There are generally thought to be four distinct stages in the development of a group. These are commonly referred to as:
- Forming – Forming is the stage at which the group first come together. The group members rely on safe, polite behavior and look to the group leader for guidance and direction. The members are keen to be accepted into the group, so there is very little sign of conflict.
Since the grouping is new, members are guarded in their opinions and generally reserved. They begin to gather impressions and views about their fellow group members, particularly the similarities and difference between them.
The rules behaviour are to keep things simple and avoid any controversy. Serious topics and feelings are avoided.
- Storming – In the next stage competition and conflict emerges in the relations between the group members. Factions or sub-groups are formed, personalities clash and all issues are fiercely debated.
Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, and what the rules are. Conflicts emerge within the group over issues such as leadership, structure, power and authority. Because of the discomfort generated by this conflict there may be little communication between the group members, with some members remaining silent whilst others try to dominate.
In order to move to the next stage, the group members must move to a problem solving mentality. The most important factor, however, is that the individual members begin to listen to each other.
- Norming – At this stage the sub-groups begin to recognise the advantages of working together and consequently much of the conflict disappears. This results in a much stronger spirit of co-operation, with each member being much more confident about expressing their views and discussing these openly with the entire group.
As the members of the group get to know each other better, the level of trust in each other increase and so the group becomes more of a unit. This in turn gives each of the members more of a sense of belonging to the group.
The major factor at this stage is the way in which the group members begin to communicate more openly with each other. This can be in the form of sharing ideas, asking for and giving feedback, and explaining possible actions. Creatively in the group becomes much higher as information is shared on a personal and task level. Generally, the members feel good about being part of the group.
- Performing – In this stage people can work independently, in sub-groups or as a total unit. There is free exchange of ideas and information and a high degree of support for individual members from the rest of the group.
This is the stage at which the group is most productive, since the members are both highly task oriented and highly people oriented. The unity of the group means that morale is high and there is considerable loyalty between members. It should be noted that not all groups reach this stage.