Appendix 4: The Developmental Phases of Small Groups

“A small group is a psychosocial group that can be composed of 3 to 20 people who meet and interact in view of attaining a common goal” [translation].fn 240

Phase 1: Group formation and orientation

In the beginning, a number of people consider the idea of creating a group with a set of general and specific objectives. Their actions are underpinned by the idea that the group must fulfil their needs.fn 241

The first meetings with potential members can be extremely tense, as each person evaluates the skills and attributes of the others. In this initial phase, objectives and norms of how the group functions are defined. When a majority accepts the rules and objectives put forward, the group is formed.

This formation process is complete when most of the people assembled agree to join together to form the group.fn 242

Phase 2: Conflict

After it has been founded, the group experiences a sense of courteous interdependence. Each member recognizes the positive potential of the participation of the other members in attaining common objectives.

The fact that conflicts emerge within a group is natural. However, when the group is first formed, members tend to avoid any form of conflict.

The group's formation period often ends in conflict. The behaviour of certain members and the appropriateness of their attitudes may come into question. These individuals may be perceived as obstacles to achieving the group's mission. Once expressed, these perceptions, may lead to conflict which is a new stage in the group's development. Conflicts can have various sources:fn 243

· A conflict can be rooted in a disagreement between two people who misinterpret each other's positions;fn 244

· Conflicts may also result from a situation that can be quickly remedied. For instance, a member who always arrives late;

· A conflict may be caused by a small disagreement and escalate into a major problem which prompts members to express difficulties they are experiencing in the group.

While the changes that result from conflict increase stress and altercations among members, they also often have a beneficial impact on the group's dynamic. Conflicts may destroy a group, but may also reinforce a sense of belonging among members. After a conflict, the group may be more resilient and better able to handle the problems it encounters.fn 245

A harmonious relationship among members cannot be achieved until hostilities have been brought out into the open and resolved.fn 246

Some groups may, however, avoid any form of conflict out of fear of the changes that may result from these altercations. Groups that reject any form of change may exercise a great deal of control over their members to ensure that they adhere to the group's rules and do not change their behaviour in any way.fn 247

At first glance, groups that do not experience conflict may appear to be organizations whose members enjoy positive relationships. However, this absence of conflict is often the result of members controlling their reactions. The absence of conflict within a group may also reflect the fragility of an organization.

Conflict is more apparent within groups that are stable and united and provide members with an opportunity to vent feelings of hostility. Once disagreements have been resolved, members of the group can enjoy more harmonious or stronger relationships.

Phase 3: Group cohesionfn 248

When conflicts and disagreements among members are resolved, a sense of cohesion and true camaraderie emerge with the following effects:fn 249

· Unity: This is the most important change that emerges once the group has attained cohesion. Gradually, relationships among the group members become more harmonious and a sense of belonging develops. Members are proud to identify themselves with the group;

· Stability: Once conflicts have been resolved, the group maintains its members;

· Satisfaction: The group's cohesion and the satisfaction of its members are interrelated. Consequently, the greater the sense of belonging to the group, the happier and more privileged the members feel;

· Internal dynamic: Groups that achieve strong internal cohesion may have greater influence over their members. When internal cohesion is strong, members more readily accept the goals, objectives and norms imposed by a leader or by the other members;

Although cohesion among members of a group has positive consequences for the life of the group, the intensity of this cohesiveness can have some negative effects. Members may become intolerant of certain disagreements, conflicts or behaviours. The slightest disagreement or deviation in behaviour may be severely punished.fn 250

Members who violate a group's norms are generally less liked by the other members.fn 251 Cohesion may lead to:

· Increasingly hostile reactions towards deviant members.

· Isolating deviant members;

· Scapegoating;

· Deviant members becoming the target for psychological and physical violence;fn 252

· Rejecting deviant members.

The members of the group work together toward a common goal and, to varying degrees, commit to the group.fn 253

The positions and emotions that members express and the validation they receive from co-members in their daily interactions significantly reinforce their sense of belonging. Through exchanges and interactions the members travel the same path and rally around the same collective positions. Collective agreement usually leads to increased energy, heightened assurance and stronger conviction among members.

The sense of cohesion that develops within the group may spur hostility to groups that do not subscribe to their logic.

Phase 4: Group performance or productivity

Productivity or performance arises when the group has attained a certain maturity. It is important to note that not all groups reach this phase. During this period, the group attains some of the goals it had initially set for itself. The group may alternate between this phase and the conflict phase throughout its development until conflicts become insurmountable or all of the initial goals have been attained.

Phase 5: Dissolution

The last phase of development may be planned or spontaneous, and occurs when the group has attained the objectives around which it was formed. Therefore, through consensus, group members decide to dissolve the group. The group may also dissolve when an unexpected problem arises.

The development and maturation of a group are presented here as a linear succession of phases. A group may, however, repeat certain phases or alternate between periods of conflict and productivity throughout its development. Certain phases may recur or the group may jump from one phase to another and repeat phases. The group may therefore travel the road to maturation several times.fn 254


©Info-Cult 2006