Groups go through different stages as they develop, and it's important to understand where a team stands in its maturity spectrum to communicate effectively. Three common models can help us understand these stages. One thing we do know for certain is that group dynamics matter much more than individual behaviors when it comes to big decisions.
Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing
First up is the forming, norming, and performing model introduced by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. This model is the most popular one out there.
Forming is the initial stage where the team comes together, gets acquainted with the opportunities and challenges, agrees on goals, and starts working on tasks. At this point, team members tend to work independently, although they may be motivated to work as a group. However, they might not have all the information about the team's objectives. Everyone is on their best behavior but also quite self-focused.
Storming begins when team members start expressing their opinions. This phase can bring interpersonal conflicts as power and status come into play. As team members work together, they learn about each other's working styles and what it's like to be a team. There is usually a mix of excitement, eagerness, and positivity, but some individuals may feel suspicion, fear, or anxiety.
Norming is where disagreements and clashes start to lead to greater intimacy. Cooperation often emerges when the team realizes they share a common goal and faces competition. Team members take responsibility and are driven to work towards the team's success. They become more tolerant of each other's oddities and accept everyone as they are. The focus is on trying to move forward. However, there is a risk that they may become overly focused on avoiding conflict and be hesitant to share controversial ideas.
Team members have become competent, autonomous, and capable of making decisions without constant supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is expressed in a manner acceptable to the team. The group becomes self-sufficient in decision-making. Communications are effective.
Unified Model of Group Development
Another model worth mentioning is the unified model of group development proposed by Susan Wheelan, based on the forming-storming-norming-performing model. It includes the Group Development Observation System (GDOS) and a Group Development Questionnaire (GDQ). According to this model, groups must progress through each of the five stages linearly. The length of time the group spends together, the verbal communication patterns of its members, and the perception of the group's productivity are all interconnected.
Diamond of Participation
JD Solomon endorses Sam Kaner's Diamond of Participation as a simple way to expand group dynamics in facilitated sessions. Kaner identifies several phases that a group goes through to make participatory decisions: business-as-usual, divergence, the groan zone, convergence, and closure.
No Perfect Model for Synergy
It's important to note that no model perfectly captures the phases groups go through when making big decisions. The process is dynamic and can be influenced by changes in group members and external contexts. However, one thing we do know for certain is that group dynamics matter much more than individual behaviors when it comes to big decisions.
The second S in FINESSE stands for Synergy.