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Group Development

Groups take time to develop. How long, of course, is impossible to specify. It depends on size, frequency of interaction, structural features, and so on.

However, one of the best-known bits of literature on groups is Tuckman's model of group development, based on a meta-analysis of the complex models which had previously been developed. It has the virtue of being memorable, but the limitation of being rather rigid. In my view, his search for the common ground has lost much of the richness of the original models, and has imposed an over-simplified structure which is not really true to my experience of groups. However, Tuckman's original model has four stages;

(Non-standard) diagram of the Tuckman sequence (modified)

Forming: in which the group is just coming together. It is often characterised by shyness, uncertainty and diffidence among the members, although extravert members may rapidly assume some kind of leadership. Maintenance concerns predominate.

Storming: in which, having been established, there is a period of jockeying for position, authority and influence among the members. In classes, this is the period of "testing-out" the teacher. Disagreements appear or are manufactured and roles are eventually allocated. The initial leaders may not survive this period: it is the most uncomfortable phase of the group's life—a sort of group adolescence.

Norming: having sorted out its internal structure, there is then the issue of what the group stands for. What kind of behaviour and contribution is acceptable and what isn't? Members explore behind the power processes of storming and begin to form some idea of the group's identity: the "group in the mind". This is rarely done explicitly, of course, and it can readily slip back into Storming,

Performing: after all that, the group can begin to get some work done, on the basis of a relatively stable structure.

The diagram is non-standard in that it shows this process not as a linear sequence, but as a cycle, after the initial forming. Indeed, it is not even a cycle—my experience suggests that the group can go from any of the three later stages to either of the others.

Open groups, in particular, (defined as those in which members keep joining and leaving throughout the life of the group) can readily be sent back to the Forming phase, particularly if the group is small and the turnover substantial.

The importance of Storming

The most important insight of the model is the recognition of the Storming phase.

  • It may not always be obvious, but it happens in all groups.
  • It is inevitable and it cannot be structured out of existence.
  • Within classes, however, it may need to be contained; particularly because the most obvious role to be tested is that of the teacher. If you fail whatever test the class sets, (disciplinary, out-of-role questioning, response to students not preparing for the class) class members can get very confused and not know where to look for leadership. You may not want to "lead" or emphasise your authority, but you may well have a problem of wasted time and loss of a learning culture if you do not.
  • A desire to avoid Storming may be one of the reasons why some teachers appear not to want groups to establish much interaction or a real group identity. Keeping most of the interaction on the basis of exchanges between teacher and a succession of single students is the commonest way of doing this: or even, of course, simply lecturing without any other channel of communication. On fragmented modular courses, this can "work" from the teacher's point of view, but often at considerable cost in terms of student learning.


Tuckman and Jensen also recognised the "adjourning" and even the "mourning" phases, in which the group contemplates its dissolution and "death". Running them together, they are usually easy to recognise: as the class comes to the end of the course, there may be an attempt to deny the ending—an exchange of addresses and injunctions to "keep in touch", or even attempts to continue to meet on an informal basis. These are usually fantasy based, as the life of the group is reviewed in a rosy glow, and most continuing meetings peter out once the formal course is over. It is also common to ritualise the ending, by going out to the pub or for a meal: it's harmless and usually quite pleasant, as long as no-one is wilfully excluded. (Note to my students: I like Greek food.)


Later variations also introduced an "Informing" stage, beyond Performing, and characterised by an ability to interact as a group beyond the group boundaries—negotiating with other groups, for example, or acting to make use of the group's "capital" in the form of knowledge or teamwork. This is not always called for in the life of many groups, and although it is true that without some form of cohesion, groups can't do engage constructively with outsiders at the group level, this elaboration moves the model more into the realms of prescription than description. (I think.)

Wheels within wheels

All this can go on, at a number of different levels, simultaneously. It can happen within a class meeting, over a semester, and over an entire course. Remember that when a group is already established, your arrival as the new teacher is a substantial disruption, so most of the Storming phase is likely to involve you, in the form of testing-out.

TUCKMAN B (1965) "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups" Psychological Bulletin 63 pp. 384-399 Note that this reference is to his earlier formulation, and not to his revision with Jensen in 1977, which serves (imho) to confuse the issue. [Back]
See also The Course of a Course
For another account see here
Much of the original
and an article which takes a similar line to this one.

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This is an archived copy of Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching [On-line: UK] Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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