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

This is an assignment I completed during for my ‘Workplace Communication’ Module at university

Groups are commonplace in modern society, whether for business purposes or for personal enjoyment. When analysing the processes encountered by new groups, many quote and refer to the works of Tuckman and Jensen (1977). They created a model which categorised and summarised the main characteristics encountered in groups. Tuckman initially created a four stage model and named the processes groups go through forming, storming, norming and performing with Jensen adding that the concluding phase should be adjourning. Whilst the last stage is fixed, the first four stages are not necessarily linear as groups undergo regular and unpredictable changes due to the nature of group tasks. In addition, the amount of time devoted to the stages will largely depend on the length of time the group exists. Forming is the initial stage in which there are no clear views in the group. The second stage, storming is when members test each other through subtle and non-subtle negotiations, often to find the standing in the group and debate for the leadership role. During norming atmospheres improve as truces are made and the group bonds. The group are focused during the fourth stage as members are committed to the task at hand and work constructively. Finally, the group disbands during the adjourning stage as the task is completed. As an overview, the Tuckman and Jensen model appears to be very useful in identifying group processes; however, there have been many expansions to this model and some critiques. In order to evaluate how useful the model is, it is essential to look at other scholars’ views and scenarios in which these stages have been identified and critiqued to see whether it is valid. Studies by theorists Thelen and Dickerman (1949), Dunphy (1968), Lacoursiere (1974), Fisher (1980) and Wheelan (1994) will be analysed and compared to that of Tuckman and Jensen to see if it is the best guideline for understanding group functions and processes.

Thelen and Dickerman (1949) categorised the group processes into four phases and, like Tuckman and Jensen, agreed that the first stage should be “forming”. In this model forming is followed by conflict, harmony and productivity. Overall, the categories of functions encountered in Thelen and Dickerman’s model appear to be very similar to that of Tuckman and Jensen suggesting that their model is rather accurate. However, this model appears to be slightly more focussed on the conflicts encountered within and against the group, rather than the forming of a structure within the group. Despite the fact both of these models have a forming stage, Shambaugh and Kanter (1969) raised a critique of forming being the initial stage. They claimed that in some cases there may be a stage before forming due to an “initial experience” which bought a group together. Using the example of a therapy group, they claimed that in some cases groups share a joint reason for being members of a particular group. This raises the issue of whether the Tuckman and Jensen model is more orientated to a business model. This can be identified in BBC1’s The Apprentice in which, during the forming stage, group members analyse the skills and abilities of their colleagues, as suggested in the Tuckman and Jensen model. This proposes that as accurate as the Tuckman and Jensen model appears, perhaps more research should be conducted into the reason why the group was formed and whether this is relevant to the group processes and functions later encountered.

Alternatively, Dunphy’s model (1968) deviated considerably from that of Tuckman and Jensen. Having completed an empirical study of the developmental process in self analytic therapy groups, Dunphy found six development phases for a group. They were: maintenance of external normative standards, individual rivalry, aggression, negativism, emotional concerns and high affection. Although Dunphy acknowledged that further testing was needed to support his model, it is clear that the second to fourth stages are similar to the processes encountered in Tuckman’s storming model and the final two place resemblance to the norming stage. There is no stage in Dunphy’s model that represents the forming and performing phases, although, as Dunphy has acknowledged further testing of his model is needed, it is thought the Tuckman and Jensen model may be more useful than his own as it is more focussed on how groups overcome conflict within the group.

The Tuckman and Jensen Model

The Tuckman and Jensen Model

Jensen co-authored Tuckman’s paper adding the final stage, adjourning, based on a literature review. This has been seen as a positive addition by theorists such as Mann (1967), Yalom (1970) and Spitz and Sadock (1973), who advocate this stage in their own models. Lacoursiere (1974) conducted an observation in which he found there to be four stages of group development: orientation, dissatisfaction, production and termination. There were three main distinctions between Lacoursiere’s model and Tuckman and Jensen’s. The first was that during the dissatisfaction stage, there was a lack of intragroup conflict, which was a key aspect of the storming stage in the Tuckman and Jensen model, but more hostility towards the creator of the overall task that the group needed to complete. Lacoursiere added a similar stage to Jensen’s adjourning in his termination stage, although, it is more focussed on self-evaluation and reflecting on the task that has been completed. It is significant that intragroup conflict was discussed in this model as it is often assumed that the conflict must be within the group. Lauderdale et al (1984) even suggested that in some cases group members are seen as scapegoats in order to increase cohesion. However, it is clear from the Lacoursiere study that conflicts may be aimed at those outside the group. This suggests that the Tuckman and Jensen model may be quite vague as to what actually happens in each group phase.

Fisher (1980) advocated a four stage model when analysing group development: orientation, conflict, emergence and re-inforcement. His model is quite similar to Tuckman and Jensen’s, with the conflict stage appearing very similar to their storming stage. However, Fisher appears to be more concerned with the feelings of group members and underlying tensions that may be seen rather than how the actions undertaken are relevant to the goal. He also focused on the personal needs of group members, rather than the overall group.  This is suggestive that the Tuckman and Jensen model may be more useful to be used simply as an overview as there is not much research in their model concerning individual group members.

Finally, Wheelan (1994) developed the Tuckman and Jensen model, integrating their work with that of Wilfred Bion and evidence from her own empirical studies. She focussed on how the group matures and how this is relevant to attaining their goals. Unlike Tuckman and Jensen, she included outside distractions which may affect group attainment, but similarities between the phases in these studies are very clear. Wheelan labelled her stages dependency and inclusion, counter dependency and fight, structure, productivity and final. In terms of categorising the stages, they appear very similar to the Tuckman and Jensen model, suggesting that it may just be a more updated model.

Overall, it is apparent that as an overview, the Tuckman and Jensen model is very useful in analysing the process of group development. With studies by Thelen and Dickerman (1949), Dunphy (1968) and Lacousiere (1974) showing some similarities with Tuckman and Jensen in the stages used in their model, there is no doubt that this model is valid. The more recent study by Wheelen (1994) is perhaps a more useful model to use, however, for an in depth analysis of group processes as it updates the Tuckman and Jensen model with more recent empirical research and a more detailed study of individual group members.

1277 words


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  • Tuckman, B. W. & Jensen, M. A. (1977). Stages of small-group development revisited. Group Organization Management 2:419-27
  • Wheelan, S. A. (1994). Group processes: A developmental perspective. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • The ApprenticeEpisode 1, 2010. TV, BBC1. 2010 Oct 6. 2100 hrs.

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