as wide-area networks, videoconferencing, email or websites where the team can hold online conferences to enable physically dispersed members to contribute knowledge, skills and expertise from anywhere around the world.

Informal groups are social groups. These groups occur naturally in the workplace and tend to form around friendships and common interests. For example, five employees from different departments who regularly eat lunch together are an informal group.

What are the Stages of Group Development?

Group development is a dynamic process. Most groups are in a continual state of change. Even though groups probably never reach complete stability, there is a general pattern that describes how most groups evolve.

Research shows that groups pass through a standard sequence of fives stages. As shown in the Figure below, these five stages are:

1.   Forming stage

The forming stage has two phases. The first occurs as people join the group. In a formal group, people join because of some work assignment. Once they’ve joined, the second phase begins: defining the group’s purpose, structure and leadership.

This phase involves a great deal of uncertainty as members ‘test the waters’ to determine what types of behavior are acceptable. This stage is complete when members begin to think of themselves as part of a group.

2.   Storming stage

The storming stage is appropriately named because of the intragroup conflict. There’s conflict over who will control the group and what the group needs to be doing.

When this stage is complete, there will be a relatively clear hierarchy of leadership and agreement on the group’s direction.

Stages of group development
Diagram showing stages of group of development

3.   Norming stage

The norming stage is one in which close relationships develop and the group becomes cohesive. There’s now a strong a sense of group identity and camaraderie.

This stage is complete when the group structure solidifies and the group has assimilated a common set of expectations (or norms) regarding member behavior.

4.   Performing stage

The fourth stage is performing. The group structure is in the place and accepted by group members. Their energies have moved from getting to know and understand each other to working on the group’s task.

This is the last stage of development for permanent work groups. However, for temporary groups—project teams, task forces or similar groups that have a limited task to do—the final stage is adjourning.

5.   Adjourning stage

In this stage, the group prepares to disband and attention is focuses on wrapping up activities. Group members react in different ways. Some are upbeat, thrilled about the group’s accomplishments. Others may be sad over the loss of camaraderie and friendships.

You probably have experienced these stages as you’ve worked on a group project for a class. Group members are selected or assigned and then meet for the first time. There’s a ‘feeling out’ period to assess what the group is going to do and how it’s going to be done.

This is usually followed by a battle for control: who’s going to be in charge? Once this issue has been resolved and a ‘hierarchy’ has been agreed on, the group identifies specific work that needs to be done, who’s going to do each part and dates by which the assigned work needs to be completed.

General expectations are established. These decisions form the foundation for what you hope will be a coordinated group effort culminating in a project that’s done well.

Once the project is complete and turned in, the group breaks up. Of course, some groups don’t get much beyond the forming or storming stages. These groups may have serious interpersonal conflicts, turn in disappointing work and get lower grades.

Does a group become more effective as it progresses through the first four stages? Some researchers say yes, but it’s not that simple. That assumption may be generally true, but what makes a group effective is a complex issue.

Under some conditions, high levels of conflict are conducive to high levels of group performance. There might be situations in which groups in the storming stage outperform those in the norming or performing stages. Also, groups don’t always proceed sequentially from one stage to the next.

Sometimes, groups are storming and performing at the same time. Groups even occasionally regress to previous stages. Therefore, don’t assume that all groups precisely follow this process or that performing is always the most preferable stage.

Think of this model as a general framework that underscores the fact that groups are dynamic entities and managers need to know the stage a group is in so they can understand the problems and issues that are most likely to surface.

The basic foundation for understanding group behavior includes roles, norms and conformity, status systems, group size and group cohesiveness. In our next entry Opens in new window, we take a closer look at each of these aspects.