Exploring The Stages Of Group Development

By Jim Cain

Throughout the season, camp staff members progress through various levels of group development. These stages are both necessary and normal:

  • Forming             
  • Storming                           
  • Norming                         
  • Performing                
  • Transforming

You can help your staff navigate each stage by exploring the following activities with them, using the tools and suggestions provided.

The Forming Stage is the polite, get-acquainted, ice-breaking phase of group development. This process begins the moment new staff members assemble. Members are just trying to identify who’s who, and where they fit in. This stage includes forming an atmosphere of safety, acceptance and avoidance of controversy, and is filled with guidance from the camp director. Get-acquainted and community-building activities are used in this first stage.

Activity--Wrapped Around My Finger                    
Using a Raccoon Circle (15 feet (4.6 meters) of unknotted tubular climbing webbing or rope), invite each staff member to introduce himself or herself to the group, and continue to talk until they have finished wrapping this piece of webbing around their finger.

The Storming Stage introduces conflict and competition into the formerly safe and pleasant work environment. This stage is typically encountered at summer camp around week two, when many staff members have reached their limit of sleeplessness.  Suddenly, those things that didn’t matter begin to matter, and conflicts arise. Staff behavior ranges from silence to domination in this environment, and a director needs to utilize coaching to successfully move through this stage. While some staff members would rather avoid the conflict, it is important to build skills and show them how to cope.

Activity--Cross The Line  
This activity requires partners of equal body size to stand on opposite sides of a line. With half the group about 3 feet (1 meter) behind one side of the line, and the other half of the team on the other side, the scene is set for a moment of conflict (of “us” vs. “them”) and talking about win/win, win/lose and lose/lose negotiation scenarios.

Each side of the team says the following greeting to the opponent:  “There ain’t no flies on me, there ain’t no flies on me, there might be flies on you (point to folks on the other side), but there ain’t no flies on me!” and then boldly take a step toward the line (with just the right amount of attitude). The other side repeats this greeting, and takes a step toward the line. The first side now repeats with twice the attitude, and moves to the line, followed by the second side repeating its lines, stepping face to face with the other side.

The facilitator now says, “You have three seconds to get the person across the line from you onto your side of the line.  GO!”

Typically, this phrasing results in a rather quick tug of war between partners, and usually a physical solution to the challenge.  This provides an excellent opportunity to discuss conflict, challenges, attitude, negotiation and how to resolve differences.  For example, you can ask, “How many partner teams ended up in a win/lose scenario, where one member obtained what was wanted (getting a partner to the other side), but the other member did not?”  “What about a lose/lose scenario, where both members struggled, but neither one obtained the goal?” And finally, “Were there any teams that achieved a win/win solution, where both partners changed sides?”  “What is it about our camp’s culture that so many staff members end up in win/lose or lose/lose scenarios, rather than a win/win solution?”  “How can we fix this situation?”  The next time you are in a ”cross the line” situation, what is the first thing you will do to effect a win/win scenario?

The Norming Stage of group development is typically a welcome breath of fresh air after the Storming Stage. Although the staff is not yet at the highest performing level, some of the bugs are now 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.  The camp director provides support during this stage.

Activity--The Blind Trust Drive
Participants are asked to choose a partner who is the same height. This activity should be conducted in a flat, open space with no obstacles. One person stands in front, arms extended as if holding onto the steering wheel of a car (the driver). The partner stands behind, with hands on the shoulders of the person in front (the backseat driver). The ”blind” driver now closes his or her eyes, while the sighted ”backseat” driver safely steers that person around the playing area. Remember, this is not a demolition derby or bumper cars, and a facilitator may act as the local law-enforcement officer, if necessary! Halfway through the activity, partners switch roles, and continue. After completing the activity, partners can provide feedback to their backseat drivers, and tell them what they liked about working with their partners, or what they would change about the guidance offered during the activity.

The Performing Stage is the fourth phase of group development and provides a feeling of unity, group identity, interdependence and independence. It is the most productive stage. Leadership from the camp manager comes in the form of delegation, for the staff has all the skills, resources and talent needed to complete the task. This stage is best explored using challenging activities that require advanced skills, but which can be successfully accomplished by the group. Activities that build enthusiasm are also helpful.

Activity--Bull Ring Candelabra
This is a variation of the teambuilding activity, Bull Ring, which will bring your entire staff together and leave them cheering at the finish! A Bull Ring is a metal ring with eight to 12 strings attached, on which the staff can transport a tennis ball. The challenge is for several groups to simultaneously deposit their tennis balls onto a PVC ”candelabra.” After working independently in small groups, this activity requires the entire staff to work together.

The Transforming Stage is the final phase of group development. This stage allows staff members to conclude their time together, thanking each other and moving on at the completion of the summer-camp season. This stage is noted for recognition by the director, a conclusion and disengagement by staff members. Feelings of celebration and affirmation are suitable. Different team members may experience this final stage at different rates. Don’t rush for closure. For some staff members, this camp experience may have been the highlight of their life to date.

Activity--Virtual Slideshow
Ask each staff member to imagine having a digital camera throughout the summer, and when returning to family and friends, they can present a slideshow of favorite photographs. You can use an imaginary slide-projector ”clicker” for this activity, or a real remote-control clicker. Pass the clicker around, and allow  staff members to talk about each photograph from their favorite memories this summer.

For more team and community building activities and ideas, visit www.teamworkandteamplay.com

References and Resources

Cain, Jim and Barry Jolliff. Teamwork & Teamplay, 1998.  

Cain, Jim and Tom Smith. The Revised and Expanded Book of Raccoon Circles, 2006.

The stages of group development are based upon the research of Bruce Tuckman. For more information about this work, review the following article, written 35 years after his initial report:  Tuckman, Bruce. “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups,” Group Facilitation, Number 3, Spring, pp. 66-81, 2001.

Dr. Jim Cain is the author of the teambuilding texts, Teamwork & Teamplay, The Revised and Expanded Book of Raccoon Circles, A Teachable Moment, Teambuilding Puzzles and his newest book, Essential Staff Training Activities. He is a former Executive Director of ACCT, Senior Consultant to the Cornell University Corporate Teambuilding Program and the Director and creative force behind his company, Teamwork & Teamplay. He can be reached via e-mail at jimcain@teamworkandteamplay.com.