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Using 5 Stages of Group Development to Manage Group Dynamics

Posted by Jeff Welch on 11/18/13 3:00 AM
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Perhaps one of the more challenging aspects of facilitation is managing the group dynamics in a classroom setting. Because no two groups are ever alike, I’ve found that a “one size fits all” approach is usually not the best tactic.

Most courses at Langevin Learning Services are facilitated by placing participants in small groups. Over the years, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to the dynamics of a group.

Some groups bond very well, others not so much. Some groups need more coaching and guidance, while others are more independent. Some are filled with dynamic personalities, while others are comprised of more introverted, reserved individuals. That being said, I try my best to manage each group on a case-by-case basis.

One tactic that I’ve found helpful in managing group dynamics is to be mindful of the Tuckman Model. In the mid 1960’s, psychologist, Dr. Bruce Tuckman devoted a large part of his research to the study of group dynamics. He published a body of work entitled “Tuckman’s Stages,” which focused on the nuances of group development. Dr. Tuckman suggests that groups experience various stages of development in their quest to work together and achieve their goals.


This is the polite exploration stage. If the group members don’t already know each other, this is usually the time when they are extremely polite, a bit tentative, and even cautious of one another. At this stage, most participants are not trying to become the star pupil. Most are usually thinking to themselves, “What’s expected of us?” or “What’s this person like?”

As a facilitator, if I observe limited communication and interaction among the group members at this point, I don’t panic. The group members are really just getting to know each other.


This is the conflict stage. By now, the group members have gotten to know each other and may feel comfortable with disagreeing with each other’s ideas and opinions.

I’ve seen this stage get somewhat heated, so careful monitoring of the storming stage is required. Observation is also necessary to make sure that group members don’t get rooted in conflict and unable to move forward. If this is determined, you may have to facilitate some mediation tactics to move the group along.

Tuckman suggests the storming stage is necessary for the growth of the group, as it can be an opportunity for the members to learn valuable lessons regarding tolerance and patience.


This is the accommodation stage. The group members learn how to handle each other and find tactics to work around their frustrations. In this stage, the members work toward the success of the group’s goals. They may “agree to disagree” or put issues to a vote, where majority rules.

As a facilitator, I keep a watchful eye during the norming stage. I want to make sure the group’s accommodation efforts are all done with tact and diplomacy. I was once part of a group, where bullying occurred in this stage. What appeared to be accommodation was nothing more than an aggressive member exerting dominance, and submissive members succumbing to the pressure, simply to “keep the peace.”


This is the ultimate stage. The performing stage is where goals are met and tasks are accomplished. Here, the group members are comfortable and knowledgeable enough to find patterns or tactics that contribute to the success of the group.

Sometimes this stage is positive and constructive, at other times it’s tense and uncomfortable. However, if discomfort does occur, the members have usually determined ways to either work through or around the distress.

Although I’m elated when a group reaches the performing stage, I still have my “facilitator antenna” up. Not all groups reach the performing stage as quickly as others, and I want to observe and make sure that some groups don’t revert to an earlier stage, like storming or norming.


Although not part of the original Tuckman Model, the adjourning stage was added in 1977. This phase involves dismantling and breaking up the group once all the tasks and goals have been accomplished.

The adjourning phase actually has a heavy post-training significance. As facilitators, we want to encourage the group members to network and keep in touch with each other once they return to their respective jobs. Often, group members can serve as resources and allies to each other once they get back to the workplace.

Thanks to Dr. Tuckman and his model, managing of group dynamics might prove to be less of a challenge. Facilitators, best of luck when applying his research and theory to your groups of training participants. Also, keep us posted on how it has benefited you in the classroom!

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Jeff has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Speech Communications and Broadcasting from Western Kentucky University. Before pursuing his passion for training, Jeff worked as a television reporter, flight attendant, fitness instructor, and tour guide. Jeff started his career in training at the daily newspaper in Atlanta. Training seemed to be a natural fit for him since he’s always been a bit of a performer. When at home, you’ll catch Jeff watching a cooking show, recreating a dish he’s eaten abroad, or exploring one of the many great restaurants in the Chicago area. During the summer months, he hits the road to follow the talented drum corps of Drum Corp International—something he’s done since high school!

Topics: facilitation, instructional techniques, instructor-led training, tips-for-trainers

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