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  • Irina Ketkin, author of #adventuresofthelearner

Concept of group dynamics


One of the most popular frameworks for describing how a team works was developed in 1965 by Bruce Tuckman. He suggested that the a team goes through four distinct stages – forming, storming, norming and performing. Later he added one more stage called adjourning (Cotton, 2015). Each of the stages can be described as follows (Cantore and Passmore, 2012):

  • Forming – groups orient themselves and learn what their objectives are. At this stage people would test boundaries and start building relationships.

  • Storming – conflict arises due to members try and find what their roles and relationships are. That in itself can create tension among team members.

  • Norming – the team culture sets in which members come to terms with their roles and set standards. People feel more comfortable sharing their personal opinions and the group genuinely feels like a team.

  • Performing – in this stage team members perform their tasks and there is a relative independence among people.

  • Adjourning – the project or group task is at its’ end so all team members return to their individual roles. To a certain degree there can be sadness among members.

There are two critiques of Tuckman’s model – the seemingly sequential nature of the stages (Clements and Jones, 2008) and the linear way in which it is presented (Cantore and Passmore, 2012). In the first instance, experience shows that teams can regress to previous stage(s). For example:

  • “introduction of a new member to the group;

  • a group member leaving for some reason;

  • a new group leader;

  • a new and more challenging task;

  • a change in the working environment.”

In regards to the linear fashion of the model, Cantore and Passmore (2012) say “Groups and individuals tend to deviate from developing in predictable ways, so there are bound to be overlaps between stages and a degree of ambiguity about what happens when. Furthermore, stages may be missed altogether or repeated as a result of factors such as prior relationships, personality traits of members and the nature of the task.”

Despite the critique and lack of evidence of the model working precisely in real life, for learning professionals, consultants and managers knowing the framework can be beneficial. If they notice the team behaving in a way that is prescribed by one or more of the stages, they can mitigate the negative outcomes or amplify the desired activities.

Another popular team dynamic model is described by Patrick Lencioni in his 5 Dysfunctions of a Team Business Fable (2005). Rephrasing the dysfunctions, Lencioni describes a team in which the following elements are present:

  • Trust – there is trust based on vulnerability, where team members are not afraid to admit their weaknesses or mistakes.

  • Conflict – teams use conflict to find best answers and come to an optimal solution without this hindering the relationships of the individual team members.

  • Commitment – achieving buy-in from all team members even when not everyone agrees with the direction the team is heading to.

  • Accountability – team members hold each other accountable for the team’s set standards of performance and decisions.

  • Results - a team that that can do all of the above can also put aside their individual aspirations to focus on the desired results for the team’s sake.

Just like with Tuckman, Lencioni’s model suggests a linear progression, where a team would start with the first dysfunction (Trust) and work its way to the last one (Results). From my experience of facilitating teams through the model across different locations (Europe-based), several things become apparent:

  • Teams do not start at the bottom of the pyramid. Very often they are already proficient in some of the higher dysfunctions and lacking some of the fundamentals ones towards the bottom of the pyramid.

  • The original model seems to be directed towards the western culture, specifically American. Certain aspects like being open with your colleagues to gain trust based on vulnerability can be considered strange or even inappropriate in certain countries.

Just like Tuckman’s framework, the dysfunctions model does not account for the personality styles of the team members and how those can support the growth of the team (O’Donnell, K. 2011).

References:

Cotton, D. (2015). Key management development models. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Cantore, S. and Passmore, J. (2012). Top business psychology models. London: Kogan Page.

Lencioni, P. (2005). Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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