Small groups, which serve as mainstays in building and maintaining community especially within the context of a larger organization, each have their own life cycles fluidly divided into certain stages of development. Bruce Tuckman, a professor of educational psychology, developed four stages of group development in 1965. He named the stages Forming, Norming, Storming, and Performing. Several years later he added Adjourning. The graphic below illustrates each of the stages.
While they are presented in a linear fashion, a group might flow backwards for a little while, back to the earlier stage of Forming, for example, when a newcomer joins the group. Healthy conflict might push the group forward into Performing, while unhealthy conflict might push the group back to Storming.
Servant-leaders know the life cycle of groups and can help assess in which stage a group is operating, thereby contributing insight to where the group might want to go and what it will take to get there. Ideally, each member of a group is familiar with the stages of its development and therefore decisions can be made collectively rather than solely by the designated leader.
When a group matures into the Performing stage, it might even become what is known as a “leaderless group” because all members engage in shaping its direction. This is the epitome of servant-leadership: to have a group know, shape, and lead itself.
Gabriel Center Founder Katie Elberfeld and I helped present the small group model to ministry leaders at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roswell, GA, after that church undertook a three-year discernment process to emphasize the community that stems from small groups. On May 21st Mark and Katie, in concert with rector Ken Swanson, presented the small group model to its ministry leaders and to those interested in leading Covenant Groups, which are small groups that follow a structure for an extended period. We were thrilled to be part of such an exciting opportunity in the life of St. David’s.
–Mark Elberfeld, President