Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.
American Football Coach (1913–1970)
A group process is a chain of several steps a certain group goes through. It refers to their behaviour and interactions. A key factor for the development of the process is the workshop leader. He enables the fulfilment of tasks, makes sure that every participant is taken into the group and sets a frame of rules and equal participation.
Group Processes have to be taken into account for your planning. Not every topic, session, or game can be done at every stage. Of course, the transition from one phase to another strongly depends on the group, the frame of the session — things like the venue and the ambiance etc. — and you as workshop leader. If not properly guided, a group might not come even to the ‘Norming Phase’. In this case, a workshop would not have any useful outcome.
There are five stages in this process:
- Forming: participants find themselves in a new group and new environment. Often they are curious but reserved at the same time. During the first stages everybody tries to find out what the usual and expected behaviours are. On the one hand, they cannot be challenged too much or they might close completely and be reluctant to participate further. On the other, they are more focused on social aspects of the group and their role in it, rather than purely on the topic of the seminar. So, here we have the chance to work on basic attitudes, but heavy content-related topics are saved for later.
- Storming: group undergoes a process of self-discovery. The team leader is observed closely as well as the power structure of the group. A few participants might challenge and test it in order to reassure themselves of their orientation. In this phase, it’s crucial that you assert your position as the workshop leader.
- Norming: the workshop audience builds its own character and perhaps behaviour. A joke might become a running gag for the whole group. This phase is characterised by mutual respect and focus on tasks. Group works, World Cafés, or Open Space techniques will lead to excellent results now.
- Performing: the group distinguishes itself from the outside. Interactions within the group are more relaxed. Now, participants know how to deal with the others. It’s the peak time of performance for content.
- Adjourning: after the peak concentration goes down. Participants might think of their return and tasks ahead of them after the workshop. Nonetheless, it’s time to assess the results of the workshop and to look jointly ahead for common tasks for afterwards. A good ambiance will leave the final impression and foster a willingness to meet again and to carry out the common tasks, which have been outlined.
At first, it takes a kind of educated guesswork to establish the timings for the different phases in your workshop plan and the respective sessions. With time, exposure and experience as moderator will give you a good sense of which phase a group is in.
The energizers in this blog do always show these phases in order to help your judgement.