Group dynamics

When mentoring groups, it is important to think about the dynamics at work within the (mentee) group. Bruce Tuckman (1965) has carried out research into the theories of group dynamics. He developed a theory called ‘Tuckman’s stages of group development’ (Tuckman 1965) which is useful for understanding what forces are at work when people are supposed to work with each other. The theory describes four stages that are inevitable for groups in order to grow, to face up challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work and to deliver results. The four stages are: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

Forming

  • The individual’s behaviour is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others – and to avoid controversy and conflict
  • So… Individuals are
    • Pretending to get along with others
    • Gathering information about each other (and the task set)
    • Focusing on being busy with routines such as team organisation (who does what, when, where and why)
  • Generally, a comfortable stage to be in – but the avoidance of conflict means that not much actually gets done

Storming

  • Different ideas compete for consideration
  • So… Individuals are
    • Opening up to each other
    • Confronting each other’s ideas and perspectives
    • Letting down the politeness barrier (tempers may flare up)
  • Note: In some cases storming can be resolved quickly. In others, the group never leaves this stage. But: The storming stage is necessary to the growth of the group

Norming

  • The group manages to have one goal – and to come to a mutual plan for the group
    • In-group feeling and cohesiveness develop
  • So… Individuals are
    • Getting used to each other
    • Developing trust and productivity
    • Giving up some of their ideas and agree with others
    • Having an ambition to work for the success of the group’s goal
    • Taking responsibility
  • Note: Some groups never get to the norming stage

Performing

  • Working in a group with a common goal on a high efficient and cooperative basis
    • The group functions as an unity
  • So… Individuals are
    • Motivated
    • Informed
    • Finding ways to get the job done smoothly
  • Roles become more flexible and functional – and group energy is channelled into the task (high-performing groups)

In 1977, Tuckman added a fifth stage named Adjourning.

Adjourning

  • Dissolution of a group
    • Completing the task and breaking up the group
  • So… Individuals are
    • (Especially in high performing groups) mourning the adjournment of the group
    • Happy that the group work is over
  • Note: If the break up is completed successfully, group members are having the chance to work together in the future

So… Taking Tuckman’s theory into account, mentors should not only be able to ‘lead’ their group of mentees with more success, but also have a better understanding of why individuals (or the group as a whole) might react in a certain way when been given a specific task to complete.

Source: Tuckman, Bruce (1965) ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’. Psychological Bulletin 63 (6): 384–99.

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