Stages of Group Development

Stages of Group Development

Groups naturally go through stages. Just think about those initial awkward moments of first joining a group and getting to know people for the first time versus the fluidity and ease after working with them for a while. Bruce Tuckman identified four stages that he named: forming, storming, norming, and performing (adjourning was added later).

  1. Forming stage: the group comes together to create goals and expectations. 
  2. Storming stage: the members of the group naturally compete for attention and leadership.
  3. Norming stage: the members of the group adjust themselves and their behaviors and reach various agreements. 
  4. Performing stage: the members actively and effectively work together as a team, often using active listening.

These stages of group process are very important to understand, especially anyone interested in shifting from the role of teacher to facilitator. Students need adequate time and effective leadership in order to successfully move through them toward better collaboration. When a group only occasionally participates in Socratic Seminar, they may not have enough time to work through the issues of the storming stage. On the rare occasions they get together, they may stay stuck endlessly working out the same group dynamic problems.

Many teachers who try Socratic Seminar only a few times get frustrated because the group is stuck quarreling in the storming stage. Without understanding that there are other stages to achieve and work toward, these teachers may give up on Socratic Seminar as a viable class activity. Knowing that there are other stages will help facilitators persevere past the storming stage. It's also very important to understand that the first two stages are essentially automatic, but the last two stages must be earned and worked toward.

Every group is different, of course, but all of them begin in the forming stage. Even a team that returns together after a break will restart at the forming stage; however, they will simply pass through the stage faster. Keep in mind that any changes or disturbances to a group may send it back to the forming stage. I was once working with a very experienced Socratic Seminar group and they were at the performing stage. We got a new student mid-year and immediately the group had to reestablish its identity. The students reformed their roles in the group and then briefly passed through a storming stage when the new student didn’t really understand how to fit in. After a quick norming stage where everyone found a productive role, we quickly moved back into performing once again.

Learn more about the key indicators in each stage by reading The Power of the Socratic Classroom where I go into a lot more detail.


Image by Gerd Altmann  Pixabay


Active Listening, dialogue, English Class, Socratic Seminar, teaching

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