Evaluate the usefulness of the Tuckman & Jensen (1977) model in understanding the process a new group goes through as it functions

Much of everyday behaviour is spent in groups. Mcgrath (1984) said “groups are everywhere.” A large proportion of life is spent in groups: living in families, working with colleagues and socialising in friendship groups. Although there are some common features of all groups (e.g. a minimum of two members, a communication network collective identity, goals and norms), groups can differ extensively due to factors such as group attitudes, leadership, division of labour and decision making etc. (Buchanan and Huczynski, 2010, 302-303).  This makes groups both interesting and difficult to study. (Davis, 1969)

Much study has been accomplished on group development and many models have been created to further examine and explain the fundamental aspects of a group. One of them is the Tuckman and Jensen model. Tuckman’s contribution, according to Gersick, was to synthesize the literature into ‘a model of group development as a unitary sequence that is frequently cited today’ (1988, 10).  Tuckman’s model consists of four main stages: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

The first stage of the model is forming. This is the stage in which group members establish relationships with leaders, organizational standards, and each other. The second stage represents a time of intergroup conflict. This phase is characterized by lack of unity and polarization around interpersonal issues. Group members resist moving into unknown areas of interpersonal relations and seek to retain security. The third stage is norming. Neuman and Wright (1999) described this as a stage of developing shared mental models and discovering the most effective ways to work with each other. Performing is the final stage of the original model, the group develops ‘functional role relatedness’ (Tuckman 1965, 387). Roles become flexible and functional, and group energy is channelled into the task. A fifth stage was added in by Tuckman & Jensen (1977): ‘adjourning’. This stage reflected a group life cycle model in which separation is an important issue throughout the life of the group. (Bonebright, 2010)

Many other theories have stemmed from Tuckman and Jensens’ original theory, such as Wheelan’s Independent Model of Group Development (1990, 1994a). Their model has also been described as ‘the most predominantly referred to and most widely recognized in organizational literature’ (Miller 2003, 122), proving its popularity.  One of the reasons the model has been so successful is because it is ‘a simple means of discussing and exploring team dynamics’. (Rickards and Moger 2000, 277) However, how useful is the Tuckman model? Is the simplicity of Tuckman’s model actually a restriction rather than an advantage?

Take for instance, ‘The Tubbs Model of Small Group Interaction’. Tubbs’ model consists of 3 detailed parts: relevant background factors, internal influences and consequences. Tubbs’ model holds lots of detail, making it easier to understand the process a new group goes through. In comparison, Tuckman’s model doesn’t seem as useful, because Tubbs’ model is more applicable due to the extra factors that have been put into consideration. Readers will be helped by being alerted to these extra factors, therefore helping them create and maintain a successful, fully functional group. (Tubbs 1978, 1998, 41)

Tuckman’s model fails to be as sophisticated as Tubbs’, and doesn’t mention specific factors affecting a group, just keeps it simplistic by labelling situations as stages.

Another model which may be more useful than Tuckman’s in understanding the process a new group goes through is Homans’ (1951) model of group formation. It established the basis for our understanding of group behaviour. It highlights how the environment around the group helps or hinders the process of group formation, and how this management-created environment imposes the required activities, interactions and sentiments on individuals and groups in an organization, then how these in turn stimulate the emergent activities, interactions and sentiments. (Buchanan and Huczynski, 2010, 313-316).

In comparison to this model, Tuckman’s model does not seem very useful as it is made aware again that Tuckman’s model lacks the rich detail regarding group development that Homans’ model has.

A final theory to be considered is that of R.F Bales. Bales devised a theory of group structure and process called SYMLOG, which is a unique, accurate and theoretically sound system for understanding group dynamics. SYMLOG, helps group members resolve their difficulties by using group feedback. (Bales & Cohen 1979, 168)

Bales’ model helps understand the process a new group goes through by providing feedback for group members. Group members can then use the feedback to gain better understanding of their group, and use it to improve and advance. This could be considered as a useful model compared to Tuckman as Tuckman’s model lacks any feedback approaches.

There are other issues with Tuckman’s model. Cassidy (2007, 416) proposed that ‘Tuckman’s ‘‘storming’’ stage may not be a clearly defined stage for practitioners outside of therapeutic groups – thus limiting the applicability of Tuckman’s model in experiential education’ . This reduces who the model is applicable to and therefore its usefulness.

Even Tuckman (1965) himself scrutinized his original work, saying it was limited due to a lack of quantitative research rigour to his observations, and a concern with the description and control of

independent variables. It could have been more useful if Tuckman had obtained more quantitative data. He also pointed out that the literature review did not represent a representative sample of settings where small group development processes are likely to occur, such as the therapy-group setting which was significantly overrepresented. This limitation has been addressed to an extent by further research, but it remains largely unacknowledged that the model has been generalized well beyond its original framework.  (Bonebright, 2010)

However, many would argue the usefulness of Tuckman’s model. When it was created it proved useful by describing the new ways that people were working together, helping group members understand what was happening in the development process, and providing consultants a way to predict the stages of growth in groups (CISSNA, 1984). Miller (2003, 121) stated that ‘more than ever before, organizations are recognizing the types of situations for which group work can provide a key competitive advantage’. it is unlikely that a model with similar impact will be created. Recent theories recognize the complexity of group dynamics in today’s world and are not easily represented in a simple model (Bonebright, 2010). Cassidy (2007) also noted that within education it remained one of the most commonly cited group development models.

It can be concluded that, although Tuckman’s model has indeed proved very useful towards group development, and many other studies have stemmed from it, proving its strength, it cannot be solely relied on for the explanation and understanding of the process a new group goes through. When compared to others it shows lack of detail, which could be seen as a limitation; however, due to the success of the model, it suggests that maybe it is about quality not quantity.

Gersick(1988, 10) discussed the model in a historical review of group development literature and noted that ‘models offered subsequently have also kept the same pattern’. This proves the usefulness of the model as it is still being used as a base for new research. A ‘super model’ explaining all there is about group development does not exist, but a combination of groups can sufficiently assist in understanding groups further. Many of the greatest advances in understanding groups have occurred not when one theory has been pitted against another, but when two or more theories have been synthesized to form a new, more encompassing theoretical perspective (group dynamics) as Homans (1950, 4) wrote: “We have a great deal of fact to work with, [and] we also have a great deal of theory. The elements of synthesis are on hand”.


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