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July 07, 2012
While taking part in our second MBA study group meeting today I was reminded of the four stages of team or group development - Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
We've been thrown together to form a primary support group, with the aim of getting through the next semester and possibly many more after that. It's no different to the office environment - we have meetings, we have roles within the team, we have expectations, we have (lots of) questions, there are unknowns, there are deliverables, and we need to figure out how all of it is going to be executed to precision.
After reflecting on today's call, I picked up my copy of the organisation behaviour textbook (Organizational Behaviour, David A. Buchanan & Andrzej A. Huczynski) and jumped to Chapter 10 - Tuckman and Jensen's theory of group development (Page 317). I was surprised to find a 5th stage of group development - Adjourning. Here's a brief summary of each stage, based on our study group's current and future interaction.
It's been 6 days since we first met as a group. Because a couple of members were missing on that day, we're still in the process of introducing ourselves and identifying individual strengths and expertise within the group. We're asking lots of questions but we're fortunate that the MBA programme office is answering a lot of those by sharing information with the entire cohort. A chairperson has been nominated for month 1, some templates for agendas and meeting minutes are being drawn up, and we're starting to suggest objectives for each future meeting.
Once we've assigned some responsibilities within the group, we'll look to crack on with the lessons in each of this semester's modules. The storming stage is all about conflict - not getting along, not wanting to volunteer for activities, not agreeing with someone's style of work or ideas, or aggravation due to individuals covering coursework too quickly or too slowly for the rest of the group. In our virtual operation we also have some external factors that contribute to conflict - time zone differences, working week differences, distribution issues affecting text book delivery to all group members, and lack of attendance at meetings due to personal and work committments. A big part of storming is also being uncertain about how each of us is meant to fit in within the group.
At some stage we'll figure out the best way to work together. Awareness of personal traits and behaviour within the group will set us at ease and give us the opportunity to start contributing in a more productive manner. Figuring out how to work together could include simple things like developing a preferred communication channels for questions, admin issues, and project work. The group needs to learn to work together, which relies on individuals learning how to work with one another. The one challenge I forsee here is that much of the norming stage is brought on by interaction and interpretation of body language. Because we interact mostly online via web calls, email and collaboration rooms, this may affect our progress in getting to this stage.
I'm looking forward to this stage. Usually it comes by without a great Eureka moment, which means the group has organically evolved in a positive way. The performing stage comes when the group dynamic and individuals' understanding of one another are at a point where different working methods have been tried and tested and the group is productive. Group deliverables are produced - ideally on time, accurate and complete.
This fifth stage is a logical one, but only caught my attention as a formal stage today. Not all groups last forever. In fact, not all groups are designed to last or work together forever. Our study group will end in 2,5 years. Before then, we may lose a member or gain a member due to elective courses chosen or restructuring of course syllabi. When this happens, our group either cedes working together or starts the entire cycle again. A new group member means new ideas, a new way of working, a spanner in the works. There is no option but to start the cycle again, although usually the storming stage kicks off a lot sooner in this case.