There are five dimensions along which groups typically develop and grow. They have to do with clarity about membership; power, control and influence; feelings; individual differences; and productivity. People in groups tend to concern themselves with these dimensions in the order just given.
1. Clarity About Membership:
When you are becoming part of a group, one of the first things you're apt to care about is what it means to be a member. How will others expect you to act? When should you speak and how do you go about it? If you say something as a joke, will others laugh or will they think you were being serious? Is it all right to come late, to leave early, to smoke, to dress informally? Will membership in this group facilitate or conflict with other roles you have in life? Will others in the group hold the same values and attitudes as you? Will membership in this group be stimulating, boring, exciting, threatening, rewarding, inconsequential, etc.?
2. Power, Control and Influence:
As the meaning of membership in this group begins to get clearer, your attention will generally turn to questions of power, control and influence. Who is the leader of this group? Is there a chairperson? Will the "real leader" please stand up? How do decisions get made? In what ways do people try to influence each other? Are individuals open to letting others influence them? What opportunities are there for you to influence or carry leadership functions? Are there individuals in the group who care more about the power of being leaders than they do about the goals and issues of this group?
As the norms of membership; and power, control and influence become clearer; the expression of feelings becomes increasingly important. When others like an idea or action, do they say so? When there is boredom, frustration or anger, is this shared openly so that it can be worked out constructively? Can you express your feelings freely as they occur so that you don't have to bottle them and let them build up to a point where they burst through inappropriately? Do people wait until they "get out the door" to tell one or two colleagues how they "really felt about that meeting?" Is the expression of negative feelings seen as honest feedback that can help, rather than a destructive attack? Is expression of positive feelings seen as honest feedback, rather than simply trying to influence or a way of "gilding the lily."
4. Individual Differences:
Each member of a group represents certain unique experiences, knowledge and skills. Few groups seem to reach a point where they take maximum advantage of these individual differences. It's rather common for members of a group to reach a level of sharing feelings where each sees the others as likable because they are pretty much the same as herself. This is sometimes referred to as the "honeymoon stage." If enough trust develops, the members may begin to be able to both recognize and value the individual differences that each possesses. A new set of questions takes on meaning. Do the members take time and effort to learn about the experiences, attitudes, knowledge, values, skills and ideologies of each other? Does each work at sharing her/his own ideas in order to get others' reactions and different ways of looking at issues? Do they let each other know that they appreciate these differences even when they don't necessarily agree with them?
Most groups exist for a purpose that involves some kind of product. It might be to have fun together. It might be to build better mouse traps or to improve the learning experiences of children. The product of many groups seems to tend toward becoming the "lowest common denominator" of the potential which the individuals in the group are capable. Depending upon how the norms of membership; power, control and influence; feelings and individual differences get worked out, a group can reach a level of creative productivity. Ideas of different individuals can be combined into better new ideas which no one alone would have thought of. (Synergy: 1 plus 1 equals 3) The following questions become important: How much energy goes into arguing about which ideas are "better" or "right" as compared to the energy spent on developing new ideas from combining old ones? Is effort spent on diagnosing situations to bring out underlying issues? When problems are raised, is there a value for working them through thoroughly as opposed to moving quickly to taking action? Do group members take the time to seek your reactions and ideas? Do the norms of the group's organization support your having time and ways to give your reactions and ideas?
There are two kinds of outcomes to the ways that different groups work out these five dimensions of group growth: One outcome concerns the way that tasks are accomplished. Tasks may be accomplished-- efficiently or inefficiently-- thoroughly or only partially--with high quality or in a shoddy manner. The other outcome concerns the maintenance of the group. There may be high esprit de corps where individuals are pleased and excited to be members. There may be confusion and frustration where individuals readily leave the group.