November 20, 2015

How Does Your Group Grow? Group Developmental Stages

Just as a child grows in stages, a vestry or group with a purpose evolves in phases. Creating a high-performing team does not happen overnight. It takes care, nurturing and effort to create a successful group.

Some have even named these group developmental stages. For example, Bruce W. Tuckman introduced the concept of “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing” in 1965. A good explanation of this theory may be found in the most recent Vestry Resource Guide created by the Episcopal Church Foundation.

It’s important to keep in mind that these stages may not progress in linear fashion.

“You might jump from forming to norming, and the group ends its life cycle—such as a vestry member rolling off and a new one joining—before having the chance to enjoy the performing phase,” explains Christine Murawski, teambuilding staff member at Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center. “Also, every time a new member joins the group, the team will likely repeat these developmental stages.”


The forming stage occurs in the beginning when most members are amiable and eager. It’s important for the leader to be clear with roles and expectations at this stage, both with the group as a whole and with individual members. This is the time for ice breakers and other exercises that can build trust within the group and reveal the gifts that each individual offers. It’s also important at this stage to make sure the group knows why they are there and their purpose.

“This stage is a good time for the group to create a covenant regarding how they will treat one another and handle conflict as it arises,” says Murawski. “An example of this type of agreement occurs at Mountain Trail Outdoor School at Kanuga when a new group arrives. After settling in, the students are tasked with creating ground rules for their time at the school. It’s important for the group members to create the guidelines and not have the leader simply hand them out. If created by the group, they are more likely to follow them. Rules created by the students may include ‘We won’t yell at one another. We will not take things that do not belong to us.’ Of course, these are children’s rules and may not apply to adult vestries, but the idea is everyone agrees on what is acceptable behavior.”


As your group continues to work together and build trust, this next stage is when members have begun to create opinions about their teammates and leader. They may question decisions being made and the team’s purpose.

“It’s a natural process where people are not going to agree, and they are afraid they will fail,” says Murawski. “They’re testing things out. Ideas might be rejected.”

But don’t fear. This stage doesn’t mean everything will fall apart. “People aren’t necessarily battling it out; they are working to figure things out,” says Murawski. “They may move quickly through this stage and go on to the norming stage. Conversely, this stage can last for weeks where the group is in disagreement and little gets done.”

During this crucial stage, it may be important for the leader to step in, remind the group of their covenant and suggest trying a different approach or making sure a quieter opinion in the group is heard to progress forward.


Here’s where the team is active and engaged. Members now understand their role and feel like they are being appreciated for their contribution. They are more willing to share ideas with each other and receive feedback, because trust has been established between teammates.


Everything is humming along during this stage. Each person knows their role and people are feeling positive and loyal to the group. There’s a strong sense of unity, and the group is not experimenting with ideas as much as it did during the storming phase.

While the performing stage is what all groups strive for, take heart in the fact that each stage is important and valuable.