Sunday, September 22, 2013

Power to the People - Getting the best out of groups part IV



A couple of years I went on a Kite-boarding trip to Fiji.  When we met at the airport, at the beginning of the tour, everybody was polite and a bit reserved as we got to know each other.  Pretty soon though, people’s personalities started coming out and there was a bit of drama as people figured out their place in the group.   But once we got into the swing of things, we really pushed each other well, learnt a lot and had some amazing kiting sessions.  By the end of the trip, we had formed really strong friendships and it was quite sad when we all had to go our separate ways.

In the same way all groups have a life-cycle of sorts.  Whether the group is a committee, and organization or a community group, when people come together to achieve goals there are certain dynamics that we can generally expect to take place.


The Five Stages Group Life Cycle Model (Wilson et al 1980) was first published in 1980 and provides an overview of how group dynamics can change over time.  The model identifies five stages that any group can function within; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Mourning/Reforming.  

The step-by-step lifecycle looks very logical and straightforward on paper but its important to also be aware that in real life groups do not always behave according to the rules.  Some groups may move in this way through the life cycle, but others won’t.  Some groups can move very quickly from the Forming stage to Storming and they might take along time in conflict before Norming occurs.  Group members may come and go and cause the group to drop back a stage or two.  Other groups will move immediately into a Performing stage of action. 

The original model identifies the five stages that groups experience throughout their life as a cycle.  It might be more appropriate to think of a model that can act both as a cycle and also as a web.  In this modified model we can see how its possible for group dynamics to suddenly jump from one point to another.  This might be due to sudden circumstantial changes.  With experience we develop a practical wisdom about groups and their peculiarities. So how is each stage different?  The following table provides an introduction to the characteristics of each stage.


There is a saying that ‘all models are flawed, but some are useful’.  It means that any model or theory has limitations and should not be followed blindly but that some still do provide useful guidance and value.  As long as we remember this proviso, then the model can be beneficial in helping us understand our environment and guide us in how to act. 


Strategies for working with groups at different stages


Democratic group culture fosters the most effective environment for group work and allows people to stay focused on group goals and aims.  


  • Put most of your energy into observing group members and the way they go about doing things collectively.
  • Enable group members to get to know you.

Opportunities to participate in decision making are always important but especially at the beginning because it sets a precedent.  They provide a sense of belonging and contribution which is important so that all members so that they feel their contribution is valued by others.   

  • Find ways for group members to genuinely participate in group decisions.

It helps if people involved in the groups activities (ie co-leaders) believe in the benefits of positive change as they are the ones who make the change.   Opportunities for making contributions and receiving benefits from group membership is called reciprocity and also adds value to groups.  Tips include: 
  • Find ways to find out what group members would like to give and receive from their group participation.
  • Encourage all members to participate in group activities and to keep this encouragement happening at all times throughout the life of the group.

Remember people can be preoccupied with power in this situation.   Communication is vital and should be honest & open.    

Tips include:
  • As a group facilitator you need to go along with the groups choice of leader/s and work with those who seem to have support from the majority.
  • Clarify what the positive and negative aspects of the increased closeness are for both the group and individuals
Especially at times like this, acceptance and tolerance of difference benefits the group.  Reinforcing that each group member is of value, regardless of age, gender, or station in life assist in group work practices.  Tips include:
  • Be prepared for rebellions and power struggles, because these can happen at any time and for any number of reasons.   
  • Try to conciliate power struggles and focus the groups energies on achieving its goals

Groups at this stage can be preoccupied with trust and affection between members.  As this trust develops and the cohesiveness grows, this can a good time for getting on with the job by giving priority to achieving tasks.   

Tips at this stage include:
  • Try to write down the ideas and values that people agree upon or reject
  • Encourage group members to remember already agreed group goals and set common objectives.
  • Clarify positive and negative aspects of increased closeness
  • Acknowledge growing independence as an interdependent group. 
  • Detect and point out those aspects which may be forming obstacles and obscuring the common group between members.

This is the time where a group naturally becomes more efficient and organized within a good working climate.   

Tips at this stage include:
  • Give recognition to the people who are working hard to get the job done
  • Celebrate success and milestones along the path to achieving group goals
  • Help to develop new objectives for the group

Members may need support at this stage to successfully disengage the group.  Tips at this stage include:

  • Planning to address the sense of loss and grief as the ‘parting of the group’ approaches:
  • Assisting members to undertake new tasks and directions; and
  • Placing attention and emphasis on reflection and evaluation of the groups achievements

How are your group members expressing themselves? 

Are some aggressive or non-participative? 

Are people saying what they mean?

How well do members listen to each other? How do they respond to each other? 

Are they critical of others’ ideas or concerned for themselves?  Do they ignore each other?

Is everybody contributing?  Do people address each other, is all the communication directed at one person?

Do some people get listened to more than others?

How are members responding to the leadership style?

Is there a sense of cohesion and cooperation?

Are the groups goals appropriate?  Are they clearly understood?

How are your group members expressing themselves? 

Are some aggressive or non-participative? 

Are people saying what they mean?

No comments: