How to Create Cohesion Sooner in Forming Groups

by | Leading | 2 comments

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” —Ernest Hemmingway

Stages of Group Development  

Many have heard about the five stages of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. See CEO: Creating Excellent Organizations website.

I’ve been a member of corporate and church task forces, long-term Bible studies, writers’ critique groups, and a leadership development group. I agree. The 5 stages are right-on.

Two questions:

1.   What can we do in Forming to squelch Storming’s fears and inability to listen to each other?

2.   How can Norming’s identifying with one another, sharing feelings, and feeling good about the group become stronger during Forming?

Create Group Cohesion Sooner

1.   Plan a meaningful introduction activity for the first meeting. Don’t skimp on the time allocated to this activity. The whole first session devoted to this activity is worth it.

2.   Inform members of the activity ahead of time so they’ll be prepared. Make preparation required. Then people can listen to other members, instead of frantically thinking about what they’re going to say and missing what others are sharing.

3.    Get creative and make the activity fun, personal, and memorable. Members should enjoy preparing for the activity, engaging them mentally before the first meeting. What interests most people? Themselves. So, make it personal. The activity must help members know their fellow members.

4.   Make the activity non-threatening and easy for members to do—and for others to take in. Many don’t like performing in front of people. Many get uptight if they have to memorize a speech. You want members relaxed and engaged while talking and while listening.

5.   Design the activity so no one member monopolizes the time. Set time limits and how they’ll be managed. Meetings are uncomfortable when members abuse time limits or rules. The activity becomes ineffective and is memorable for the wrong reasons, starting Storming too early.

An Activity to Enhance the Forming Stage of Any Group

I think this activity incorporates the 5 activity tips well. Hold off judging if you think the example isn’t for men or corporate groups. I’ll suggest how to tweak it to fit other group types.

Shoebox Activity: 

My shoebox

I learned of this simple activity from Marcia Lahti:

“At the first leaders’ meeting, the teaching leader used a shoebox full of items to introduce herself to us. After listening to her, I felt like I knew her, and I identified with plenty of things in her box. Talking to her would be easy.

I invited the eight women in my group to a Box Lunch. I’d provide the lunch, and they were to bring a shoebox full of items to introduce themselves. One big advantage of this activity is the women control what they share, instead of me asking questions.

I put a ten-minute time limit on the sharing. Each woman shared their interests and what was important in their lives. I discovered all could identify with each other’s items. Conversation abounded, and by lunchtime, I could have served peanut butter sandwiches and no one would have noticed.

One lady used the shoebox as one of her items, because she loved shoes. Another lady put her items in a pocketbook she’d made. A poem one woman’s autistic son wrote touched me. Most women had photos of family and pets.

This activity successfully helped my group get comfortable with each other. By the next meeting, we were Facebook friends, sharing favorite books and craft ideas. Later, three of the members were chosen as leaders, and all used this Box Lunch idea with their groups.”


See what Marcia Lahti is up to on Twitter: MarciaLahti.

Group members enjoying their leader’s shoebox items?

For a corporate task force, the members’ shoebox items could represent every job they’ve held since high school. A critique group’s could represent the genres they write in, their published books, a grammar pet peeve, and a photo of where they write. Get creative!

What other activities would work as well as the shoebox activity? What theme would you suggest for items placed in your group’s shoeboxes?

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  1. Marcia A. Lahti

    I had my group bring the answers to the following quiz to our meeting. We shared our answers to the first question, then the second, third, and fourth. The earlier sharing allowed for more comfort when we got to the last question.
    THE 4-3-2-1 QUIZ.
    What 4 adjectives describe you best?
    What 3 things do you like to do?
    What 2 people have had a huge impact on your life and why?
    What 1 thing would you like to change about yourself?

  2. Zoe M. McCarthy

    Challenging questions, Marcia, so it was wise that you gave participants the questions ahead of time. I especially liked the third question.

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