Stages of Group Development Part 3: Norming

Jeffery Gosnell Leadership

STAGES OF GROUP DEVELOPMENT: FORMING, STORMING, NORMING, AND PERFORMING

In part 3 of our series we are examining the stage of norming. If you have not read part 1 or 2 of this series, it would greatly benefit you to take the time to catch up: Part 1 Blog and Part 2 Blog. The stages of group development were first talked about by Bruce Tuckman in 1965.

Until it is fully capsized, a boat will continue to seek to right itself no matter how turbulent the water. The boat is designed to sit in an upright position above the water. Regardless of outside and internal forces, the boat wants to be balanced. Likewise, as a group struggles through the storming stage of development, members are consciously or unconsciously seeking to reach the point where they have “smooth sailing,” functioning as a cohesive group to reach their collective or personal goals. The committee wants to get the project done. The student wants to focus on her studies (not the hierarchy of the playground). The online forum member wants to discuss his hobby free of useless arguments. The church wants to worship and create a welcoming sense of community.

As long as the group can constructively manage the conflict of the storming stage, it will eventually reach a state of equilibrium. This state is referred to as norming. In the book Teamwork and Teamplay Dr. Jim Cain explains norming this way, “Although the project team is not yet at the high performing stage, some of the bugs are beginning to be worked out within the group, and good things are beginning to happen. This stage of group formation includes cohesion, sharing and trust building, creativity and skill acquisition.”

Simply reaching the norming stage can be a major accomplishment for some groups. In order to rise to this level of development, individual members have to come to the point where they can set aside conflicting expectations and agendas and allow compromise to take place. Ideally, individual members have not only accepted that others have differing opinions and roles, they have come to respect other members, even if they do not entirely agree with them.

However, reaching a state of equilibrium is not the final stage of group development. A group that seeks to hold itself in the norming stage will likely fail to thrive over time. Some years ago I occasionally preached at church that did not have a fulltime pastor. The congregation was friendly and pleasant, yet no one person in attendance was under 60 years of age. They had not had a new family join the church in over a decade. The fact was this stable, cohesive church did not wish to see the boat rocked any further, and so they had unconsciously taken a course that kept the waters calm to the point of stagnation. The group had failed to move on to the next stage of performing.

Leaders, is your group seeking peace to the point of stagnation? Is your group pursuing its purpose and goals or just sitting on calm waters? Are you moving forward or shrinking through attrition? In part 4 of this series, we will look at the final stage of group development, performing.