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Theories of Group Work Dynamics

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 6/2/2011

What is group work and are there really actual theories of group work dynamics? As a leader of teams, the project manager needs to understand these dynamics and follow some of the rules behind these theories. Jean Scheid explores groups, including a popular group work theory.

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    No Man Is an Island

    No Man Is an Island Everyone’s heard this old saying and in the project management world of team management, it’s very prudent. Gerald Blair, a senior lecturer from Edinburgh University stated, “God made an individual—then he made a pair.” From that pair (if one is a believer), more came with different personalities, thoughts, ideas, and skills. With differences come the challenge and theories of group work dynamics; and to be effective, managers need to look at managing groups as part art and part science.

    Friedrich Nietzsche said of groups, “In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.” So, if your groups are a chaotic mess, you really do need to explore some group dynamic theories to ensure streamlined efficiency and content teams.

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    The Tuckman Theory

    The Tuckman Theory In 1965, Bruce Tuckman did come up with a theory on group work dynamics. Interestingly enough, he called the five stages of his theory the “Dr. Seuss-style of group dynamics,” according to the website Group Dynamics by James Neill.

    The five stages include:

    • Forming – One could relate this stage to the popularity and strength of the Tea Party in the US of late. From one or two, the group grew larger, became familiar, and of most importance, “formed” a group.
    • Storming – Here, we can still look at the Tea Party example. As many politicians and activists each battled claim to be the leader or founder, through Tuckman’s “storming” process, this stage identifies the strong as the leaders and it can turn into a battle on who should be doing what in the group. Often the storming part of this theory can be long and managers need to practice great group dynamic management methods including conflict resolution.
    • Norming – We can’t use the Tea Party example for the “norming” stage of Tuckman’s theory, as many leaders that couldn’t get along started similar groups—with the same objectives. However, these new groups all lacked team conformity and spirit. Norming only happens once the group hierarchy is achieved in the storming stage and the group begins to accept one another—even in how they plan to work as a group.
    • Performing – In Tuckman’s theory, performing means the group has “practiced its craft and becomes effective in meeting its objectives.” Personalities are intertwined, work skill sets are set, and the group becomes accustomed to the tasks at hand with clear goals and objectives on how to complete the project as a group.
    • Adjourning – This is the parting-of-the-ways stage for groups that are dissolved once a project is complete and it isn’t always utilized in Tuckman’s theory, especially when groups continue to work as a unit on a succession of projects.
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    Group Work – Using the Tuckman Theory

    Society Group There are most likely hundreds of group management coaches; and with so many; there will be many theories of group work dynamics. Most likely all the theories out there, however, will indeed be based on the Tuckman theory inasmuch as his defined stages are indeed a “human” progression.

    Project leaders need to explore these stages while also keeping in mind the importance of group dynamics and, for small teams, understanding how group dynamics are achieved.

    The human element of any group is a key factor when looking at managing and directing teams in any project. To master any theory of group work dynamics, you must let the appropriate stages evolve, handle conflict, and not only monitor teams, but learn to judge how well a team works as a unit and know when to pull team members out or introduce new members if the need arises.

    In keeping with our Tea Party theme, if your group members have much dissension and convey breaking into subgroups would be beneficial, the personality types within your teams may be not evenly balanced. It will take some time to be a winning leader when it comes to implementing theories of group work dynamics--but with a little practice, you can build strong teams.

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    References

    1. Nietzsche Quote - (accessed 11/23/10) - http://thinkexist.com/quotation/in_individuals-insanity_is_rare-but_in_groups/11635.html
    2. Gerald Blair - (accessed 11/23/10) - http://www.see.ed.ac.uk/~gerard/Management/art0.html
    3. Group Dynamics, James Neill (accessed 11/22/10) - http://employees.oneonta.edu/vomsaaw/w/handouts_general/GroupWorkGuidelines.htm

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