Group development theory attempts to understand the ways that groups of people change over time. Although many theories about how groups develop have been suggested, one of the most respected is still the model described in Hill and Gruner’s seminal 1973 paper. Hill and Gruner studied the interactions that occurred within both open and closed groups of boys. They found that in the closed groups, there were three clear stages of group development.
Stage 1: Destination or Orientation
During the initial stage of development, the members of the group are familiarising themselves with the group situation. They may test out the group situation, seeking to understand the rules or social codes through which it functions. Group members will try to understand the existing structure, or to create their own hierarchy or set of rules if it seems necessary. For example, a jury might maintain the expected structure and elect a foreperson because they have been instructed to do so. In a less formal situation, such as a class project, one of the students might step forward to suggest ways of subdividing the work.
Stage 2: Exploration
In the second stage, the members of the group interact with one another and focus on interpersonal exploration. Individual differences begin to emerge and people begin to find their place within the group, whether as confident leaders, creative thinkers or mediators who can help to resolve disputes. Friendships can form at this stage, but differences of personality or opinion can also arise. Resolving these difficulties during this period of exploration can help the group to move on and avoid potential sources of conflict in the future.
Stage 3: Production
The final stage of group development is the productive stage. The structure of the group has been established, and group members have found their places within it. This leaves them free to focus on fulfilling their roles and pursuing their shared goal, whether that is arriving at the right verdict in the courtroom or getting an A for a class assignment. Group cohesion has been established.
Hill and Gruner’s model shows us that it is important for team members to establish or familiarise themselves with a group structure, and to develop their interpersonal relationships, before they are expected to function productively. Creating clear structures and allowing time for team building can be an important part of creating an effective group.