The Place of Small Group Development in NewStart Life Skills

By Rod Paynter

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Table of Contents

Introduction.. 3

Gathering Information.. 4

The Literature.. 5

                                                Table 1                                  


Small Group Development and NewStart Life Skills.. 10

Progressive, Cyclical, and Non-Sequential Models.. 10

Transformative Learning And Small Group Development. 12

Transformational Leadership.. 13

Metacognition as a Group Development Tool. 14

In Conclusion.. 15

References.. 18




This review is intended to inform my dissertation topic:  Assessing NewStart Life Skills and its Role in Community Economic Development.  As such, NewStart Life Skills (NLS) practice and theory are reflected on in the light of the literature.  Correspondingly, the literature is critiqued in the light of NLS practice and theory.  Possible topics for this review included androgogical approaches to teaching skills, skills assessment, program evaluation, small group development, and the role of skills similar to those of NewStart Life Skills in Community Economic Development (CED). I decided to look into small group development because it was the topic into which I had done the least investigation, and because NLS and small groups are inextricably intertwined.

The major gap that I found in the literature is the lack of a group development theory that synthesizes the simultaneously occurring linear, cyclic, and non-sequential developmental aspects that are extant in long-term NLS groups.  Various of the theories are useful and applicable in various group situations, but none gives a satisfactory summation of how things really happen in such groups.

A second gap concerns NLS theory more than it does the small group development literature, though both are affected.  In that transformative learning is becoming a compelling pedagogical/androgogical theory, and that NLS practice is in many ways consistent with transformative learning theory, NLS theoreticians would do well to update the NLS literature in transformative learning terms.

A third area of interest also points up a gap in NLS theory more so than it illustrates a gap in the small group development literature.  Transformational leadership theory brings together many disparate pieces of NLS leadership practice under one umbrella.  NLS theoreticians would do well to update the NLS literature in terms of transformational leadership.

As a final point of interest, metacognition as a group development tool may turn out to be a fruitful field of study in NLS and in small group development.


Gathering Information

A PsycINFO search for ‘small group development*’ provided me with 25 references (I didn’t use the quote marks in the search.  I use them here to distinguish the search terms from the text).  I downloaded them (that is, the references, keywords, and abstracts, not the articles) into a new EndNote library that I named Small Group Development.  To expand the ‘small group development*’ search, I extended the search to 10 more databases:  Academic Search EliteCINAHL with Full TextPre-CINAHLCINAHLEJS E-JournalsERICMLA Directory of PeriodicalsPsycARTICLES; PsycBOOKSand SocINDEX.  Disconcertingly, this added only 17 more articles to the PsycINFO results.  I added their references, keywords, and abstracts to the EndNote library.  On the one hand, it looked like it was time to expand my search parameters with different search terms.  On the other hand, a cursory review of the titles, keywords, and abstracts of my gleanings to date showed that I had found a lot of interesting material.  I decided that I would review what I already had before expanding my search terms.  I began to download or request the most interesting/relevant appearing articles and books.  This process left me in the peculiar position of having requested 25 articles to be sent to me through Interlibrary loan and having only three articles downloaded. (at least nine of the articles that I’d requested by interlibrary loan had been published since 1990, and I had expected them to be available online, but they were not). 

Needing something more to work with, I searched the eleven selected online databases listed above for ‘group dynamics’, which is a frequent keyword from the ‘small group development*’ article entries in my EndNote library.  Oh joy, there were 20,977 hits.  A search for Subject Terms rather than for Default Fields narrowed the number of hits to 16,406.  I then limited the search in Academic Search Elite to Full Text, Primary Source Document, Article.  For CINAHL I limited the search to Peer Reviewed.   In ERIC I selected Journal Articles.  With MLA and PsycINFO I picked Peer Reviewed Journals.  In PsycINFO I selected English and Original Journal Article.  In PsycBOOKS I picked Chapter, and in SocINDEX I chose Periodical and Article.  This brought it down to 774.  Another trip through the article keywords brought up ‘leadership’.  I added it to ‘group dynamics’ as a Default Field search. Down to 74 references!  I added the search to my EBSCOhost folder.  Investigation of the new results provided 10 more interesting articles, and nine of them were downloadable.  Finally I had something to work with, and in addition, articles and books soon began to pour in from the inter-library loan system.  From this point on the process was one of reading, checking the occasional reference, chasing down the occasional article (often ones mentioned in other articles), and trying to make sense of what I had.  I think it important to note that the journals Journal for Specialists in Group Work and Small Group Research were both particularly useful and unavailable online.  Happily, Small Group Research is in the SFU stacks.


The Literature

For the purpose of this paper, a small group is something more than a small random gathering of people.  In NLS terms, “A group is more than one person.  A collection of people becomes a group when members:

·         See themselves as a group

·         Share the same purpose, goals or ideals

·         Begin to identify with one another

·         Interact with, influence and react to one another (Allen, Mehal, Palmateer & Sluser, 1995, p.110). 

As Brower (1996) has it, “…for [a] group of individuals to become a “real” group, members must develop a shared group schema – a shared understanding of the norms, rules, roles, and meaning of their actions and interactions.  The process occurs in stages” (p.343).  More rigorously, Guzzo and Dickson (1996, pp.308-309, as cited in Morgeson, 2005, p.592) offer that teams are made up of people who

(a) “see themselves and who are seen by others as a social entity,” (b) “who are interdependent because of the tasks they perform as members of a group,” (c), “who are embedded in one or more larger social systems (e.g., community, organization),” and (d) “who perform tasks that affect others (such as customers or coworkers).”

NLS student groups and coach training groups meet these criteria.

In an experiential program such as NLS, the group provides the context for learning (Cassidy, 2001; Fenwick, 2003; Jackson & Prosser, 1989; Kormanski, 1991).  Students learn skills, experiment with them, receive feedback on their skill use and give feedback to others (Himsl, 1973).  Himsl described three levels of group utilization by students:  safe group use, careful group use, and risky group use, with movement up the scale paralleling the growth of trust in and within the group.  Neither he nor any other NLS theoretician of the time included Tuckman’s (1965) stages of group development in NLS theory or training, though Tuckman’s four stages and Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) five stages of group development have since been included by subsequent Life Skills theorists, coach trainers and coaches (Allen et al., 1995, pp.123-132).

Tuckman (1965) reviewed and analyzed 50 articles about group development and came to a four stage synthesis: forming, storming, norming, and performing.  Tuckman and Jensen (1977) added a fifth stage, adjourning (Table 1).  Although Shambaugh (1978) had doubts about the validity of Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) work, he later (Shambaugh, 1996) proposed an elaboration of Tuckman and Jensen’s model that follows the work of  Lacoursiere (1980), who split the forming stage into two options, positive orientation or negative orientation. Shambaugh (1996) added disenchantment (a second storming stage) between norming and performing.  The usefulness of Lacoursiere’s (1980) distinction between positive and negative orientation in the forming stage has received tangential support from other researchers (Ashby & DeGraaf, 1998; Cowan, 1976; Kivlighan & Tarrant, 2001; Stockton, Morran & Clark, 2004; Sy, Côté & Saavedra, 2005).  Shambaugh eventually concluded that Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) five stage model had come to be the standard model of small group development (Shambaugh, 2000, p.222). 

Wheelan’s (1990) extensive review of the literature yielded results similar to those of Tuckman (1965) and Tuckman and Jensen (1977).  Wheelan, however, added depth to Tuckman and Jensen’s five stage model with her Integrated Model of Group Development (Wheelan, 1990; Wheelan & Lisk, 2000) (Table 1). 

Perhaps the most thorough recent meta-analysis of group development models is that of Mennecke, Hoffer, and Wynne (1992).  Mennecke et al. identified three types of group development models, with subsets in each:

1.       Progressive Models: Equilibrium Model; Linear-Progressive Models (e.g. Tuckman & Jensen, 1977);

2.       Cyclical Models: Life-Cycle Models; Recurring Cycle Models (e.g. Schutz, 1982);

3.       Non-Sequential Models: Contingency Model (Poole, 1983); Time, Interaction & Performance (TIP) Model (McGrath, 1991); Punctuated Equilibrium Model.

Mennecke et al. noted that several phases recurred throughout all of the models with the exception of the Punctuated Equilibrium Model (p.541).  They presented a synthesis (Table 1) that they offered as a baseline for research rather than as “a predictive model for group interactions” (p.541).  Their study appears to be a confirmation of Tuckman’s (1965) and Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) theory of the stages of small group development.  Indeed, the Tuckman and Jensen model has become so ubiquitous that it is sometimes used without attribution, but simply as though it is common knowledge (i.e. (Davies, 1996, p. 131).

Having found that the stages of group development are generally agreed upon (Kormanski, 1990; McGrew, Bilotta & Deeney, 1999; Mennecke et al., 1992; Shambaugh, 2000), I turned my attention to the relationship between the literature and NewStart Life Skills theory and practice. 

Table 1: A comparison of Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) stages of group development model with similar subsequent models


Tuckman and Jensen (1977)


Kormanski and Mozenter



Wheelan (1990)


Mennecke et al. (1992)


Shambaugh (1996)






Dependency and inclusion




Forming (positive or negative orientation)






Counterdependency and fight










Trust and structure






















Ending / task completion






Small Group Development and NewStart Life Skills

Progressive, Cyclical, and Non-Sequential Models

“…real groups are often “messier” than an ideal group” (Brower, 1996, p.337). 

Asch (1952) pointed out that researchers prefer to study groups with which they have considerable control over variables.  This often leads to the study of small, short in duration groups.  For example, Mayo, Meindl, and Pastor (1996) drew conclusions about the deleterious effect that heterogeneous groups have on their leaders after studying homogeneous and heterogeneous groups consisting of three to six members that lasted only 30 minutes (small, short-term, heterogeneous groups). In contrast, but still to the point, McGrew et al. (1999) studied long-lived homogeneous groups of from five to ten members ( small, long-term, homogeneous groups).  NLS groups usually have from 12 to 20 heterogeneous members, last for six to 12 weeks (occasionally up to 16 weeks), and run for five or six hours a day, four or five days a week (larger, long-term, heterogeneous groups).  The Tuckmanesque progressive development model, which admittedly can be seen to play itself out on a grand scale over the life of an NLS group, is not in itself sufficient to describe the development of these long-term groups, since there is such a huge amount of interaction, learning, and individual and group development that takes place before the final adjournment. 

In response to their own understanding of the situation, Ashby and DeGraaf (1998) described an application of therapeutic concepts (working or therapeutic alliance, transference, and real relationship) in various of Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) stages.  “It is the complex and dynamic nature of group development that calls for a richer understanding of the process of group development beyond the traditional sequential (linear) models of development” (Ashby & DeGraaf, 1998, p.162).  Davies (1996) suggested that all five stages (after Tuckman & Jensen, 1977) could be seen to operate within each of the first four stages of group development.  In this model, during each of its first four stages a group forms around the new task, storms about roles and understandings, norms around agreed guidelines and structure, performs the task, and then adjourns the stage before forming around the next stage’s task.  Davies (1996) speculated that in the fifth, adjourning stage, the five stages are done in reverse order.  McGrew et al. (1999) seem to concur, saying The data suggest the need for an extended stage model of team formation that includes analogous decay stages: de-norming, de-storming, de-forming. The data support a pattern of increasing and decreasing performance that mirrors the formation and dissolution of teams” (p.209).

            Schutz’s (1982) recurring cycle model of Inclusion, Control, and Openness (which also suggests that in the final group stage – or in this case, in the final cycle –  the order of stages is reversed) can be seen to operate in long-term NLS groups.  Schutz’s theory might be seen as a spiral of ever-increasing interdependence, with each loop building on the accomplishments and difficulties of the previous one.

            Poole’s (1983) Contingency Model (non-sequential) recognizes an underlying developmental structure that is subject to alteration in response to contingencies that arise in the group.  Contingencies could include a change in membership and/or leadership, a scheduling disruption, the intrusion of an unexpected and urgent topic, lack of time to complete a task, etc.  These sorts of contingencies can arise at any moment in a long-term NLS group.

            McGrath’s (1991) Time, Interaction & Performance (TIP) Model (non-sequential) speculates that there are multiple group development processes happening simultaneously.  McGrath created a grid that inter-relates three functions (Production, Well-Being, Member Support) with four modes (Inception, Problem Solving, Conflict Resolution, Execution).  This model, of all those that I’ve looked at, seems to best describe the “messiness” of a 12 to 20 member long-term NLS group.

            The major gap that I’ve found in the small group development literature is the lack of a group development theory that synthesises the simultaneous linear, cyclic, and non-sequential aspects that are extant in long-term NLS groups.  Various of the theories are useful and applicable in various group situations, but none give a satisfactory summation of how things really happen in such groups.


Transformative Learning And Small Group Development

Transformative learning (Mezirow, 1991, 1995) is the heart of the NLS enterprise, though the language and theory of transformative learning were not yet developed when NLS was created. 

At its core, transformative learning theory is elegantly simple.  Through some event, which could be as traumatic as losing a job or as ordinary as an unexpected question, an individual becomes aware of holding a limiting or distorted view.  If the individual critically examines this view, opens herself to alternatives, and consequently changes the way she sees things, she has transformed some part of how she makes meaning out of the world” (Cranton, P., 2002, p.64).

In NLS terms, learning and using skills such as listening, questioning, giving and receiving feedback, identifying feelings, identifying assumptions, arguing fairly, problem-solving, helpful and harmful group behaviours, and evaluating (Adilman, Maxwell & Wilkinson, 1994; Allen et al., 1995; Conger & Himsl, 1973), lead to cognitive restructuring and conceptual growth, and thus to Balanced Self-Determined behaviour (Mullen, 1985; Smith, 1982).  The NLS Balanced Self-Determined individual (Allen et al., 1995; Curtiss & Friedman, 1973; Curtiss & Warren, 1973) can be said to have experienced transformative learning.  As BSD behaviours are learned and adopted, group development is enhanced (London, 2003).

NLS uses small groups to promote transformative learning, i.e. encouraging members to become Balanced Self-Determined individuals. While transformative learning is implicit in much of the small group development literature, it is rarely directly addressed as an influence on the group development process, or as an outcome.  This may well be because transformative learning theory is a relatively recent construct (Mezirow, 1991, 1995).  The skill and ability of group leaders, the skills and attitudes that group members bring to the group, and group member growth and interaction in and across the stages of group development, are all influential factors on personal transformation.  Nonetheless, transformation cannot be taught or forced, it can only be supported and invited (Cassidy, 2001; Cranton, P. A., 2002; Ritchhart & Perkins, 2000).  NLS theoreticians would do well to update the NLS literature in transformative learning terms.


Transformational Leadership

NLS coaches are typically trained to model the skills that they teach and to support their students’ learning in what may now considered to be a transformational leadership style (Curtiss & Friedman, 1973; Kivlighan & Tarrant, 2001; Stockton et al., 2004; Sy et al., 2005; Wheelan, 1990). 

The collective action that transforming leadership generates empowers those who participate in the process.  There is hope, there is optimism, there is energy.  In essence, transforming leadership is a leadership that facilitates the redefinition of a people’s mission and vision, a renewal of their commitment, and the restructuring of their systems for goal accomplishment (Roberts, 1985, as cited in Leithwood, 1992, p.9).

If there is a direct relationship between transformative learning theory and transformational leadership, it may be that leaders must themselves do their own transformative learning in order to honestly exert transformational leadership (Price, 2003).  Small group leaders who practice transformational leadership are likely to avoid Shambaugh’s (1996) negative orientation in the forming stage (Sy et al., 2005).  NLS coach training includes conflict management skills (Ellis & Fisher, 1975; Kormanski, 1982; Wanous, Reichers & Malik, 1984), which are important and useful in the storming stage.  In general, transformational leaders maximize the possibilities for task and process achievement throughout all stages of group development (Burghardt, 1977; Johnstone, 1995; Kent, 1996; Leithwood, 1992).  NLS theoreticians would do well to update the NLS literature in terms of transformational leadership.


Metacognition as a Group Development Tool

Some authors (Allen, 1991; Burghardt, 1977; Goos, Galbraith & Renshaw, 2002; Johnson & Iacobucci, 1995; McKendall, 2000) discuss the positive impact on group development of educating and enlisting the group members in following and monitoring the group development process.  This sort of research-based discussion seems to be rare, perhaps due to a predominant research focus on understanding group development rather than explicitly seeking means to influence it. Alternatively, and quite possibly, the situation may simply reflect a gap in my own research and review process.


In Conclusion            

            The literature provides background and opportunity for further research in small group development as it relates to NewStart Life Skills.  Existing theory does not adequately address the complexity of the group development process in long-term, heterogeneous groups such as those typically used in NLS training.  Opportunities for NLS theoreticians to update NLS theory in the light of developments in transformative learning and transformational leadership are also apparent.  Deliberate use of metacognitive learning holds interest as a group development tool.


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