Tuckman’s Group Process – will we follow the pattern?

group workGroup work.  It’s a huge focus of our 2-week residency at Royal Roads, and no doubt all this group work is setting the stage for collaboration and support as we head back to our homes and continue our course work. We need to lean on and trust each other if we’re going to make it all the way through this Master’s program.  That was one of the learning objectives of this morning’s community building exercise, and I really appreciated spending the time building a “web of support” by tossing yarn to each other.

This residency is also about learning research methods  and learning theory – they’re the gist of the two courses we are working on while we’re here.  I took some time this afternoon to look up an old chestnut of “group process” research that keeps coming to mind as we form new teams for each new assignment (or so it seems).  It’s from Bruce W. Tuckman (1965) and I first learned about it during some advanced training with Scouts Canada.  Tuckman said that many groups working together for several months or more go through a predictable pattern of group dynamics, following four stages (in 1977 he added a fifth stage).  He called these stages “forming”, “storming”, “norming”, “performing”, and later added “‘adjourning”.

Forming is the stage where people are brought together. It involves testing the waters, and getting to know each other.  The second stage, storming, is a time of some dischord in the group – perhaps because the group members are starting to learn from each other, and that is causing a period of cognitive dissonance.  I sometimes see it as several people trying to make room for themselves on the same bench, and adjusting their postures and their seating positions so they don’t get cramped!

As people figure out their relative positions and strengths within the group, the “storming” period shifts into the “norming” period.  Group members begin to find methods that work for them as a team, and momentum starts to build in the work that they are doing together.  The team is reinforcing trust in each other.

This leads to the most productive period in the life of the group, “performing”.  This is when everyone is sure of their roles, and confident in the work they are doing together. The motor is firing on all cylinders!  Adjourning happens when the group winds down, and can be accompanied by a period of reminiscing and even mourning.

Will our cohort and its smaller teams go through these stages?  Tuckman’s meta-analysis looks at groups that are together for a period of three to six months. Here we are, in groups lasting just a week or two.  It’s not clear to me that these short-lived mini-groups have the time to go through the whole process.  But I will be looking out for the pattern in the larger number and timeline of our cohort.  And when it comes time for me to take my leave and continue with the Professional Communications portion of my MAIS, you can bet it will be a bittersweet adjournment for me.

Tuckman, Bruce W. (1965) ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’,  Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399. The article was reprinted in Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal  Number 3, Spring 2001 and is available as a Word document:


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