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Group Dynamics - Form, Norm, Storm, Perform

Understanding group dynamics and the process of group formation is key to a counselor succeeding during a session. Every group, team, or cabin goes through these stages during its development. Coined in 1965 by psychologist Bruce Tuckman, these stages have remained applicable for understanding group development ever since. Going through this outline with counselors during training will also help develop a common vocabulary for the session. For example, a counselor may approach a director and say, “I need help, my cabin is storming.” Having a common vocabulary empowers the counselor to express what they’re going through, and also allows the director an opportunity to remind the counselor that storming is a natural part of a group’s formation and that if they are able to overcome the storming stage, performing is next. These four stages were developed by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965.

During the counselor training session you can split the group of counselors into four small groups and ask them to act out what a cabin in each of the stages looks like. Pair experienced counselors with new counselors and provide them 15 minutes to prepare a skit.

This is the first stage in the group building process. This beginning stage typically happens on the first day or two of camp, though as with any level in this theory, there is no set defined time period.

During this introductory stage, conversation between group members tends to be polite, superficial, and exploratory. Campers will learn names and try to find some commonality with other group members. The group usually does not experience conflict in this stage.

This stage is also referred to as the ‘honeymoon’ period because group members are excited about the team and everything still feels new. Some group members might be nervous and shy, while others might be nervous and chatty.

  • Polite
  • Introductory
  • Exploratory
  • Awkward

As the cabin mates begin to get to know each other, a sense of normalcy takes hold of the group. Campers are referring to each other by first name, the quirks, talents, and difficulties of the cabin mates is becoming clearer.

This stage feels similar to forming, but with more comfort and familiarity. Conflicts are yet to arise, individual roles are more clear, and campers are beginning to work together. Campers should start to feel a stronger sense of belonging to the group and form a clear sense of identity.

As the ‘honeymoon’ period wears off and campers become more comfortable with each other, it is common to experience ‘storming’. The camper who was initially content letting her fellow cabin mates borrow her curling iron may no longer be okay with it. The camper who always complains about having to eat breakfast starts to sound like a broken record. The campers who arrived at camp as friends and requested initially to be bunkmates may start to feel claustrophobic with the constant contact. All of these scenarios are common and normal.

Is storming bad? While the arguments and conflict are no fun, storming is not necessarily negative. Storming can bring internal conflicts to the surface and allow them to settle. Storming also shows a level of comfort, a kind of comfort that only a group with some level of bonding can have. This stage also allows for the group to develop a process of conflict resolution. Creating and abiding by a conflict resolution process is key to moving past the storm.

If a cabin is able to get through, they will be stronger, and a calm will certainly follow.

At this stage, the cabin group reaches an ideal level of performance. Not only do campers feel a strong sense of identity with their cabin group, but they also see their role as larger than themselves. They are an integral part of the entire camp experience, not just themselves or their cabin group. They are excited to compete with other cabins in large group games. They want to perform a skit at campfire. They want to contribute to camp and make their impact felt. They succeed as individuals, as a group, as members of the community.

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