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How groups form: 5 stages of group development

In Human Resources Management, there’s this 5-stage model of group development that was put forward by Bruce Tuckman. I’ve always been fascinated by group dynamics and group behaviour, and found this model useful in explaining not only team dynamics at the workplace but also friendships and relationships.

A man cannot do all the things he wants to do by himself. The primary reason why groups form is that they have common interests, opinions, and goals. A group forms to serve the needs of every individual in the group. I mainly discuss this model of group formation in the context of college friendships.

1) Forming

This is the initial stage where people meet each other for the first time and are getting to know each other. This is the time when friendships begin to form. When you’re new to college, you find yourself interested in getting to know your batch-mates. You are ‘testing the waters’ and trying to figure out who you would like to be friends with. 

Proximity plays a role and you’re likely to become friends with the person who just happened to sit next to you. Generally, the people you communicate with are likely to become your friends. Through communication, you get to know them and decide if they meet your criteria for friendship. Eventually, you find yourself in a group of friends comprising two or more people.


2) Storming

When a group is formed, the group members have a perception that being in the group can help them satisfy their needs. These needs could be anything ranging from simple companionship and a sense of belongingness to the fulfillment of a common goal. However, this perception may turn out to be false.

As the members of the group or team get to know each other, it might surface that there is a conflict of interest. Some group members may have differing opinions or ideas about the ways in which the group should accomplish its goal if any.

You might find out later that the classmate you happened to sit next to does not share your important values or meet your criteria for friendship. Some of your friends in the group might not get along with each other. This is a crucial stage of group formation because it will determine the future composition of the group. 

If you’re a team leader in an organization, it's important to keep an eye on the differences, disagreements or conflicts among the team members. If these differences are not resolved in the initial stages, they might cause problems later on.

In this stage, some group members may think they haven’t chosen the right group for themselves and may storm out of the group to join or form another group. There is usually a power struggle among those that are trying to become the dominant voice of the group. Eventually, those whose ideas/behaviours/attitudes do not resonate with what the group is trying to stand for are forced to leave the group.


3) Norming

In this stage, the group members are finally able to co-exist in harmony. After the storming stage, most of the potential conflict from the group is removed. Your friend circle becomes more stable and you feel comfortable hanging out with them. 

Each member of the group has a perception that it's worthwhile to continue being part of the group. Each member of the group believes that his or her needs can be adequately satisfied by other group members. The negative characteristics of each of your friend in the group are far outweighed by his or her positive characteristics.  

The group now has its own identity. Your classmates and teachers now see your group as one unit. You sit together, hang out together, eat together, and work together. 

group in harmony

4) Performing

In this stage, the group members are able to work together efficiently. You’ve tested the waters; some members left and some stayed. You’re now starting to develop lasting bonds with your group members. You are ready to work with them on group projects and assignments because you know you can count on them.

Unfortunately, your professor places you in an entirely different group. You’re not friends with these new group members. At this point, you may coax the professor to change your group if that’s possible or the group formation process will start all over again. No wonder many people hate group projects. They’re forced into a group and don’t get the time to ‘test the waters’. They’re to finish the project by hook or by crook.

As expected, such groups can be breeding grounds for resentment and conflicts. This can be likened to an arranged marriage where a couple is not given time to assess each other. They’re forced to live together and complete their project of breeding and raising offspring. Relationships take time for the two people involved to establish an understanding and harmony.

5) Adjourning

This is the stage where the goal or the project that the group was formed for is completed. The group members have no reason to hold on to each other anymore. The purpose the group has been served. The group disintegrates.

Many friendships end when people leave college because they’ve served their purpose. However, some friendships do last long, if not for a lifetime. Why is that?

It boils down to the reason why a friendship was formed in the first place. If you formed a friendship with someone because they were studious and could help you with assignments, then don’t expect this friendship to last a lifetime. You’re not making assignments all your life. On the other hand, if a friendship satisfied your emotional needs then there’s a greater chance that it will last beyond college.

If you have wonderful conversations with someone, for example, it's likely that this friendship will last because what the friendship is based on is long-lasting. We can't stop wanting to have nice conversations. We don’t change our need for having good conversations overnight. 

When it comes to romantic relationships, you may get into them because you find the person attractive but if you don’t enjoy their company or if they don't satisfy your emotional needs, you can’t expect it to last long after sex (the purpose of attraction).

People feel bad when they realize they’ve lost friends as they move through the various stages of life. As you find new projects to tackle, you’re definitely going to make new friends and if you want your old friends to stay, then you have to make sure that the friendship is based on something deeper than a mere project.


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