This past semester I took a course called Organizational Structure and Behavior. In a nutshell, the class was about how businesses are structured, and how those structures affect the ways employees behave and communicate with one another. I found that a lot of the concepts covered not only applied to the business world, but also applied in my own life and the organizations I belong to. One of the concepts covered in that course that truly resonated with me was “group development.”

Group development is a concept that is researched to determine how and why groups change and evolve the way that they do. In the 1960s, psychologist Bruce Tuckman identified the four stages of group development: forming, storming, norming, and performing. In the forming stage, members of the group are getting to know one another, learning who they are as individuals. The storming stage is where a lot of differences among the members arise;teams that can’t compromise and negotiate will fail in this stage. For those  who make it through the storming stage, the norming stage is where members finally start to accept one another and others’ ideas in order to accomplish their goals. And finally, in the performing stage, members are working together and are competent enough to complete their responsibilities without outside aid. I think this concept really resonated with me because it described a lot of my experiences working with groups.

Groups are ubiquitous in college – everyone is involved in at least one. You have friends and social groups, various organizations and activities you participate in, maybe a sports team, and especially group projects and assignments. Some groups navigate through group development with ease because the people involved are together due to some shared interest. But others, particularly group projects, involve being forced to work with people you don’t know that well, making the process all that more difficult.

Some groups I have worked with have been amazing. Everyone got along really well, ideas were limitless, and we completed our goals without incident. But I’ve worked with my fair share of groups that didn’t work out. One group in particular involved a toxic antagonist who thought his ideas were superior to everyone else’s simply because they were his, and a lot of freeloaders unwilling to help out. Needless to say, we were not a team that made it through the storming stage successfully. Some members of that group, including myself, would hold secret meetings so we could get work done without complications or interruption from our other teammates. And as you might have guessed, that only made matters worse. Unfortunately, our grade suffered due to our inability to cooperate with one another. In retrospect, I would have done things much differently, but mistakes are often the best lessons.

After years of working with groups, and reflecting on Tuckman’s stages of group development, I have found that clear communication and open mindedness are key components of making group work successful. A lot of groups fail in the storming stage because members are unable to listen and accept other people’s ideas that are different from their own. Many people forget that communicating is an exchange of words or ideas; exchange implying that you aren’t only sharing your own ideas, but also welcoming the ideas of others. So next time you’re working in a group, taking a moment to listen to your peers’ opinions or ideas could make all of the difference!

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