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Building Groups or Teams that Work

Think of a time when you were working within a group or in a position of authority within a group, and things were not going well. Some people were trying to compete for jobs within the group. There were those you felt didn't contribute to the group's work. How about those who were just fine with the way things were going? It wasn't easy to make progress when there seemed to be roadblocks at every corner.


How do you build groups that work? Do you recognize and acknowledge when the groups are working well? How do you know when your group is working well?



Most of us belong to several groups within our personal, professional lives and communities. We depend on the group's effectiveness for several reasons. Time is the most common. Our time is valuable, and we do not want to waste it on ineffective meetings of the group.


Bruce Tuckman has spent time researching group dynamics, and he tells us that the work of groups typically moves through predictable stages and that most groups do not become effective until they reach the stage of performing. These groups go through four stages:

Gathering: Group members get to know each other in a polite way

Chaos: Group members bring forth their unique ideas and state their opinions. There is disagreement and debate with one another. The group struggles with purpose, goals, leadership, and influence until the group becomes organized.

Unity: Group members settle into working together and begin to become cohesive.

Performing: Group members become a working team, and there are productive results.


Research does tell us that it can take at least nineteen hours of intentional and deliberate work to get a group to the performing stage.


The most challenging stage to get through is the CHAOS stage because it looks messy and it can be very uncomfortable to some. The key is this stage is not always negative. If the group understands and can identify this stage for what it is, it can be very productive because it generates creativity and energy.

Chaos looks and feels like:

Individuals are thinking about themselves

Jockeying for position

Competition arises

Cliques surface

There is conflict, and those who are uncomfortable with conflict withdraw

Lack of role clarity

Look to the person in a position of authority to make decisions

Not all views/opinions are considered

Discussions are ego-based and one-sided

Win-Lose attitude


Margaret Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science, says, "This messy stage doesn't last forever, although it can feel like it. But if we suppress the messiness at the beginning, it will find us later on and then be disruptive."


To move out of chaos, the group should look at these things:

Focus on the people – not on ourselves

Establish trust – take the time

Develop group skills – when learning about each other, learn how to work together.

Create a shared vision for the group – why are you here

Emphasize personal responsibility – it is not one person but all as a collective


Look at the groups you work with. Are they in the "performing" stage? Here are some things to look for to determine whether your group is performing.

There is a positive interaction.

There is gentle fun – not at anyone's expense

Everyone is listening actively

Group members value creativity

There are clear roles for everyone in the group

The group members actively work toward their vision

They resolve differences effectively

There is respect for the skills and talents of group members

The morale of the group is very high

There is intense loyalty among group members and the vision

They have a strong group identity

They make an effort to work collaboratively

There is a suitable and positive role for everyone in the group

They have high confidence in accomplishing the task at hand

The meetings are positive, respectful, and open

Ideas are used to build a better solution


In our experience, these four stages of a group are actual. So, first, observe a group you are working with and see if you can recognize the stage the group may be in. Then, begin thinking about the chaos stage and how to move the group out of chaos.


"All real teams share a commitment to their common purpose. But only exceptional teams become deeply dedicated to each other." Katzenbach & Smith.


Resources: Contemporary Consulting and the research from Bruce Tuckman

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