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Briefing Paper 3 on ESOP Committee Design Parameters


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ESOP Committee Development:
Stage 3 "Adult"

This is part five 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 3 is the "adult" stage in the human development model, and the "performing" stage in Tuckman's model. The group's development from stage 1 into stage 2 is clearly discernable - serious conflict will emerge. The progress from stage 2 to stage 3 is less clear and often quite fuzzy. Just as older adolescent people sometimes act as adults, and other times act as adolescents, so too will the committee. Tuckman includes a stage between stage 2 and stage 3 called "norming." The norming stage is when team members grow comfortable with their common rules and boundaries. The power struggles are largely worked through and the members, now comfortable in their roles within the committee, begin to settle into the real work at hand.

Stage 3 of group development is where the most productive work will get done. The committee's locus of control is now internal (in contrast to stage 1) - they initiate their own ideas, activities and projects. Meanwhile, the committee's focus of concern is external(also in contrast to stage 1). The committee's focuses is on the mission and goals of the committee and the company overall. The group has clarified its own informal rules (within the formal boundaries originally established) and members have internalized them. The committee has also defined its decision-making process (around the framework originally presented in training) and participants have accepted it as the way things will work. Stage 3 begins as the group grows more comfortable with its new self-imposed rules and gets down to real work on the mission and goals. Interpersonal issues are (mostly) worked out - committee members have learned how to work together and disagree without causing division or emotional injury.

As the group moves more securely into Stage 3, their productivity and success will lead to increased enthusiasm and pride. Thus members will feel more responsible for the work of the committee and for the success of the decisions and programs it implements. Stage 3 is where the group exhibits high levels of mutual trust and respect for one another, truly embraces the goals and pursues them with energy and vigor. High levels of trust are most evident when the group is brainstorming new ideas - high trust exists when the brainstorming is fast and furious, ideas are blurted out, recorded and build upon one another leading to impressive creativity and energy.

Stage 3 is where most participants wish the group could be all the time. Unfortunately, it is impossible for the group to arrive here unless it has first experienced the other stages of development. ESOP Committees are also likely to regress partially to the adolescent stage from time to time. When new members join, groups often regress to stage 2, and possibly stage 1 if the reason for the new member's inclusion is not clear. Finally, regression to stage 1 is almost inevitable if a committee member is removed or replaced, unless the reasons for this removal are transparent, credible, and well understood by the group as a whole.

This common experience may seem frustrating, but is, in fact a good sign. Each time the group grows through the difficult stage 2, the trust and confidence of the members will grow. In fact, some of the most productive ESOP Committees demonstrate constant, fluid shifts between stage 2 and stage 3.With each shift, group cohesion grows and the discomfort of stage 2 seems to inspire greater energy and creativity in stage 3.


Forcing the group to the adult stage

We all wish the group could always stay in stage 3 as this is where the committee achieves success and a genuine esprit-de-corps. However, it is nearly inevitable that the group will move tentatively back and forth into the adult stage and back to the adolescent stage. In time, it will grow to spend more time in the adult stage, until most of its time is spent there. The group must arrive at the adult stage on its own and "forced" progress into the adult stage is likely to splinter the group, lead to dependence on the facilitator or leaderi, or cause a number of members to withdraw.

Changes in the committee members

Committee members are likely to change over time. Some members' professional responsibilities will change, making it impossible for them to continue, and making inclusion of others valuable. Each new member creates a new group in some respects, and the group will likely regress to stage 2 until the new members' position in the group is clarified (formally and informally). Often, a number of personnel changes occur simultaneously. These major changes take the group back a stage or two. Unless the group is allowed the time to process these changes, it will feel "forced into adulthood" leading to the problems mentioned above.

Lack of support and resources

When the ESOP Committee reaches stage 3, its needs for external support and resources are likely to increase. Members will seek additional information from within the company or outside, and time to work on new projects. This positive energy is extremely valuable and needs to be encouraged. Therefore, the committee members are likely to need additional assistance, resources and time to work on committee projects. If these resources are not forthcoming, the members will become frustrated and lose energy. Now that they have become truly productive, enthusiasm for committee projects builds. Unless there is adequate external support for those efforts, the committee will feel abandoned and useless.

Unfortunately, the committee's needs may go beyond the resources that can be allocated to it. Therefore, it is important to maintain appropriate boundaries for the resources they can use. In order to reduce the frustration at this stage, it is helpful to explain early-on, perhaps in stage 1 or the initial training, the extent of the resources to which the committee will have access. These resources include the time of management, leader and/or facilitator, financial resources, and time allowed for committee work, inside and outside of committee meetings. If these boundaries are clear at the outset, the committee's expectations will be realistic, and their energy will be focused on projects within its resources.


Maintain appropriate boundaries with regard to resources made available to the committee. In stage 3, the group becomes productive and positively energetic. The energy is good, but can become unfocused with too many projects going on at the same time. If "new" boundaries on resources are imposed at this stage and some projects are not supported from the outside, the reasonable boundaries will seem arbitrary to the committee members and they are likely to become frustrated, disappointed and disillusioned with the process. As a result, the group will probably slide back a stage or two since members will question the purpose of the committee and their role in it.

Support committee projects equally, within the resources available, even if you're sure they won't work. If committee projects meet selective support from the management team, frustration, disappointment and disillusionment will grow, causing regression. In addition, many projects that have been unsuccessful in the past as "management initiatives" may be more successful if it is the ESOP Committee that designs and implements them. Finally, failure is a good learning experience for the committee. They will learn (as most people do) more lessons from failure than success.

Share past experiences. Often, the ESOP Committee will come up with ideas that have been tried before. When this happens, give the committee a chance to learn from the past experiences. Simply giving a manager time to talk with the committee can help the group identify possible problems in their plan and deal with unforeseen difficulties. The goal is to provide the committee with all of the resources possible to succeed, including management experience and expertise, but allow them to fail, if that is what happens. The phrase "that didn't work last time we tried it either" is of little solace to the ESOP committee as it tries to learn from a failure.

Make use of subcommittees and task forces Often subcommittees and task forces can be helpful in stage 3. After a project has been identified a subgroup of the committee, perhaps including non-committee members, can be created to implement the project. While subcommittees can cause schisms in stages 1 and 2, they can be highly productive in stage 3. The subcommittee or task force should have a clear goal and recommended process for attaining that goal, a specific time-line or "life expectancy" so that once the goal is attained, it ceases to exist. Some examples of such subcommittees are "ESOP Month" celebration committees, "ESOP Newsletter design" subcommittees, and event planning committees.

Subcommittees and task forces can also be created to research and report back to the overall committee. An example of such a committee is one responsible to explore and report on the publications and training programs available to ESOP companies, or the cost of printing new company "employee ownership" t-shirts. It is important that these types of committees have strong credibility with the rest of the overall ESOP Committee if their report and recommendations are to have influence. Often, members of subcommittees will have specific technical expertise helpful for the individual project, but not necessary in the ESOP Committee overall. The limited time will create a sense of urgency and encourage this subgroup through the stages of development quickly and accomplish its goal within the time constraints imposed upon it by the overall committee.

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

ESOP Committees: Stage 4

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