Understanding Groups: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

When I first read about Tuckman’s stages of group development at SIT, there was a lot of nodding going on in my dorm room. I recalled when I first met people who would inevitably play an important role in my life (clubs, teams, classes…). Images of those awkward moments all came back to me: trying to make sense of our roles; fighting for our ideas; comparing our strengths and weaknesses. A real ego showdown. Then, how at some point, we all managed to make it work, to the point where we dreaded the day we would part.

Learning about this group psychology made it easier for me to be a part of future groups. As if defining those definition made them okay, or at least, much less unnerving. I wanted our course participants to read about these stages for the same reason. I wanted them to understand that all those difficult moments they were going to face in their six months together were just signs they were growing together, and that if they noticed they were growing apart, they had the power to take some control over it.

Over the years, I tried different ways of introducing the reading to them, but each time this dialogue fell short. Part of the problem was I didn’t help them break down the text into digestible chunks. Well this year, I think I found the right recipe.
I separated the participants into four groups and assigned each group to read a description of one of the  stages, 1. Forming 2. Storming 3. Norming 4. Performing, from the linked website. I chose this reading because I thought they would be able to focus on the meaning and not get bogged down in the language.

Note: I won’t go into the details of each stage since you can find a wonderful explanation at Adam Simpson’s blog, Teach them English at his post Have you ever wondered why your group activities fail to inspire students?. Just scroll down a bit to find his descriptions of each stage.  He also describes the fifth stage Tuckman added to the model ten years later. I didn’t ask the participants to read this stage, but will definitely consider adding it in the future. I think there is great value in thinking about how a group comes to terms with its end.

Then I suggested they read their assigned stage individually and after discuss the meaning as a group. They collaborated to make sense of new expressions and concepts. I only intervened if I noticed they needed support. Once they felt like they grasped the concept, they had to draw a visual representation of the stage. I could already see a little “storming” going on as they decided what to put on their posters. Once the were done, each group was responsible for explaining their stage by using the visual representation they designed.

The poster below says, “I’m showing you my best side. I’m wondering about you, but I’m not ready to share too much about me. I don’t want to get too close yet. I just want to keep the peace.”

FormingThe “forming” poster flowed nicely into the “storming”. I don’t think any explanation is required here.

StormingAnd below we see all the confused emoticons at the bottom of the poster, each with their own colour which describes the “storming”. But as the conflicts occur, compromise and understanding also becomes part of the dialogue. This is represented by the multi-colored faces in the middle. Finally the result is a happy face that encompasses all the colours of the group.

NormingWith this understanding, the group is able to perform their tasks with joy and efficiency.

PerformingJust to reiterate, none of the groups were aware of what the other groups were creating.  It was wonderful to watch all the pieces come together. As each group explained their posters, they referred to what the previous group spoke about. Once the “performing” group presented their poster, all the puzzle pieces came together.

What does all this mean? I hope it means that the teachers (participants) are now aware of the shifts that might happen during their time in the program. I also hope they extend this understanding to their students. Personally, I am very excited to see how this may change the conversation that usually occurs in our program.

* I also recommend reading Adam Simpson’s The power of the poster. As you can see from this post. I am also a huge advocate of posters. Posters are a powerful tool.

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18 comments

  1. Hi Josette,
    Great post! I love the visuals and the idea and everything.

    I am catching up on comments on posts from 2013 and this was one post that stayed with me. Please don’t feel any pressure to respond.

    When I think about this model one of the first things that comes to mind is a participant on a training course (in your fair city in fact) informing me that (this is paraphrased) “Since we are all teachers we get along fine and we don’t have to worry about this stuff.” When asked for more details, he said “we have all taken lots of courses and we are all good group members, so storming is a non-issue.” My experience with the group did not match his prediction.

    I think having these titles and thoughts about the stages is an incredibly valuable resource for groups. As a trainer I have taken great comfort in when hearing participants say things like, “Ohh that was a bit of storming today” becuase I think giving it a name and making it natural can sort of relieve the burden a bit. Like, instead of “my group members are inconsiderate jerks who don’t respect me” maybe it is “wow our group is storming and we need to figure out who were are in this group and it is not always an easy process.”

    I have used this model at the end, beginning, and middle of courses. At the end it can perhaps be good to see look back and to provide some perspective on what happened but of course awareness at the beginning can help shape the experience. I love your recipe here and I think it offers a great model and food for thought.

    I think the “Group Death” stage is also worth considering, especially in such intensive training courses. I think there is a lot of value in carving out space and time for processing this.
    (I of course don’t mean to suggest that you don’t do this..I am just referring to the fifth stage you and Adam mentioned.) I take some sort of odd pleasure in writing “Group Death!!” on the schedule..

    Thanks again for the great and informative post!

  2. Thanks very much for this post Josette! I’ve only vaguely come across Tuckman’s stages in passing before, but this quickly threw some light on the concept with a brilliant and visual activity for trainees, teachers and students to explore. Loved the posters!

    Like Kevin, it has got me thinking too about how I might use it with students on our long-term courses, and with my teaching team :)

    Josh

    1. Thank YOU Josh for stopping by and reading! I’m happy that my experience offers you some insight and inspiration. This is what blogging is all about! :)

      I’d love to know if you do something with Tuckman. Make sure you stop by if you write a post of your own. I’d especially love to see your posters. :)

      Happy teaching!

      Josette

  3. Haha! I was so amazed when this post showed up in my inbox! Twelve hours before, I had scheduled a post on using Geert-Hofstede’s Individualism vs. Collectivism dimension of national culture to inform life story writing and BOOM! There was your post essentially laying out a plot line for a story on group dynamics. I had to add an addendum. Thank you!

    1. That is awesome on so many levels! Thank you so much for letting me know Elizabeth and especially for sharing your blog with me. Do the group members go to the blog, then work on the stories at home, and then finally bring the stories to your group to discuss? I am very impressed by your approach. The questions you asked both regarding Individualism vs. Collectivism and Tuckman are very deep, but at the same time quite simple. I hope that somehow, someday down the road, we could collaborate on a project together. As you know, I’ve been thinking of ways for teachers to go deeper into their stories, and when I see your work here, I can imagine a book of sorts. Maybe someday. :)

      I wasn’t able to incorporate the lessons you shared with me in this semester’s curriculum, but I really want to try next semester. I need to find a balance between what I can do with and what I can do separate from my colleague. It seems like I’m on a tightrope at times, but at least I have a lot of freedom. Navigating is just a bit difficult at times when you have to consider another person.

      Thanks again! Hugs!

      1. I was actually amazed by the synchronicity of it all. Tuckman worked in so well with what we were doing. The blog links to a class that I teach/group that I facilitate. Initially, when the class started about a year and a half ago, we used the blog a lot–and I had near daily posts! But once we passed the initial period (six weeks), we went to weekly posts. Surprisingly, the posts are mainly used by people outside the group who are life writers who either can’t meet with a group or who are stumped and seeking assignments (there are lots of assignment blogs out there). I use the blog to expand on ideas that have been brought up in class, and those members of class who are interested can check it out. I have two or three who always go, but many others know what they’re trying to write and don’t usually stop by, which is fine. The goal of the class is sharing, unearthing the story that you want to tell, and finding peace in yourself to tell it.

        No worries on the other curriculum, Josette. The ideas are out there for the time in which they are needed. Like I said before, it was something I felt led to do, something that needed to be done. Those kinds of things have their own lives and timelines. When its time comes, it will take off. It’s not really me or about me. It’s its own thing. Until the time comes for it, I have only the obligation to fulfill the calling I hear, to make sure that all is prepared for the proper moment, nothing more. It’s in the hands of a force I cannot define but which I trust, which I hope makes sense. So, really, no worries. When it’s time for it to fit, it will fit. :)

        1. “It’s its own thing.” Yes it is. It all is isn’t it? :) Thank you for the reminder my dear. Your words were like a warm soothing blanket. There is such kindness in the ease of time and space. Thank you for the gift. :)

  4. Very interesting read, thank you. I’m a big advocate of allowing groups to have time to form properly and have written about this on my own blog, too.

    http://www.teachthemenglish.com/2011/11/have-you-ever-wondered-why-your-group-activities-fail-to-inspire-students/

    I got to do some research on this with one of my classes and eventually presented my findings at TESOL Arabia in 2012. I’d be delighted to chat with you about this some more, if you’d like.

    1. I was very happy to meet another teacher who thought about this model in their classroom and actually blogged about, especially someone in iTDi. Thank you for putting it out there! I’d love to hear more about your research. How could I get my hands on it?

      PS. Sorry for taking a while to respond. It was our thanksgiving holidays last week. Getting back in the swing of things now.

    1. Hello Chaz! As this was the first time I introduced this model to this group, I don’t think so. None of them told me they had encountered this model before. I’d be curious to know how many teachers who meet this model actually think about it when they are teaching. It would definitely be interesting research! :)

  5. Hi Josette,

    This is a great reminder that aside from what I’m teaching in the class, the way students interact and develop as a group is going to be crucial to any real learning taking place. I love Tuckman’s stages of group development and they actually had a big role in the social work I used to do. One thing I remember was that conflict, while necessary for group development, could also be internalized or externalized by a group. When students in a group can identify a common external source of conflict, it can minimize (but not eliminate) internal conflicts. And a group leader can help members/learners to identify these external sources of conflict as a way to help build a sense of group cohesion.

    Anyway, thanks for the read. It’s got me thinking about group dynamics, in my classroom and my staff room, and that is a very good thing.

    Kevin

    1. Hello Kevin,

      Finally getting to these comments. I was so grateful, as always to get your input, especially as it relates to your experience in social work. I was interested in your comments on internal and external conflict. It shows that life, true growth, bonding, what have you, often stems from the challenges we face together. It may be messy, but as you say, when the leader is aware and is able to communicate what he/she sees, the end result can be a beautiful thing.

      Your comment also made me wonder about what happens when the conflict comes from within. Is there always a scapegoat or can the whole group come out alive? And what is needed within the group to make this happen?

      Thanks again making me think!

      Josette

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