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Index of articles on employee participation

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Briefing Paper 3 on ESOP Committee Design Parameters


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ESOP Committee Development:
Stage 2 "Adolescence"

This is part four 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"


Stage 2 is often the most difficult and uncomfortable stage in group development. It is the adolescent stage. ESOP Committee members have developed a sense of their common purpose and their personal position in the group. Further, they have begun to unify around the common mission and goals and have begun to form the internal relationships that build trust and respect. Unfortunately, now that committee members feel well grounded they move past the polite stage and begin to struggle for power. The power struggle is both an expression of personal needs for control, and a hashing out of genuine differences. In the struggle for power, internal alliances will begin to develop and these sub-groups will struggle for prominence.

In Tuckman's model, Stage 2 is called the "Storming" stage. Members begin to challenge each other and battle for influence.i While this stage is often uncomfortable and difficult, it is critical to development of an effective team; members learn important lessons for future decision-making.

The struggle for prominence and power is often exhibited in arguments over which of the goals to pursue first. In stage 1, the committee has likely developed a series of goals which all agree are important. However, individuals and sub-groups will disagree over which goals are most important.

The conflict that grows out of these struggles is important for the group to experience. It may be uncomfortable, and appear unproductive, but it is an important stage in group development and needs to be worked through. Further, the way in which these early conflicts are managed will become the pattern for the future.


Excessive intervention

When serious conflict emerges in any group, facilitators or leaders are often tempted to step in. While this is an understandable desire, it will prevent the group from working through this difficult stage and will contribute to a pattern of dependence. The pattern of calling in the authority figure who created the group to work out or mediate the conflict will inhibit group development and undermine the committee members' sense of personal responsibility for the group.ii

Unclear rules

The group rules and boundaries become even more important in the adolescent or storming stage of development. As personal disagreements emerge, the rules will be challenged. Just as adolescent people push the boundaries, so will the individual group members and the group itself. At this point, the internal ground rules need to be clear and the committee's authority (and its limits) must also be carefully defined and maintained.

Unknown process

Many groups struggle in stage 2 to work out how they will make decisions and move forward. Often some struggles can be eased if the committee understands and accepts a common decision making and group process model. For example: Will the group make decisions based on a majority vote, or is broader consensus required? When ESOP Committees are properly trained and understand a process for defining their objectives, generating ideas, discussing alternatives and reaching a common decision, they are more likely to develop a commonly-accepted process. The content of the decision making process is less important than that it be accepted by all members.

Splinters and schisms

When stage 2 is cut short either by excessive intervention, or because serious conflict has caused members to withdraw, individuals and groups may "check out" and refuse to productively participate in the committee. The danger here is two fold: first, unless the individual is brought back into the group, it can not move beyond the adolescent stage; second, splinter groups and schisms may appear. When these groups emerge they are extremely capable of undermining the committee's effectiveness. After all, the individuals chosen for the ESOP Committee carry credibility and informal (or formal) authority with their peers. If they are not fully "on board" or are actively undermining the efforts of the committee, at least partial failure is inevitable.


Bear with it! Stage 2 is often the most difficult for people, groups in general, and ESOP committees specifically. Again, it is critical to keep everyone involved, and active, without preventing or avoiding disagreements that must be worked out. The facilitator needs to be aware of two important points in stage 2: first, the difficulty of this stage is necessary for the group to work through; second, the capacity for conflict will differ in each group member. Therefore, without dampening the disagreement, it is important to keep conflict to a level at which everyone (or nearly everyone) feels only a little uncomfortable. While group members can be "brought back in" if they withdraw at this point, on some level the group will regress when this happens and have to go through the adolescent stage again. Training in group development can help committee members understand what is happening and realize that the conflict is necessary and natural - not a sign that the group is a failure.

i 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
ii Taraschi, Rosaria. Cutting the ties that bind. Training and Development Nov. 1998, v52 i11 p12.

ESOP Committees: Stage 3

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