The Life-Cycle of a Group

See also: Building Group Cohesiveness

The nature of any group can change quite dramatically over time.  There are a wide range of theories relating to group development but most assume that groups go through a number of stages – a life-cycle. 

Perhaps the most influential model of group development has been that of Bruce Tuckman who created his group model in 1965. Many academics and practitioners working with groups have adopted versions of his model.  

Given time, many groups will pass through at least some of the Tuckman’s stages of group development.  However, not all groups will go through every stage – this will depend on a number of factors and variables, how long the group will be together, how the group is structured, the aims and objectives of the group and the style of leadership and behaviour of others within the group.

Tuckman's Stages of Group Development

  • Stage One - Group bonding (Forming).
  • Stage Two - Group conflict and fragmentation (Storming).
  • Stage Three - Group maintenance and the development of norms (Norming).
  • Stage Four - Group working and achieving its aims (Performing).
  • Stage Five - Group disbanding (Adjourning, sometimes referred to as Mourning).

Stage One:

The Establishment and Formation of the Group (Forming)

At this initial stage, individuals in the group are brought together.

This can be a difficult time for people, as they begin to explore how to behave within the group.  There is a great deal of individual exploration, with members of the group getting to know each other and discovering common interests.  For some less outgoing members, this can be a very intimidating experience. 

This initial stage in group forming is a perfect time to practise interpersonal skills such as building rapport and questioning. There are numerous team-building exercises that can be utilised early in group formation in an attempt to break the ice.

The role of the group leader during this opening stage is to encourage group members to find common ground, for the individual group members to relax and feel more confident.  There is a need to ensure that a balance is achieved between the more extrovert and the more introvert members of the group.  The leader should aim for each individual member to feel that they have an equal status within the group.

Once group members begin to feel that they know one another and common ground has been established, the aims of the group need to be agreed.  The leader must focus the members on the aims and goals of the group.  The norms of the group will begin to evolve at this stage, which is further characterised by the group's dependence on the group leader, who needs to establish the group's confidence and respect.

Developing group cohesiveness is very important at this stage.  Cohesiveness evolves as bonds within the group emerge and members begin to feel they belong.  At this stage, there may be fears of 'not belonging' or not 'fitting in'.  In order to facilitate group cohesiveness and bonding, the group leader may try to prevent the group from forming sub-groups.  Sub-groups may, however, already be formed if some of the members of the group are acquainted.

See our page on Group Cohesiveness for more information

From this initial stage, the group style is established.

Style refers to whether the group has a positive or optimistic outlook, whether it is supportive or antagonistic, whether it is serious or light-hearted.  Once the style of the group is established, the group can be resistant to change at a later stage, therefore it is important that the leader steers the group towards a style that is best suited to meet the aims of the group.

Stage Two:

Group Conflict and Fragmentation (Storming)

This stage is characterised by individuals within the group exerting themselves – being assertive.

Conflicts of power may occur and members may challenge the role and authority of the leader.  Individuals test and establish their roles, pushing boundaries to find acceptable medians - this can be a highly turbulent and volatile stage.

As tensions and conflicts between individuals arise, the group may lose focus of its original aims, this in turn may lead to cynicism, lack of enthusiasm and frustration - some members may withdraw or even leave the group. 

The role of the leader at this time is to encourage group members and refocus the group on its aims and the purpose of its existence.  The group needs to make some sort of progress during this stage, to move forward and attain some feeling of success.  This will increase group morale and reinforce the desire to belong, cohesiveness.

Stage Three:

The Development of Group Norms (Norming)

Surprisingly, after a period of conflict, groups tend to develop a greater cohesiveness, mutual trust and a sense of belonging between members.

This is a period of negotiation - working out the group norms - and can be a positive and stable time, when members of the group begin to take on responsibility for the emotional and social well-being of the group as a whole.  This activity is called group maintenance.  From here on, the group can begin to centre its attention on the aims or tasks of the group.

More on Group Norms.

Stage Four:

The Working Stage (Performing)

This stage is when the group will be most concerned with carrying out its aims and serving its purpose.

By now members will be working well together, with individual strengths and skills being recognised and utilised to their best advantage for the group's wider aims.

By this stage, the group should have reached a high degree of cohesion and trust, without which motivation is likely to be lower.  Having developed a clear group identity and by each member recognising their roles, the group may become quite independent from the leader.  Other members of the group might take on some of the leadership roles.

See our page: Group and Team Roles for more information.

Stage Five:

The Disbanding Stage (Adjourning/Mourning)

Some groups have a limited life span.  These include groups which come together during a training course or pressure groups which are drawn together to achieve a specific aim.

If the group's objectives are met, there may no longer be a reason to continue.  For many groups, this can be a time of sadness and mourning and often some members will be reluctant to see the group break up.

To help the group through this time, the leader may decide a definite ending date.  A clear evaluation of the group's achievements will allow the group to end on a high note.  Symbolic endings such as a party or a meal out are important ways of celebrating and recognising the group's life.  Technology makes it a lot easier for members of disbanded groups to stay in touch, email and social-media enable professional connections to be strengthened and friendships developed.