Models of Group Development

Not all models of group development apply to work groups and teams. Some models primarily describe the activity that takes place in encounter or personal growth groups. The various theories either characterize the life of a group as linear, cyclical or helical. Described below are two linear models, which most appropriately apply to the development of work
teams: 1) The Truth Option, and 2) Cog’s Ladder.

The Truth Option

According to this model, originally described by William Schutz in The Interpersonal Underworld and updated in The Truth Option, group growth unfolds in a cyclic process marked by the following three phases:


When the concerns of one phase are sufficiently resolved for the group to have energy and common ground for other things, it then moves on to the next phase, until the cycle starts over again at a different level of depth. The cycle can occur in the span of one meeting or over a longer period of time. Each phase of group development can be assessed as:

􀂉 Adequate – The group can function in ways that are satisfying to its members; or

􀂉 Inadequate – A lack of solution is impairing the ability of the group to function optimally.

When new members are added to the team, the group shifts to Phase One and the process continues in sequence. Teams should account for this change when adding new members. When a group ends, the final sequence of stages is reversed.

The information provided below on characteristics of each stage can be used as a checklist for individual observations or for discussion purposes during team maintenance meetings.

Cog’s Ladder

This model of group development describes five steps for group growth:
1) polite, 2) why we are here, 3) bid for power, 4) constructive, and 5) esprit.


This stage is marked by getting acquainted, sharing values and establishing the basis for group structure. Characteristics of this stage are described below:

􀂾 Polite conversation and information sharing, which helps members anticipate other’s future responses in the group.
􀂾 Some rely on stereotyping to help categorize other members.
􀂾 An emotional basis is established for future group structure.
􀂾 Cliques are formed (which will become important later in the group’s life).
􀂾 Member’s hidden agendas remain concealed and do not usually affect behavior at this time.
􀂾 Need for group approval is strong, but group identity is low.
􀂾 Participation is active, though uneven.
􀂾 Conflict is usually absent. Members need to be liked.
􀂾 The rules of behavior:

Keep ideas simple;
Say acceptable things;
Avoid controversy and serious topics;
If sharing feelings, keep feedback to a minimum; and
Avoid disclosure.


This stage is marked by defining group goals and objectives. Characteristics of this stage are described below:

􀂾 Agreement on goals is essential to group success; the easier it is to define objectives, the faster the group appears to reach agreement on other things.
􀂾 Some members demand a written agenda.
􀂾 Cliques start to wield influence and grow and merge as clique members find a common purpose.
􀂾 Hidden agendas are sensed as members verbalize group objectives that are most satisfying to themselves.
􀂾 Group identity is still low.
􀂾 There is a diminished need for approval as members begin to take risks and display commitment.
􀂾 There typically is active participation from all members.
􀂾 Even when the purpose for the group comes from outside the group, members still need to discuss it to gain understanding and to build commitment, because agreement on the purpose is the priority in this stage.


This stage is marked by competition for attention, recognition and influence. Characteristics of this stage are described below:

􀂾 Members try to rationalize their own positions and convince others to take action that they believe is appropriate.
􀂾 “Opponents” are considered close-minded and accused of not listening.
􀂾 Conflict rises to a higher level than any other stage.
􀂾 Leadership struggles occur, actively involving all cliques.
􀂾 Typical attempts to resolve these struggles include voting, compromise and seeking outside arbitration.
􀂾 Team spirit is weak and some members become uncomfortable as latent hostility is expressed.
􀂾 Some who had contributed freely, now remain silent. Others relish the opportunity to compete and attempt to dominate the group.
􀂾 Cliques take on the greatest importance; through cliques members find they can wield more power.
􀂾 Members become aware of previously concealed agendas.
􀂾 The need for group approval declines; members are willing to risk censure.
􀂾 Creative suggestions fall flat because the group feels that the author wants credit (power) for the suggestion.
􀂾 There still is no group identity.
􀂾 There is a greater difference between the speaking time of the least and most talkative members than in any other phase.
􀂾 There is a strong need for structure.
􀂾 Group-building and maintenance roles are important: the harmonizer, the compromiser and the follower try to maintain balance between individual and group needs. The harmonizer seeks to reduce conflict to offset the aggressor’s tendency to raise conflict levels.
􀂾 Some groups never mature past the Bid for Power stage. Nevertheless, they can fulfill their tasks, even though solutions arising in this stage are not optimal; they never satisfy all members and, at best, are products of compromise.


This stage is marked by cooperation. Characteristics of this stage are described below:

􀂾 Members give up control attempts, substitute active listening and actually ask questions of each other.
􀂾 Attitudes change; members become willing to change preconceived ideas or opinions on the basis of facts presented by other team members.
􀂾 Team spirit starts to build; cliques begin to dissolve and group identity becomes important.
􀂾 Real progress toward the group’s goals becomes evident.
􀂾 Leadership is shared and the group is comfortable using the talents of any individual who can contribute effectively.
􀂾 Conflict, when it arises, is seen as a mutual problem, rather than a win-lose battle.
􀂾 It is often difficult to bring in a new group member(s).
􀂾 Practical creativity can be high because there is a willingness to accept, solicit, listen to, question, respond to and act on creative suggestions.
􀂾 Solutions or decisions are almost always better because they are developed by the group, rather than a single member (depending on the talents of group members and the problem to be solved).


This stage is marked by unity and high spirits. Characteristics of this stage are described below:

􀂾 There is high group morale and intense group loyalty.
􀂾 Relationships between individuals are empathetic.
􀂾 The need for group approval is absent because each member approves of the others and accepts them as individuals. “We don’t always agree on everything, but we respect each other’s views and agree to disagree.”

􀂾 Cliques are absent.
􀂾 Both individuality and creativity are high; a non-possessive warmth and feeling of freedom result.
􀂾 Participation is as even as it will ever get.
􀂾 The group is strongly “closed.” If a new member is introduced, the feelings of camaraderie and spirit will be destroyed, since the group must regress to an earlier stage, carrying the new member along.
􀂾 Hidden agendas are present, but do not detract from group spirit and loyalty.
􀂾 The group continues to be constructive and productive, usually achieving more than expected or can be explained by the apparent talents of members.

Interrelationships of Cog's Ladder Steps


Group cohesiveness depends on how well members can relate in the same step at the same time. A group will proceed through the five phases only as far as its members are willing to grow. Each member must be willing to give up something at each step in order to make the move to the next stage. The reasons prompting a group to move, or not move, from one phase to another vary:

Moving from Step 1 to Step 2

􀂉 Seems to occur when any single group member desires it. For example, simply by saying, “Well, what’s on the agenda today?”
􀂉 Each member must relinquish the comfort of non-threatening topics and risk the possibility of conflict.

Moving from Step 2 to Step 3

􀂉 Each member must put aside the continued discussion of group purpose and commit to a purpose with which each might not completely agree.
􀂉 Each member must also risk personal attacks, which members know occur in Step 3.

Moving from Step 3 to Step 4

􀂉 The ability to listen is the most important trait.
􀂉 Requires individuals to stop defending their own views and risk the possibility of being wrong.
􀂉 Groups have rejected members who stay stuck in the third step; or this transition can be permanently blocked by a strong competitive group member or clique.

Moving from Step 4 to Step 5

􀂉 Seems to require unanimous agreement among members.
􀂉 Demands some humility.
􀂉 Demands that members trust themselves and other members. To trust is to risk a breech of trust.