Why do groups form and how do groups develop? In this entry, different perspectives on group development are examined. There are a number of reasons that people join groups. William Schutz theorized humans seek out groups in an effort to fulfill one or more of the following fundamental needs: (1) need for inclusion—desire for affiliation, belonging, and acceptance; (2) need for affection—desire for intimacy; and (3) need for control—desire for power and opportunities to dominate others. Once a group is formed, there are different perspectives on how groups develop.
Group Development Perspectives
Group development involves the evolution of structure, cohesion, and maturity of a group over the course of time. Group dynamics scholars have proposed over a hundred theories to explain group development. Holly Arrow, Marshall S. Poole, Kelly B. Henry, Susan Wheelan, and Richard Moreland reviewed the literature and classified the theories into five general categories: (1) linear (sequential stage) perspective, (2) cyclical (repeating cycles) perspective, (3) robust equilibrium model, (4) punctuated equilibrium model, and (5) adaptive response. The following is an overview of the five perspectives with an emphasis on the linear and cyclical perspectives, which have received the greatest attention in the group dynamics literature.
Linear (Sequential) Perspective
In the mid-1960s, Bruce Tuckman reviewed the literature on group development and proposed that groups progress through four stages of development. The four stages include: forming, storming, norming, and performing. Tuckman in collaboration with Mary Jensen later added a fifth stage, adjourning. In the first stage, forming, group members become familiar with each other and identify the group’s task. This stage is similar to an orientation phase as the primary focus of the group members is on inclusion and dependency. Storming is characterized by tension and conflict among members and with the group’s leader. Issues of power and authority are focal points as members exert their preferences for the group’s approach to a task and question, or even resist, decisions of the leader. During norming, the group members come together to reach a consensus on the group’s goals and objectives, and the group’s norms, the accepted standards for behavior within the group. The norming stage is also characterized as a period of cooperation, clarification of individual member roles within the group, and development of group cohesion. In performing, the group becomes more stable as group members display a clear understanding and acceptance of their roles. The focus of group members is on the successful achievement of the group’s task rather than conflict among members and the leader. Finally, adjourning is highlighted by a termination of roles or duties, reduction of dependency, and breakup of the group. Collectively, this linear perspective has two defining characteristics: (1) the five stages are sequential, and (2) the duration of each stage is variable.
Cyclical (Repeating Cycles) Perspective
One of the defining features of the linear perspective on group development is that groups move through a sequence of stages that begin with formation and end with termination (forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning). In contrast, the cyclical perspective proposes that group development occurs through a repeating cycle of five stages. In the first stage, discontent, group members do not yet feel a part of the group or consider the group as part of their identity. An example would be during tryouts for a sport team when new players are vying for a spot on the team. The second stage of group identification occurs when individuals display commitment to the group and identify group members from nongroup members. The third stage, group productivity, occurs when members strive to contribute toward team goals. The successful attainment of goals often leads to the next stage, individuation, in which members seek out recognition for their personal contributions. This may be in the form of an athlete seeking out validation from the coach, fellow teammates, or others for performance. As the group moves through the individuation stage, the group progresses to the final stage, decay, where the members become less interested and put less energy toward achieving goals of the group. This often leads the group to cycle back to the first stage of discontent beginning the cyclical process again. The group may experience a number of cycles while together.
An analogy to differentiate the cyclical perspective from the linear perspective is a sport team progressing through various segments over the course of a season (preseason, regular season, playoffs). For example, during the preseason, a basketball team may display signs of decay, the final stage of the cyclical perspective, for example, lack of interest toward the team’s goals, and cycle back to the initial stage of discontent. However, the start of the regular season may reinvigorate the group and push the group to the stage of group identification as members have renewed interest and seek out their roles for the team to be successful. Conversely, a linear perspective would not describe the team as cycling back to early stages in group development during the preseason. Rather, a linear perspective would view the team as progressing sequentially over the season (forming and storming during the preseason, norming and performing during the regular season).
Additional Perspectives on Group Development
Three alternative group development perspectives identified by Arrow and colleagues include the robust equilibrium model, punctuated equilibrium model, and adaptive response. The robust equilibrium perspective is characterized by group development (e.g., delineation of norms and roles) during the early time periods of the group’s formation. Then the structure of the group becomes relatively stable over time. The punctuated equilibrium model is a variation of the robust equilibrium perspective where group development is perceived to consist of stable periods that are interrupted by sudden bouts of instability. During bouts of instability, the group is restructured and may involve a turnover in group members or
reassignment of roles within the group. The final perspective, adaptive response, rejects the notion that all groups move through a similar progression of stages. The adaptive response perspective proposes that groups develop in their own unique manner based upon the stressors and challenges each group needs to overcome. As such, each group’s pattern of development is idiosyncratic and a response to environmental constraints and opportunities.
Integrated Model of Group Development
Susan Wheelan examined the group development literature and developed an Integrated Model of Group Development that built upon Tuckman’s linear model of group development and the early work of Wilfred Bion. Similar to Tuckman’s model, there is a linear progression of stages. Conversely, Wheelan’s perspective emphasized that groups achieve maturity as the group members work together rather than simply going through stages of activity. Group development in early stages in the model is associated with dependency, counter dependency, and trust while the later, more mature stages are where productivity is a focus.
To reflect the characteristics of each stage in the Integrated Model of Group Development, Wheelan relabeled the stages beginning with the first stage—dependency and inclusion. Similar to Tuckman’s model, the stage is characterized by the member’s concerns for inclusion and dependency on the group’s leader for direction. Within the second stage, counter dependency and fight, there is conflict among the group members about the group’s goals and procedures. If the group can work through the conflict with open communication, the group can foster commitment and trust, and progress to the third stage, trust and structure. The structural component of the third stage reflects the negotiation of roles and conformity to norms (acceptable procedures) within the group. This stage also highlights the establishment of positive work relationships. The final or work stage is a period of enhanced productivity and effectiveness, whereby previous deleterious issues within the group have been resolved and the focus of group members’ energy is on the tasks and achievement of group goals. An emphasis of Wheelan’s model is the link between the productivity of the group and the different stages, whereby lower productivity is evident during Stage 1 and higher productivity is evident during Stage 4.
Group Development Assessment
Several attempts have been undertaken to assess group development. Susan Wheelan and Anthony Verdi developed the Group Development Observation System (GDOS). This approach involves transcribing, coding, and analyzing the patterns of communication of group members based upon seven group-development categories (dependency, counter dependency, fight, flight, pairing, counterpairing, and work). GDOS has been used to examine the patterns of communication between sexes, whereby researchers have compared samesex (homogeneous) and mixed-sex (heterogeneous) groups during progressive phases of group life. In this work, no significant differences were found to exist between same-sex groups. However, mixedsex groups differed from same-sex groups but this was attributed to a larger group size rather than sex composition. In sum, sex composition does not appear to influence group developmental patterns.
Susan Wheelan and Judith Hochberger used the integrated model of group development to create the Group Development Questionnaire (GDQ). The GDQ includes four scales that correspond to the four stages of Wheelan’s integrated model. The items in each scale are designed to assess the characteristic behaviors of groups in each stage (e.g., Stage 1 scale assesses dependency and inclusion). Calculating group mean scores for the four scales can be used to determine each group’s stage of development, productivity, and effectiveness. Higher group mean scores on the higher stages are indicative of greater productivity and group effectiveness.
Wheelan has conducted group development research with the GDQ in a number of settings, such as work and schools. One study in elementary schools found greater staff group development (e.g., when teachers displayed more trust and cooperation) to be positively associated with student learning and performance. More recently, Wheelan used the measure to examine the relationship between group size, development, and productivity in over 300 work groups. Results revealed that group size is an important factor in group development and productivity. Smaller groups of three to eight members were found to be significantly more productive and more developmentally advanced and with higher mean scores in more mature stages on GDQ than larger groups of nine or more members. Groups consisting of three to four members were found to be most productive and developmentally advanced.
Empirical Evidence in Sport and Exercise
Although there has been an abundance of work on group development in organizational and work settings, research on group formation and development in sport and exercise is relatively limited in scope. The vast majority of research in this area has focused on the relationship between managerial and team member turnover and team effectiveness. In general, longitudinal examinations of team success after a managerial change in a number of professional and intercollegiate sports, such as baseball, basketball, and hockey, have revealed higher managerial turnover to be associated with lower team effectiveness (e.g., poorer win–loss, league standing) or only short-term improvement in team performance, that is, no long-term effects beyond the season.
Similar to managerial turnover, research on the relationship between athlete turnover and team effectiveness has revealed that higher athlete turnover is associated with lower team effectiveness (e.g., poorer win–loss, league standing) in a number of professional sports (baseball, basketball, football). Nevertheless, contradictory evidence also exists, with one review of professional icehockey teams, from 1950 to 1966, revealing that both coach and athlete turnover were unrelated to team performance. Indeed, some coaches and researchers have suggested that turnover is not always problematic as too little turnover can lead to complacency and diminished motivation among team members. The ideal time and level of player turnover with regard to team success has been a related area of study and found to vary by sport and position. Given that player turnover can happen for a variety of reasons—injury, retirement, trade—and can potentially impact the group’s development and team effectiveness, it is likely to be a topic of future research interest.
Social scientists have highlighted the importance of groups for individuals. While group development has been a topic of considerable interest in organizational settings, this topic has received much less attention in sport and exercise settings. A fruitful line of research would involve examining the influence of group development on group effectiveness, such as team morale and performance, and on individual members’ satisfaction or adherence. in exercise and sport settings.
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