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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Group development important, August 4, 2006, 2D.

When many couples learn that they are expecting a baby, they purchase books on pre-birth human development.  The books describe the milestones and stages of growth in the unborn baby throughout the pregnancy.  Once the baby is born, many couples also buy books that describe newborn and infant development through the first year of life or even up through kindergarten.  These types of books are helpful because the stages of human development are very regular and predictable.

Researchers Tuckman and Jensen identified that groups also follow regular and predictable stages of development.  A group is typically defined as two or more people who work together interdependently to accomplish a common goal or set of goals.  Groups can come into being through formal decree (as defined in an organization’s bylaws) or informally around friendships or common interests.

When a group of individuals realize that they are dependent upon coworkers to accomplish the objective that they have in common, they enter the first stage of group development—the forming stage.   In the forming stage, individuals get to know each other, define their purpose, and begin working together.

The next stage, storming, is characterized by interpersonal conflict, uncertainty, questioning, and posturing among group members.  It is in this stage that the group defines and learns the roles and responsibilities of the members.  Once roles are defined, the group then establishes work processes and defines how it will work together.  This stage of development is known as the norming stage—it is in this stage that group identity develops.

Once a group has defined its work and how the work will be accomplished, it then moves into the fourth stage of development—the performing stage.   In this stage, the group works to accomplish its goals.  Performance continues until the group reaches its goals or decides to disband.  At times, groups may have to “reinvent” themselves by taking on new goals, formulating new strategies, or including new members.  Changes like these could cause groups to “redevelop” themselves.

Tuckman later added another stage to describe a possible final group development stage.  Just as people eventually die, so too might groups.  Although groups do not have to die (i.e., they can remain vital and relevant long after the people who give them life disappear), many do.  The final stage is called adjourning.

It is important for people to understand the development processes of groups.  We are all members of many groups—in work, church, social, and community organizations.  Understanding how individuals and groups work together and how they develop gives members and organizational leaders insight into ways to foster and encourage teamwork and performance.  The expectations and ways that managers work with and guide young groups should be different than when they work with older and seasoned groups.  Part of the manager’s job is to help grow new groups into healthy and properly-functioning, mature groups—just like parents help grow babies into mature and responsible adults.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved