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Group Development

Nearly every theorist who has wondered about some aspect of groups and their dynamics has also speculated about regularities in the way groups change time. Indeed, the issue of groups changing over time is so central to the study of groups that Cartwright and Zander (1968, p. 7) defined group dynamics to be the scientific study of groups and “the laws of their de­velopment.”

For example, Parsons, Bales, and Shils (1953) hypothesized that all social organizations must adapt to their environment (Adaptation), develop and enact methods for attaining their group’s goals (Goal Attainment), structure and regularize intermember relations (Integration), and satisfy each members need to feel connected to and not rejected by the group (Latent Pattern Maintenance). Bales (1970), in extending this model to groups, suggested most groups deal with these functions sequentially, moving from Adaptation to Goals Attainment to Integration and then to Latent Pattern Maintenance.  Hare (2009) later suggested LAIG as the order, identified subphases and shifts from a task focus to a relationship (socioemotional) focus. Schutz (1958) suggested groups meet individual members’ needs to give and to receive inclusion (I), control (C), and affection (A), but that from the outset groups repeatedly cycle through intervals where interaction focuses on I, C, and A, in turn, until the group reaches its conclusion, where the sequence shifts to A, then C, and lastly I.  Other theoriests, such as Arrow (1997), Bennis and Shepard (1956), Braaten (1975), Brabender and Fallon (2009) Burnand(1990), Heinen and Jacobson (1976), Hill and Gruner (1973), Karterud (1989), Kuypers, Davies, and Glaser (1986), Lacoursiere (1980), Mabry (1975), MacKenzie (1994), Maples (1988), Sarri and Galinsky (1974), Stock and Thelen (1958) Tuckman (1965; see, too, Tuckman & Jensen (1977), and Wheelan (1994), offer theoretical models of group development that describe regularities that often emerge across groups in a variety of contexts.

Model of Group Development

A. Paul Hare's L-A-I-G model of group development, with subphases.

Most of the theories that consider the changes that occur in groups over time use the word development to describe this change, but only rarely consider the implicit connotations that this term carries.  New groups—ones that have just formed—are different from experienced groups. The committee meeting for the first time will act in ways that are very different from its interaction patterns of its 10th meeting, the team playing its first game of the season will not perform in the same way it will on its last game, and partygoers at 2AM act very differently than they did at the party’s start at 8PM.  But have these groups developed or merely changed. Development implies maturation, or the progressive and predictable emergence of a set of typical qualities in living organisms over time. Biologically, development (or epigenesis) is the result of the interaction of both nature and nurture: the organism’s genotype determines, to a large extent, how it will change as it moves through its life course, but the actual qualities it exhibits—its phenotype—is the result of the interaction of the genotype and the organism’s environment. Group development, as a form of social and psychological development, assumes that a group becomes more “mature” over time, suggesting that it will become better organized, or more effective, or more able to meet members’ needs. Yet, just as a child is considered to be “healthy” and “normal” even though he or she has not reached maturity, the developing group is also considered to be normal across the entire lifespan of the group. Even during the group’s initial formative stage members should gain psychologically and interpersonally from the experience. The successfully developing group is one that is able to profit at each of its development milestones, but in some cases the course of development may result in a dysfunctional group. Although time is thought to result in a gradual emerging of potential within a group (or in a person), development is contextually dependent. The concept of development also suggests that, at some point, the organism is no longer progressing with the passage of time, and is in fact deteriorating—at some point the group is no longer developing but aging. In some cases the changes that take place in groups may be better described as “unraveling” or “unfolding” rather than “developing.”

Other Related Musings

  1. Nearly all experts on groups assume that the changes groups manifest over time are relatively predictable. Groups do not change in unpredictable, random ways, but rather they exhibit regularities in their structure and interactions the longer their duration. The theories of development vary when describing the expected sequence of these changes, using such terms as stages, phases, cycles and even life courses of development. These terms of often used interchangeably, even though they vary somewhat in the meaning and implications. If a group passes through stages, then development proceeds.  Phases, in contrast, implies a lack of clarity in the movement from one stage to the next, and admits to the possibility of recurring phases. A life cycle suggests that groups may return, repeatedly, to earlier points in group history, and work through repeatedly issues and experiences.
  2. A life-course approach suggests that the more flowing, gradual, continuous process of change may be difficult to identify if one examines just one time period within a group.  Most theorists admit group development may be discontinuous, constant, rapid, or slow, but they do not discuss in detail issues of continuity and discontinuity.  Doe groups develop in a smooth, even flow, like a tree or stream flowing, or more stage/phase like, even transformative, as the group shifts from one form to another?  In a related vein, do groups have sensitive periods, critical period in their development?  Are there better times, than others, for a group to reach particular goals or to make progress towards greater maturity and functionality?
  3. Nearly all theories of development posit a work stage, but “work”—that is, a stage when members are dealing well with one another, making decisions rationally, and expending maximal effort in the direction of the group’s tasks—can occur at all stage in the group’s development.  Even during the group’s initial formative stage, the group members are working—albeit, on the task of exchanging information and developing relationships.
  4. What causes the change? External events? Some internal event, unique interaction. Abrupt, unexpected, planned, orchestrated by leader, inevitable unfolding. Or is group development akin to biological develop, in that groups, by their nature, follow patterns of change in all but the most unusual of environmental contexts?
  5. Developmental approaches offer descriptive accounts of the typical progression of the typical group by asking what is changing in the group and when do this change typically take place.  But only rarely to these theories explain why these patterns emerge.  One of the best known theories of group development, Tuckman’s (1965) rhymical model of forming-storming-norming-performing (and adjourning) offers little in the way of explanation of why these stages occur and why in this sequence.
  6. Theorists have used a variety of terms to describe the way groups development, including Change is multilevel and multidimensional; multilevel because it occurs within the individual members, within the pairs of association that link members to one another and to the group’s therapist, and within the group as a whole and multidimensional because it involves changes in affect, cognition, behavior.   But what is the relationship between the group-level change and adaption and the individual level change?
  7. Some aspects of change over time that occurs in groups have not been examined, directly, in extant theories of development.  For example, it may be that groups become increasingly real over time—entitative—to the point that they exist independently of the individual members (in a sense) and become increasingly influential.  Also, do groups get more rational over time…through continuous, guided, careful communication groups increase members’ integration/understanding/uncovering of unrecognized (unconscious) motives, emotions, and anxieties needs with rational, explicit, socially acceptable motives, emotions, and needs (primary process thinking and secondary process thinking).  Also, groups develop a shared history (transactive memory) that grows longer and more detailed over time. Applying life history theory of evolution to groups, one could argue that the occurrence, duration, and experience of key events in a group lifetime are shaped by group’s key consensual goal—maximize efficiency, productivity, and members’ satisfaction—to produce progress towards that essential goal.
  8. What are the common domains of change? What characteristics, qualities, and processes within the group the undergo change over time:  Norms, roles, conflict, communication, task focus, leadership, attraction, cohesion, etc….
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