COG's Ladder of Group Development is a model containing five stages or phases that groups traverse on their way to performing usefully together. Although the model is most typically used relative to task groups, it may have meaning for other types of groups as well. For example, I found that COG's Ladder was useful to me in understanding my participation on the local school board.

The five stages of group development according to the model are:






The polite stage is characterized by minimal conflict. Everyone is getting to know one another and individuals will go out of their way to avoid contention. Phrases such as "with your permission," "in my opinion," "do you see my point?" and "don't you think" often qualify statements made by members of the group.

The next stage is "Why are we here?" In this stage, group members ponder the purpose both of the group and of their participation in the effort. Interestingly, none of these stages have to be overt agenda items. They are often traversed with little awareness on the part of the participants. In some ways, the issue boils down to "why am *I* here?"

After establishing identity with the group during the polite stage, and answering the question of why we are here to satisfaction, the group is ready to enter the bid-for-power stage. In this stage, a pecking order is developed among the members such that roles emerge. Just as fowl have a pecking order among the flock, so groups tend to listen to some members more readily than others. They may expect one of their number to remind them of process, another to provide expertise, and yet another to keep them on task.

The constructive stage emerges when members of the group begin to perform differrentiated roles to the complement of each other. It is characterized by enhanced harmony, at least compared to bid-for-power. In the constructive stage, group members are ready to address and carry out strategies that further the group purpose. They are ready to be constructive.

The Esprit' stage is an "all for one and one for all" stage that few groups reach. It's characterized by a high interdependence and shared esteem among the members. In my experience, this stage has not been easy to sustain.

A working knowledge of this model is often useful for group facilitators who are trying to help the group accomplish its purpose. By reading behaviors in the group, it is possible to recognize which issues are stalling the group and facilitate their removal.

The "Bid for Power" or "Storming" stage of group development is something we have all witnessed many times. It can range from the simple establishment of a contract among group members about how they will work together to the establishment of a "pecking order" among the members such that a hierarchy of influence is established.
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