|STAGES OF GROUP DEVELOPMENT - A PCP APPROACH
|Leamington Spa, UK
Groups and their members can be
seen as experiencing a ‘life cycle’, characterised by a sequence of
developmental stages. Life cycle models typically present these stages as
phenomena of group experience.
This paper experiments with the
application of Personal Construct Psychology to phases of group development,
describing these as processes of construing and elaboration made more vivid by
the intense ‘laboratory’ of the group. The group context serves to highlight
the experimental nature of our actions, and the analysis of group interaction
reveals some recognisable patterns of behaviour as groups develop. A potential
4-stage model using personal construct theory is described, and implications
for group facilitators are explored at each stage.
Keywords: groups, group development, facilitation
development of a group has typically been described as a ‘life cycle’,
characterised by a sequence of developmental stages. The most commonly used
model is the work of Tuckman (1965) who described the four stages of forming,
storming, norming and performing.
4-stage model has very wide currency in the world of group facilitation. While
the stages cannot usefully be seen as either linear or universal, we will often
recognise some distinctive patterns as groups develop, and Tuckman’s work is
considered by many to be a useful starting point for considering appropriate
facilitator interventions. An awareness of these possible stages seems to help,
not least by normalising the inevitable difficulties of group process, and the
model can usefully highlight the way in which task and process run concurrently
through the life of the group, both part of its essential work. Descriptions of
group development tend to present these ‘stages’ as phenomena of group
experience, sets of behaviours which occur specifically when people come
together and form a group with a common task or purpose.
refers to the early stages of a group’s life as people come together and begin
to find ways to interact and share common purpose;
the stage where group roles, relationships and values are contested and
negotiated, including issues of leadership and control;
to the stage at which group roles, norms and expectations begin to be
the point at which group processes are established and the group is able to
work within these constraints in relatively effective ways.
this paper I look at group development through the lens of Personal Construct
Psychology (Kelly, 1955/1991). Kelly himself outlined the stages of a group, largely
in terms of its function and activities. Ideas for structuring group activity
have since been elaborated, notably by Dunnett & Llewellyn (1978) and
Neimeyer (1988). The notion of what constitutes ‘a PCP group’ has been explored
creatively by Stringer & Thomas (1996).
am proposing the application of PCP to the developmental life cycle of groups
in terms of process as well as task. Viewed from the perspective of Kelly’s
theory, the experiences of a group might be seen less as phenomena unique to
groups, and rather as particularly vivid examples of everyday processes of
construing. Personal construct theory applies to all of us, all of the time,
and our construction processes are likely to be thrown into sharp relief by the
intense ‘laboratory’ of the group which serves to highlight the experimental
nature of our behaviour.
the established usefulness of a 4-stage approach to understanding group development,
and making connections as far as possible with Tuckman’s ideas, I am proposing
a group life-cycle from a PCP perspective, comprising
first two stages refer primarily to individuals, which perhaps reflects our
felt experience of group process. PCP describes the personal and unique
construct systems through which we each make sense of our worlds. When we first
come together there may be little ‘groupness’ but rather a collection of individuals
with their own systems of meaning making and anticipation who need to find
connections and gradually develop and share constructs. Many of us will be
aware of the early stages of group process where our engagement with the group
is intermittent and we are primarily focussed on our own thoughts, feelings, and
reactions in and to the group. It is in the later stages that we are more fully
engaged as group members, becoming less consciously and less frequently
preoccupied by our internal process.
- Stage One: Individual Anticipation
- Stage Two:
- Stage Three:
- Stage Four:
stages could be elaborated more fully as:
sequence illustrates the gradual emergence of the ‘groupness’ of the group, out
of an initial coming together of individuals.
- Stage One:
Individual Anticipation - of the group
- Stage Two:
Individual Experimentation - in the group
- Stage Three:
Collective Construction – by the
- Stage Four:
Collaborative Action – as a
each stage I offer some ideas about the role of a group facilitator. This may
be a professional facilitator but is more often a manager, trainer or team
leader in an organisational setting, a teacher or tutor in educational
practice, or a therapist or psychologist in clinical work. Referring to
Tuckman’s model, Clarkson has suggested that
‘predictable patterns…can be
perceived by an initiated observer over the course of a 3-year training or a half-hour
committee meeting. Knowledge of these phases is therefore relevant and
potentially useful to any person who is either a member or a leader of any
group of individuals for almost any conceivable purpose: from bringing up
children to conducting an anti-nuclear demonstration to running a psychotherapy
(Clarkson, 1995, p. 88)
acknowledging a variety of leadership roles, I refer throughout the paper to
the ‘facilitator’. Given the generic applicability of group development models
and of PCP theory, I hope that the suggestions for facilitators will have a
wide range of convenience, at least as starting points for reviewing our own
STAGE ONE -
stage would be roughly equivalent to Tuckman’s ‘forming’, which is usually
described as a tentative testing of the boundaries of interpersonal and task
behaviours. Group members may be quiet and watchful as they orientate
themselves in the group, and they are often highly dependent on the group
leader, thus avoiding early issues of power, control and preference between
themselves. A cautious politeness regularly dominates.
a PCP perspective, the focus would be on anticipation.
Our theory describes us as living in anticipation, continually forming our hypotheses
about what is happening and what might be our next best move. From day to day
much of this process happens outside our awareness, but the intense social experience
of a new group pushes our anticipations into the foreground. Group members are
likely to be highly occupied with their own personal questions (what is
happening now? what is it like to be here? who are these people? how will it
be? why am I here? what do they make of me?) and will be trying more or less
consciously to form some provisional answers for themselves.
primary experience will be that of Kellyan anxiety, as we may not have many
existing constructs for dealing with the experience of this group. The more
that is unfamiliar to us (the members, the venue, the purpose, the facilitator,
the experience of being in a group) the higher our levels of anxiety may be.
There is also the possibility of threat, the awareness that our
core constructs may be about to be challenged by this experience. In some
settings, such as therapy groups, joining a new profession, or a first
experience of higher education, there is little doubt that we are opening
ourselves to a life-changing experience. However sought-after this change may
be, our system will be experiencing some threat. All change involves loss, and
we cannot yet be sure that the change will be better, or even manageable.
members with considerable experience of groups are likely to have quite
well-developed constructs of ‘self-in-a-group’ which may allow them to make
more confident predictions and experiment more quickly with their behaviour. In
most cases, our behavioural experiments will be cautious, characterised by circumspection.
We will be leaving ourselves plenty of opportunity to withdraw before getting
out of our depth. Alternatively, some of us, while lacking in ready-made
constructs, may adopt the characteristic impulsivity of preemption,
throwing ourselves rapidly, even recklessly, into the experience. In these
circumstances, we are likely to gain a massive amount of feedback very quickly,
which we may or may not have consciously anticipated, and which we may find
more or less validating. We become the first-time gambler rapidly throwing all
our chips on to one number as the best option we can see in a setting where we
don’t really know the rules of the game.
stage of ‘Individual Anticipation’ may be very marked in ‘stranger’ groups
where members are meeting for the very first time, such as the early meetings
of a support or therapy group, or the first contact between students beginning
a course of study. It is also likely to be a feature when groups are required
to suspend previously established roles and rules, for example in highly
experiential or outdoor training programmes where existing hierarchies and work
experience lose their usual power to structure and control the group
FACILITATOR AT STAGE ONE
at the stage of ‘Individual Anticipation’ will need to accept that dependencies
are unlikely to be dispersed through the group, and members may be looking
to them for a fairly strong lead, and for guidance about what might happen and
how things might work. Where a facilitator wants to increase group safety, they
might helpfully offer some tightening interventions,
clarifying expectations and thereby helping members to form some provisional
constructs about the group and its task. Information and a degree of control from
the group leader can help to minimise the anxieties of the unfamiliar.
are also likely to be given responsibility for managing the CPC
cycle of decision-making in the group, exercising leadership, and
helping members orientate themselves by giving some compass points.
group leader may want to facilitate early experiments in sociality,
encouraging mutual understanding by initiating some opportunities for the
exchange of personal information, views and ideas. The gradual management of
personal disclosure/exposure was emphasised by Kelly:
‘We are fully convinced that no
member of the group should be encouraged, or even allowed, to put [themselves]
in a vulnerable position…until supports have become apparent in the group’s
interactions and those supports are obviously available to the person who
(Kelly 1991, p. 421)
may also need to accept a tendency for constriction at this early stage.
A lot of process work is being done, and there may be a limit to how far the
group can also progress its task. A focus on a limited range of work tasks may
help the group keep anxiety to more manageable levels.
appropriate, threat might usefully be explicitly acknowledged by the
facilitator as a feature at the start of group projects, normalising the
experience and helping group members to identify the turbulence they may be
stage corresponds to Tuckman’s ‘storming’ which he describes as characterised
by “conflict and polarisation around interpersonal issues, with concomitant
emotional responding in the task sphere”.
groups will be in explicit conflict around issues of control, inclusion and
affection, preoccupied with who is taking the lead and how people feel about
them, concerned about who is in or out and what sub-groups are emerging, and
reacting to whether they feel appreciated, valued and liked as individuals.
described the stage of group development where differences and contrasts between
group members are highlighted and need to be managed. Many of the anxieties,
questions and preoccupations of this stage arise from differences in individuals’
construct systems, and turmoil and conflict in the group can be a consequence
of the various experiments group members engage in to test their hypotheses and
gain validation for themselves and their contributions. The picture
is conjured vividly by Efran et al (1988/1992):
‘Picture a number of playwrights
who have been invited to present little playlets, simultaneously, and on
overlapping stages. Furthermore, each playwright, since he or she was going to
be there anyway, has been given a part in every other playwright’s production.
Constructivism leads us to anticipate that we will all be enacting our unique
playlets in roughly the same performance space, and using one another as
members of the cast. Under these seemingly bizarre conditions – what we
typically refer to as ‘living’ – is it any wonder that there are a number of bumps
and bruises, accusations and confusions?’
PCP terms, the more core the issues involved, the more
turbulent this phase will be. Where key aspects of personal or professional
identity are involved, there will be more at stake and we will be working
harder to maintain the integrity of our own construct system in the face of
challenge, striving to retain our sense of self in whatever ways seem possible.
Since the group may be relatively unaware of what is core for each member, the
levels of volatility and strength of reaction to each others' contribution may
be difficult to make sense of and accept.
constructs of transition may also be very much in evidence at this point. In
addition to anxiety and threat, there are likely to be
differences in the level of aggression displayed by
group members. While aggression in a colloquial sense is very much a part of
this stage, Kellyan aggression – the active elaboration of our construct
systems – is what is in play here. Some people will want to move faster, to be
more radical, to do more, while others will need to reflect and progress
more slowly, with more reservations. Kelly suggested that those who go around
‘aggressively dilating other people’s worlds’ are bound to encounter hostility
in others whose investment will be in not changing, (at least, not
yet), and whose energy will go into ensuring that events continue to fit their
original script. The tension between hostility and aggression may be one of the
dominant features of the Individual Experimentation phase.
further issue causing potential disruption at this stage will be the balance
for each person between individuality and commonality.
We need to feel that we can be different, that our uniqueness is accepted and
valued. It will be important to be ourselves in the group, and not be taken
over or required to conform in ways which feel unacceptable to us.
time frame of the group will sometimes have relevance to this stage. In
relatively short-lived group experiences we will sometimes be more ready to
avoid or accommodate differences, and may be content to leave leadership in the
hands of the group leader or facilitator. Where we are making a more serious
investment of time and energy however – joining a major project team or
starting a long course of study for example – we will be more concerned to
establish roles and norms which are acceptable to us, may be less prepared to
compromise and adjust, and we may also be more concerned to establish a
particular impression of ourselves and our strengths and qualities.
the same time, this stage may also be a striking feature in one-off meetings, particularly
in high threat situations where group members’ needs for personal validation may
be combined with a tendency to invalidate others. This combination is
characteristic of gatherings where individuals perceive that a lot is at stake,
for example in groups where judgements are being made such as job interview exercises,
group election procedures, and assessment processes of all kinds.
FACILITATOR AT STAGE TWO
from being a distraction from the task, the rocky process of the ‘Individual
Experimentation’ stage is a necessary stage through which people evolve and establish
the roles they might play, and the degree to which their various needs and
motivations can be satisfied.
Sociality is again a key tool.
The facilitator might want to promote and model discussions and explorations
which enable members to understand each others needs, views and motivations,
and to appreciate and value difference and individuality rather than feel
threatened by it. At the same time, there will be a need to work towards some commonality,
defining shared tasks and group groundrules, which will need periodic tightening.
It may be important however not to push the group towards clarity and task
focus too quickly, as some interpersonal turbulence is usually a necessary
precursor to productive groupwork. Kelly suggested we keep an emphasis on the
‘task of understanding faithfully’ the outlook of the individual group members.
of inevitable differences in pace and experience, the facilitator may still be
managing the CPC cycle. They will need to ensure on the one hand that the
group does not rush to preemption to get out of difficult conflicts which would
benefit from further exploration rather than premature closure, and on the
other hand that the group does not stay in circumspection too long for fear of
facing up to the difficulties and power clashes involved in making decisions
and taking responsibility.
can help to remind ourselves of the emotionally volatile nature of the ‘Individual
Experimentation’ phase, construing the conflicts and difficulties of this stage
as normal developmental processes and not as an invalidation of the
facilitator’s role in managing and enabling the group. Facilitators who have an
assessment or evaluative role, in education for example, need to look
relatively benignly on some of the behaviours of this stage which may range
from socially inept to seemingly destructive. Members are navigating their way
through an unknown social context, using resources and experience with which we
are not familiar, based on personal hypotheses which we have yet to understand.
stage corresponds to Tuckman’s ‘norming’, during which shared norms and values
develop, and a degree of cohesiveness is established. This is where the group
makes explicit its own sense of ‘the way we do things round here’.
this stage the balance shifts from individuality, which has now hopefully been
established, to commonality. We need to agree a similar enough
understanding of what we are doing and how we will proceed for us to feel that
the group has purpose and meaning. Perceived commonality needs frequent
checking and exploration, as it is quite possible to have a high degree of
superficial commonality (particularly through common language) without a
corresponding level of mutual understanding.
develops, members are more able to clarify the roles they might play in the
group and the ways in which they can pool their strengths and resources.
Patterns of decision making tend to become established and accepted within the
group. With more robust constructs about each other, group members are ready to
take responsibility themselves with the subsequent emergence of leadership from
within the group.
is likely to be some constriction in terms of what the
group needs to do. At this stage, members are no longer requiring the group to
meet all their needs and expectations, and a more realistic and pragmatic
approach to the work of the group develops, enabling more focus on tasks and
less preoccupation with interpersonal issues.
the group attempts to accommodate and include its own variety and differences,
individuals may be experiencing different levels of more or less manageable fragmentation.
Group work often includes a number of sub-systems which are inferentially
incompatible, but which can hopefully be subsumed by a useable superordinate
construct concerning the overall value and/or purpose of the group. In essence,
the group’s values need to become each member’s values, at least for now, and
when in the group.
FACILITATOR AT STAGE THREE
are aiming for ‘good-enough’ collective construction,
with members experiencing enough individual and collective validation to
progress with their project.
this stage, the facilitator will focus on the emergence of leadership from
within the group, encouraging dependencies to become more
dispersed between group members, and validating the group’s work as it moves to
a new level of maturity and self-determination.
may recognise and usefully tighten shared constructs, identifying superordinate
constructs to which people can commit, which will give a shared sense
of purpose while struggling through conflicts about practicalities. With all
projects, robust mutual objectives help support the group when members have
equally strong ideas about the different ways this might be achieved. The
shared aim becomes a kind of touchstone to keep us on track and make it worth
other key focus for a facilitator at this stage is to monitor the rhythms of loosening
and tightening – the process heartbeat of the group. Kelly proposed
an essential connection between this rhythm and our ability to work creatively.
If a group settles into relatively tight modes of construing which might limit
progress by excluding alternative ways of seeing things, the facilitator might perhaps
ask more open questions, suggest more playful ways of working, or nudge the
group to more philosophical musing. Where the group is construing very loosely
and may be in danger of being overwhelmed by a confusion of possibilities or by
an unwieldy range of implications, the facilitator might helpfully tighten, by
summarising, clarifying, and constricting discussion to more manageable
we can encourage the maintenance of propositionality. In group
settings we all need encouragement to be Kellyan ‘good scientists’ – to hold
our hypotheses with some lightness, staying receptive to feedback which may or
may not validate our experiments. Groups need to stay flexible in their
rule-making and their meaning-making if they are to adapt and thrive through
inevitable ongoing change.
group is now at the stage Tuckman calls ‘performing’, where the “interpersonal
structure becomes the tool of task activities, roles are functional and
flexible, and group energy is channelled into task”.
stage will be an important feature of work and project teams, and of those
groups whose core purpose extends well beyond the personal development of
members towards explicit or prescribed practical outcomes.
the stage of ‘Collaborative Action’, individual and joint constructs about the
group are now well elaborated, and threat and anxiety are
consequently lower. Members’ roles in the group are adequately aligned with
their sense of self. There is enough commonality in construing the
roles and responsibilities of each member, and individuality is
respected through the continued allocation of tasks according to strengths and
interests. To the extent that group members are working with high levels of sociality
and are able to construe each others construing, the behaviour patterns of
individuals and sub-groups are now more intelligible; they can at least be
adapted to, and at best are becoming valued. There is scope for individual
members to behave aggressively without evoking instant hostile reactions.
the group has developed some explicit norms and has some experience of acting
together, some loosening is possible around time and structure as anxieties
lessen and the group’s range of convenience expands. The
group is now engaged in repeated experience cycles, acting collaboratively
and reviewing the outcomes in joint terms. The group and the individuals within
it will be experiencing the validation of achievement.
FACILITATOR AT STAGE FOUR
the 'Collaborative Action' stage, the facilitator must be able to be able to let
go. The high levels of dependency on facilitation at
earlier stages can make it difficult for us to re-construe our role as the
group develops. We need to be aware of our own levels of threat, as constructive
leadership emerges from within the group and we are no longer looked to for the
same dominant role. Facilitators might usefully elaborate some superordinate
constructs about the benefits of self-managing groups, and the
helpful role we can play in fostering this developmental process.
the group conduct their shared experiments, we can encourage them to review the
focus on using outcomes to make better predictions and plans will ensure that
any invalidation of shared action does not result in the
invalidation of persons, or of our joint project. We can also encourage the
recognition of individual contributions and talents, ensuring that individuality
is still balanced with the high levels of commonality operating at this
summary, we might propose a number of areas for the facilitator to attend to at
- Stage One - Individual Anticipation: Accepting group dependencies;
tightening initial expectations; managing the CPC cycle; introducing
opportunities for sociality; appropriately constricting the range of early
tasks; acknowledging and normalising threat;
- Stage Two - Individual Experimentation: Encouraging sociality; accepting
diversity; highlighting commonalities; acknowledging threat and anxiety; lightly
tightening ground rules; facilitating the CPC cycle; working constructively
- Stage Three - Collective Construction: Validating the shared
project; encouraging dispersal of dependencies; highlighting superordinate
constructs; encouraging rhythmic loosening and tightening; maintaining propositionality;
it feels important to acknowledge that the stages are not linear, universal or
mutually exclusive, but they are likely to reflect some of the most likely
- Stage Four - Collaborative Action: Letting go of group dependency
and managing associated threat; overseeing learning and cycles of experience; balancing
individuality and commonality; encouraging Kellyan aggression.
recent years I have noticed that facilitators, in organisational settings
particularly, can feel considerable pressure to move through the stages as
quickly as possible. This aim is promoted in contemporary management discourse
with its focus on the speedy creation of ‘high-performing teams’. Speed is not
necessarily the most useful superordinate in the development of a group, and a
focus on speed can be at the expense of understanding. The urge to get to
'Collaborative Action' as soon as possible can leave interpersonal difficulties,
and conflicts about group norms, grumbling under the surface. These are likely
to erupt, often at critical times when group pressure is high, resulting in
disruption of the task and throwing group projects off-course. This does not
mean that early stages need be slow or protracted, just that they need adequate
will be apparent that I have written this piece from my experience of working
with facilitators whose brief is a fairly hands-on approach to group management,
whether in organisational, educational or therapeutic settings.
have also tried to reflect, as well as I am able, Kelly’s own very active style
of group management. I am aware that there are alternative styles of group work
in which the facilitator will be far less focussed on taking responsibility for
managing the group and its progress.
four stages provide us with a valuable story – a model which can help us when
faced with the dynamic phenomenon of a living group. It will be important
however that we do not fall into the trap of seeing these stages as inevitable
or strictly sequential. Clarkson (1995) advises us against ‘the assumption of
causal, linear, progressive, and left-hemispheric game-rules’ when construing
group development. There is likely to be much to-ing and fro-ing within the
stages, and the arrival of a new member, or a change or addition to the group
task or role, will often necessitate the re-working of earlier stages as the
group re-construes itself, incorporating new aspects.
& Jensen (1977) revisited the original model and added the fifth stage of adjourning,
marking the ending of the group’s life cycle. Interestingly, much subsequent
writing has re-named this stage mourning, tending to focus on its more painful
aspects. (Other stages have also been proposed, though they have often been
described as having more emphasis on rhyme than reason.)
was himself aware of the importance of group endings, and proposed a further
task for facilitators over the life-cycle of a group, which is
‘to help the client extend the
lessons…learned about role relationships with a particular group and apply them
to other personas outside the group and to humanity in general’ (Kelly, 1991, p. 431)
generalisation of learning points from the group experience enables the
transfer of learning to life in general, counteracts some of the inevitable constriction
of the group experience, and helps group members capture transferable
learning in anticipation of the group’s ending.
PCP terms the group ending stage involves a kind of meta-construing. The focus
is on ensuring the completion of an experience cycle, and on the
review and evaluation of the overall experiment of being in this the group. As
well as developing some collective view of how it has been, group members will
be re-claiming their more personal constructs and making
their own meanings of the experience as they anticipate life ahead without the
the centrality of anticipation and prediction, the signalling of endings
becomes a key role of facilitators. Reactions are likely to be wide-ranging,
and may include celebration and relief as well as loss or sadness. There may be
appreciation of some aspects of the experience and some regrets about missed opportunities.
The facilitator might usefully encourage awareness of the ending/mourning
process, both in the group, and by promoting reflection or journaling outside
group meetings. Rituals of collective review or celebration can help the time-binding
process, which enables us to move from the group experience with our
personal constructs elaborated, richer for the experience, and ready for new
interpersonal and social challenges.
use of a developmental model can help us clarify what is happening in groups, I
am aware that the wide range of facilitation suggestions included here may appear
to add a demanding complexity to the process of group leadership. My intention
in sharing these ideas is to offer potential clues or glimpses of what might be
helpful, and my hope is that we might each select and further elaborate those
suggestions most compatible with our own practice setting, weaving them
creatively into our ongoing development as members and leaders of groups.
Terms introduced or modified by Kelly are set in italics
P. (1995) Stages of group development
and the group imago. In P. Clarkson. Change
in Organisations, London: Whurr.
G & Llewellyn, S. (1988) Elaborating
personal construct theory in a group setting. in Dunnett. G. (ed.)
Working with People, clinical uses of personal construct psychology, London:
Routledge (pp. 186 - 201)
J.S., Lukens, R.J., & Lukens, M.D. (1988) Constructivism, what’s in it for
you?, Family Therapy Networker, 12,
G., 1955/1991, The Psychology of Personal
Constructs, vols 1 & 2, London: Routledge (1991 reprint)
Neimeyer, R. A. (1988). Clinical guidelines for conducting
Interpersonal Transaction Groups, International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 1, 181 -190
Stringer, P., & Thomas, L. (1996).
Of cats and cloud. In D. Kalekin-Fishman & B. M. Walker (eds). The Construction of Group
Realities – culture, society and personal construct psychology, Malabar, Florida: Krieger (pp. 65
Tuckman, B. (1965) Developmental sequence in small groups, Psychological
Tuckman, B. W. & Jensen, K. (1977). Stages of small group
development, Journal of Group &
Organisational Studies, 419-427
Frances is a facilitator working with the process of change in
individuals, groups and organisations.
Frances, M. (2008). Stages of group development - A PCP approach. Personal
Construct Theory & Practice, 5, 12-20.
(Retrieved from http://www.pcp-net.org/journal/pctp08/frances08.html)
|Received: 8 October 2007 – Accepted: 17 January 2008 –
Published: 4 June 2008