This is the follow-on article from How to Grow a Families Leader: The Eight Characteristics of Leadership.
Using the example of Families.com as our group, how can we each develop the stated eight characteristics in ourselves? While Lisa Pietsch may be seen as the leader of Families.com (she’s the community manager), group dynamics would suggest that we each have a role to play in ensuring our group’s survival through a systematic understanding of group stages. Bruce Tuckman (educational psychologist) is honored with establishing the five stages of group development.
How do these five stages fit Families.com? We have undergone two mergers in a 10-month period. The propensity for group change, survival or demise, is high. It is time to have a brief look at Tuckman’s theory and consider how we can each survive and lead our growing, merging and changing group.
1. Forming: This is the orientation stage of group formation. The unwritten rules of psychological group behavior from new members are to keep things simple and to avoid upsetting anyone. Serious topics and feelings are avoided as new members become oriented to the function of Families.com as well as to one another. Discussion may center around defining their place in the group community, what they’re allowed to do/not do, how to approach the new site, and joining with other members who may have interests/concerns similar to their own. Without strong forming strategies, conflict and feelings of alienation may drive new members away. If old members want Families.com to survive and thrive, they will need to actively welcome new members and to assist them in discovering exactly what our group is about. It is only then that we can grow to the next stage where each member must relinquish the comfort of non-threatening topics and risk the possibility of conflict.
2. Storming: This stage is characterised by dissatisfaction, competition and conflict between members and the value of merged sites. Individuals have to bend and mold their feelings, ideas, attitudes, and beliefs to suit the overall group. Some members will choose to do this by becoming domineering and aggressive while others will avoid all conflict and hide. There will be an increased desire for redefining what Families.com is and means and who is welcome. Although conflicts may or may not surface as a whole of site issue, the conflict does exist. Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, what the rules are, what the reward system is, and what criteria for evaluation are. These questions inadvertently reflect conflicts over leadership, structure, power, and authority. In order for us to evolve to the next stage, members need to move from a “testing and proving” mentality to a problem-solving mentality. The most important trait in helping groups to move on to the next stage seems to be the ability to listen to all members – even if we don’t agree with what they say.
3. Norming: This is the stage of the resolution of conflict where interpersonal relations between members become cohesive. Group members are engaged in active acknowledgment of all members’ contributions, community building and maintenance, and solving of group issues. Members are willing to change their preconceived ideas or opinions on the basis of facts presented by other members, and they actively ask questions of one another. Leadership is shared, and cliques dissolve. When members begin to know-and identify with one another, the level of trust in their personal relations contributes to the development of group cohesion. It is during this stage of development (assuming the group gets this far) that people begin to experience a sense of group belonging and a feeling of relief as a result of resolving interpersonal conflicts.
The major task of this stage is the flow of information between group members: They share feelings and ideas, solicit and give feedback to one another, and explore actions related to the task. Creativity is high. If information flow and cohesion is attained by the group members, the site’s interactions will be characterized by openness and sharing of information on both a personal and site survival level. Members will feel good about being part of an effective group.
The major drawback of this stage is that old members may begin to fear the inevitable future breakup of their cohesive sub groups and they may resist change of any sort, including arguing against future mergers.
4. Performing: This stage is characterized by the production of a satisfactory outcome: the reason for the existence of Families.com and working toward the group vision of creating the largest family focused community on the net. When group members reach this stage, their capacity, range, and depth of personal relations expand to true interdependence – they take joint ownership of Families.com. In this stage, people can exist independently by only visiting and being active in one section, in subgroups (forums), or across all areas of the site. Their roles and status dynamically adjust to the changing needs of new members entering our open group. It is in this stage that the group should be most productive. Individual members have become self-assuring, and the need for group approval is past. Members are clear about their reasons for interaction and are family member oriented. There is unity: group identity is complete, group morale is high, and group loyalty is intense. The task function becomes genuine problem solving, leading toward optimal solutions and optimum group development. There is support for helping new members to solve problems and an emphasis on group achievement. The overall goal of this stage is site efficiency through problem solving and vision achievement.
5. Deforming and Mourning: This is the Moving on stage and is genrally talked about in closed groups. However, because Families.com is in open group, any member may terminate their involvement and disengage from both individual relationships formed and community involvement. Even when it is their choice to leave, concluding their involvement can create some apprehension in both themselves and the wider community – in effect, a minor crisis.
The first three stages of group development appear to be something that families.com has recently undergone with the merger of two family-centric sites. Look at these group stage questions and recognise your own part in the process of group development or constipation. Yes, we are each responsible. Are we each actively practicing the eight characteristics of leadership? Are we each prepared to assist Families.com to survive the absolutly normal rocky group dynamics caused by the newest merger? I am, and that’s why I chose to share the psychological stages of group development. The internal or external conflict you may currently be experiencing is a normal process of the merger of different sites. Surviving it in tact is the responsibility of all of us, not just of Lisa Pietsch. I’ll survive because I choose to handle this like an adult – how about you?
Some information used in this article was drawn from Leadership Tips, Centre for Service and Leadership, George Mason University.
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