Understanding Work Group Behavior
By: Danielle D. Taylor


The most important thing to remember in managing an effective team is that teams are developing organisms. They go through stages of development the same way plants and animals do.

Wheelan's Integrated Model of group development combines the predominant research on the evolution of groups. In this model, groups progress from immaturity to maturity in four stages.

The first stage is similar to that of a toddler or young child. Members of a work group in this stage are unsure of themselves, the group and the structure. Groups in this stage need direction and guidance. Establishing a routine will help the members gain security in their roles and enable them to move to the next stage.

Groups in the second stage of development are often easy to recognize: there are a lot of disagreements; subgroups and cliques have emerged; some of the members hate the leader. The leader becomes frustrated with the team at this point because no matter what she tries to do, it is wrong. Stage two can be compared to the teenage years.

The goal for the leader of a group in this stage of development is to get the members on the same page. This is where conflict resolution skills come into play the most. The leader also needs to let go of the notion that only their idea or "page" is the one the group should be on.

Now is the time to give the member a larger role in writing the page. This is NOT the time to abdicate authority or withdraw completely. It is simply the time to give members a chair at the table; their first chance to participate in charting the course or direction of the group.

A group that survives stage two and matures into stage three has realized, to accomplish the task, they have to give equal weight to how they do the work and to what the work entails. During this stage roles are fine-tuned and positive coalitions and partnerships are formed. As they master this, the group now seamlessly moves on to stage four.

Groups in stage four are great to see. They focus a proportionate amount of time carrying out the work, the task, as figuring out how to carry out the work, the process. Groups in the fourth stage of development are characterized by an independence from the leader. The leader at this point delegates to the team. They have the authority to make decisions on their own. Of course, they have the maturity at this point to effectively wield that power.

The group-leader relationship now resembles that of the adult child - older parent relationship. The leader is consulted, as needed, for feedback and clarification of the parameters of the responsibility, but the decisions rest in the hands of the group.

Understanding the stages groups move through and their needs in a given stage will help you achieve an effective team. Armed with this knowledge, look at your team and ask yourself two questions:

1. In what stage of development is my group currently?

2. How can I best meet the needs of my group in that stage?

About the Author

Danielle Taylor is president of Taylor Training & Development, a Philadelphia-based practice focused on the professional development needs of the non-profit sector. Taylor attended Mount Saint Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland and earned a master of education degree in adult and organization development from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As Director of Student Membership for the Greater Philadelphia Chapter ASTD, Taylor mentors and supports the ongoing development of future trainers, facilitators, and HR professionals.

Copyright 2003 Taylor Training & Development
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2003 issue of the Tailored Briefs newsletter and is reproduced here with permission.