Using the Class Group

 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.


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.

To reference this page copy and paste the text below:

Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching; [On-line: UK] retrieved from

Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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