An interesting article that I found really helpful when setting up some of the mutual aid groups that I have been involved in was Cogs Ladder. It was really informative and once you have an understanding of the stages that your group might go through it was a lot easier to anticipate and put some kind of strategy in place to address the issues that came up relating to each of the stages.

Is there a recognised ‘formula’ to successfully building a group or team?

Although teams seldom develop in exact accordance with a predetermined plan, they normally go through certain predictable and identifiable stages of development. In a paper entitled Cog’s Ladder: A Model of Group Development, George Charrier described what he saw as five typical stages. He called them the “Polite”, the “Why Are We Here”, the “Bid for Power”, “Constructive” and the “Esprit” stages. Groups typically go through all of these stages as they move from being a collection of individuals to becoming an effective, high-performing team.

While each step of the ladder must be climbed, groups will not necessarily take the steps in the same order nor experience the same kinds of emotional reactions as they climb the ladder. This is because the mix of people in the group and the similarities will heavily influence each group’s experiences or differences in their personalities and backgrounds.

The following is a brief description of the main characteristics of each stage and suggestions for helping groups move through each of the stages as quickly as possible.

STAGE I – PoliteWhen teams are first formed, most members seek to find their place in the group in relation to the others. They usually engage in polite conversation and information-sharing, relying on stereotyping to help categorize other members. Charrier called this the Polite stage. During this stage, group members spend their time getting acquainted, sharing experiences, and establishing an emotional basis for future group structure.

Since most people have a strong need to be liked and accepted, the members normally watch for both verbal and non-verbal signals that let them know where they stand. They are also alert to the other members’ attitudes, values, beliefs, etc., trying to learn how similar or different they are from their own. While some personal agendas are revealed, many remain hidden – as do disagreements and conflicts This sets the stage for the formation of “cliques”, or small, informal subgroups who can exert a strong influence on future activities of the group. Even though the members may appear to have good working relationships, they are normally superficial and fragile.

Ways of “moving on” from this stage include participating in “getting acquainted” exercises and other organized information-sharing activities.

STAGE II – Why Are We Here? When a group is ready to move beyond the Polite stage, it usually moves into a Why Are We Here? stage. The members beginasking questions about the group’s reason for being, (its purpose) and what it is expected to accomplish (its objectives). If a group’s purpose and objectives are not clear or agreed upon, they usually spend some time trying to reach agreement.

Cliques grow and merge as the members discover common purposes and values and begin to wield influence on the other members of the group. Hidden agendas begin to be exposed as members try to verbalize group objectives that meet their own needs. The need for approval declines and members begin taking modest risks. Needs for clarity and certainty lead to an increase in structure.

The time spent in this phase varies widely, with some groups omitting it completely, while other groups spend a great deal of time in it. The clarity of the task to be done has a great deal of influence on the time required. Spending time sharing individual and group expectations and reaching agreement about the group’s primary purpose and objectives will facilitate movement through this stage.

STAGE III – Bid For PowerThe Bid For Power stage of development is characterized by win-lose competition as the members begin to sort out personal relationships of power and influence. Alliances are formed and certain members begin to emerge as potential leaders of the group. Strongwilled members try to get other members to accept their positions on issues and to follow their direction. Listening decreases, people take sides in conflicts, and struggles for leadership occur.

Members frequently become uncomfortable as latent hostility surfaces. This causes some members to withdraw while others try to take control. Members seek to increase their power through their membership in cliques. Hidden agendas lead to mistrust, with pressures being exerted to get them revealed. Criticism increases, creativity wanes, participation varies widely. Team members will often look to outside authority figures for help and guidance in dealing with their internal conflicts. The members continue to feel a strong need for structure and the certainty it brings, which is reflected in the appointment of people to leadership roles. Those playing harmonizing, gate-keeping, and mediating roles become more valued.

The time spent in this phase depends to a large extent on the mix of personalities in a group and the members’ ability to deal with differences of opinion and conflicts of interests. When the members begin to really listen to and understand one another, they will usually be able to deal with their differences and resolve questions about how control will be exercised and who will lead the team.

STAGE IV – ConstructiveAfter a team has resolved (at least temporarily) most of its leadership and control issues, it typically moves into a stage where the members begin to attack their work with new energy and vigor. Charrier called this the Constructive stage. It is characterized by a change in the attitudes and behaviors of the group members. Attempts to control decrease as listening increases. The members begin to change their preconceived ideas and opinions about each other as they listen more carefully to each other’s views. Cliques begin to dissolve and team spirit begins to build. Group identity becomes important and progress toward the group’s goals becomes evident. Participation is more even and differences are dealt with as problems to be solved rather than as battles to be won. Boundaries become relatively closed, and new members would not be welcomed.

Strategies for “moving on” from this stage to the next include participating in activities aimed at improving the groups’ social, managerial, leadership and environmental interaction processes.

STAGE V – EspritA group will have reached the Esprit stage when its members develop the kind of rapport that brings a sense of closeness, comradeship and mutual trust. At this stage, the members enjoy working together and are willing to extend themselves for their colleagues. The need for structure declines and is replaced by an air of informality based on positive regard for each of the other team members. Intense group loyalty, trust, acceptance, empathy and high moral characterize this stage. Synergy is high, causing the group to achieve more than is expected or could be explained by the apparent talents of the individual members. Since internal issues are minimal, the team members are free to devote time toward building supportive relationships with those in their task environment.

The introduction of a new member into a group that has reached the Esprit stage will normally cause the group to regress to an earlier stage of development, but then progress back up the ladder fairly quickly, carrying the new member along in the process.

In order to maintain this level of development, a team needs to avoid becoming complacent and “resting on its laurels”. One way of doing this is to engage in team renewal activities on a regular basis which include honest evaluations of their effectiveness, taking on new challenges, and setting new directions.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF EXTERNAL RELATIONSHIPS Other predictable group development phenomenons are the changes that occur in the nature of a group’s relationships with external power and authority figures. Most groups go through four identifiable stages of development in their relationships with such figures as they move up Cog’s Ladder. These can be described as the dependent, counter dependent, independent, and interdependent stages.

The following is a brief description of the main characteristics of each of these stages of development of power and authority relationships:

  • STAGE 1 – DependentGroups in the Polite and Why Are We Here? stages of development usually depend upon external power and authority figures to provide them with guidance, direction and support. At this point the members of a group feel that they have little or no control over what is happening either within or outside of the group. This is due to the fact that they haven’t had time to develop a consensus concerning their purposes and objectives, decide how they should be organized to accomplish their objectives, or establish operating procedures.

    Such groups are usually uncertain as to how much freedom and authority they have to decide on these kinds of issues. If the members are from organizations with power and role-oriented cultures the members will be even more hesitant to risk acting without the blessing and consent of the “powers that be”. Such organizations tend to foster and perpetuate dependency relationships – even within mature groups.

  • STAGE 2 – Counter-dependentAs groups move through the Why Are We Here? and into the Bid for Power stage of development, they frequently begin to challenge the existing authority structure. Some members decide they no longer need guidance or direction from external authority figures, such as supervisors or managers.

    This counter-dependent relationship with external power and authority figures is often evidenced by a group refusing to do what they are asked to do, blaming others for their problems, challenging “the system”, etc. Groups who are in this stage seldom perform well because they spend more time rebelling than producing.

  • STAGE 3 – IndependentAs groups move into the Construc-tive stage of development, they usually become more confident in their ability to handle their own problems. This movement is somewhat akin to young adults wanting to “be on their own” and feeling only a limited need for external guidance and/or support.

    Groups that reach this stage of development and remain there too long run the risk of losing the support of key elements of their environment. This condition will reduce their access to needed resources, and ultimately limit their ability to perform.

  • STAGE 4 – Interdependent Groups who have arrived at the Esprit stage of Cog’s ladder usually have a good appreciation of the fact that they are dependent upon their environment (including power figures) for support. This awareness tends to encourage them to develop and maintain sup-portive relationships with any and all environmental elements that can influence their ability to achieve their purposes and goals.
SUMMARY and CONCLUSION Work groups that want to become effective, high-performing teams can expect to go through five predictable stages of development. Groups can increase their chances of becoming effective, high-performing teams by taking the time to develop specific plans for moving through each of these stages in as efficient and effective a manner as possible.

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