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ESOP Committee Development:
Group Dynamics

This is part two of a seven-part article.

Published in the ESOP Committee Guide, Oakland: The National Center for Employee Ownership, 2000
by Stephen Clifford, Loren Rodgers and Christopher Mackin,
Ownership Associates, Inc., Cambridge, MA.
ISBN 0-926902-64-4
The full text is available in PDF format and as a multipart webpage.

Contents of this article:


Group Dynamics

Stage 1: "Infancy"

Stage 2: "Adolescence"

Stage 3: "Adult"

Stage 4: "Older Adult"


The process of group and committee development has been the subject of much study. A number of theoretical constructs have been created by noted researchers to describe the process of group development. In this document, we will simply refer to them as stages 1 through 4. The stages described below share some common ground with B.W. Tuckman's familiar "Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing" formati, and it will be referred to throughout. Another common analogy is to the process of human development.ii It too will be referred to throughout. It is important to point out, however, when using this analogy that the reference to "infancy" is not a statement about the maturity of the group members, only the development of the group as a whole.

While each committee will develop in its own way, some common patterns and pitfalls are easy to identify.

Introduction to development

Development ModelsMost committees begin in Stage 1. In the human development analogy, this is the "infancy" stage. Primary influence over the committee's behavior (its "locus of control") is external, and the members are developing their own positions and roles in the committee. Thus, their focus of concern is internal, within the committee. This stage is the "Forming" stage in Tuckman's model. Regardless of the model used for comparison, this is often a moderately productive stage. As the group develops its own independence and identity, it will develop into Stage 2, an "adolescent" stage in which the committee will struggle with internal issues of power and control, begin to explore its boundaries and develop energy and ideas about the many possibilities for its future and that of the company. In Tuckman's model, this is the uncomfortable "Storming" stage. Committees in stage 2 are unlikely to get much "productive" work done regarding their goals and mission.

Productivity During StagesAs the committee matures, it will grow comfortable with its limitations and focus more clearly on a few realistic objectives. As the power issues and struggles settle down, the group enters the "Norming" stage in the Tuckman model. Since it is a transitional phase, we have not chosen to give it its own stage in this model. In the human development analogy, the "Norming" stage is the time during which the individual is becoming an adult and at different times behaves "adult-like" and at others "adolescent-like." Eventually, the committee spends more time in its most productive stage 3, the "adult" stage, or "Performing" stage according to Tuckman. Stage 3 is the most productive stage of the group's development. Unfortunately, it does not last forever. Over time, many committees lose their earlier energy and creativity, and move into Stage 4, an "older adult" stage in which they often resist change and lose their appetite for new challenges, or they regress to earlier stages.

A succinct summary of the Tuckman model of group development appeared in an issue of Training and Development: "In the forming stage, new groups may have high morale even before they start to address the task at hand. In the storming stage, there may be competition for roles and there may be recognition of performance shortcomings that cause discomfort among team members. In the norming stage, teams establish some roles and procedural standards as they begin to accomplish their tasks. In the final stage, performing, both morale and competence are high as teams begin to achieve the performance levels expected."

While these models and stages help us understand what is happening in the group, it should be noted that none of the stages has a clear line separating one from the other, and "progress" through the stages is not likely to be linear and direct. Most ESOP Committees take a few steps forward then at least one back. Often, the "regression" and repeating of an earlier stage will help build trust and confidence, leading to greater cohesion and trust among members, thus even greater productivity, later on.

A few tips to keep in mind

The committee will go through these common stages at its own speed. The process needs to be accepted, if the committee is to meet its long-term objectives.

Sustain energy

The most important tip to keep in mind throughout the process is to sustain energy. Energy can be expressed in positive and negative ways. Often in Stages 1 and 2, this energy is expressed negatively, as conflict or frustration. While these emotions are often difficult to deal with, they express energy that needs to be embraced. If negative energy is suppressed, it can turn to apathy, which is the downfall of many committees. If the committee members didn't care, they wouldn't get upset, thus it is important to maintain the energy and commitment, while trying to focus the energy in more positive directions.

Let it grow

The second tip to keep in mind is that the committee must develop its own identity, informal rules, decision-making process and confidence. This means that outsiders, the team leader, facilitator or the convener of the group, must let it grow on its own and take responsibility for its own projects. Excessive intervention is a common pitfall mentioned below. While well intentioned, such intervention can prevent the committee from developing a sense of responsibility for projects and ideas it pursues. The result is excessive dependency on outsiders, which will prevent the committee from forming properly and will keep it in the early stages of development, preventing any real accomplishments. "Unwittingly, you can become the group's internal expert, coach, change agent, manager of internal difficulties and so forth. The more you respond in those ways, the more the group will look to you to handle those tasks. The more you take on, the less likely that the team will gain the skills it needs,"iv in the words of one practitioner.

Keep it focused

ESOP Committee discussions can grow in a wide range of directions. Many of these discussions can be highly productive, especially in the earlier stages of development. However, it is often useful to keep the overall goals and mission of the committee in the forefront of each member's minds. While the facilitator or leader can do this regularly, one simple, effective way is to place it at the top or bottom of every printed agenda or meeting notes page. This is especially effective if the ESOP Committee keeps careful notes (as is recommended). This is another opportunity to subtly remind members of the overall mission of the group and keep it focused. Some ESOP companies have, thanks to modern word-processing programs, special "letterhead" for the ESOP Committee on which appears the stated mission. Again, this is a simple way to remind the members, and the entire company, of the ESOP Committees' importance and mission.

With that as background, we now turn to a detailed description of the various stages of committee development.

i Tuckman, B.W. Development Sequence in Small Groups. Psychological Bulletin, 1965, 63, 284-399.
ii Weber, R.C. The Group: A cycle from birth to death, NTL Reading Book for Human Relations Training, 7th ed. Lawrence Porter and Bernard Mohr. Alexandria, VA p68-71
iii Jessup, Harlan R. The road to results for teams. Training and Development Sept, 1992. v46 n9 p65.
iv Taraschi, Rosaria Cutting the ties that bind, Training and Development, Nov 1998, v52 I11 p12.

ESOP Committees: Stage 1

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