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Posted on February 10, 2020
Updated on February 17, 2021

Groups and Teams

Group Process

Dorothy Stock Whittacker (1989) talks about the fact that each group will have a different character:

  1. Groups develop particular moods and atmospheres
  2. Shared themes can build up in groups
  3. Groups evolve norms and belief systems
  4. Groups vary in cohesiveness and the permeability of their boundaries
  5. Groups develop and change their character over a period of time
  6. People occupy different positions in groups with respect to power, centrality and being liked or disliked
  7. Individuals sometimes find one or two other people in the group who are especially important to them because they are similar in some respect to significant others in their life or to significant aspects of themselves
  8. Social comparison can take place in the group
  9. A group is an environment in which people can observe what others do and say and then observe what happens next
  10. A group is an environment in which people can receive feedback from others concerning their own behaviour or participation
  11. A group is an environment in which new behaviours can be tried out
  12. In a group, members may collide and collude

If we are facilitating a group it will be helpful to be aware of these factors and be able to work with these in mind

Stages of Groups

All groups go through stages in their development and there are many different theories written about these by different people.  

Recognition of these stages is helpful when facilitating as we can consider the appropriate interventions. For example, prior to coming into a group, a young person needs information about who else will be there so that they can build a picture in their mind of what the group will be like, what they will be doing and who with.

Eric Berne developed a very useful diagrammatic way of considering groups. I have adapted his diagrams and names for ease of reference, and also included the more classical terminology for these stages.

I (Mountain, A. 2004, 2011), have called the first diagram Who Are They? (Provisional Group Imago). This is really the fantasy, or image, that we have in our minds before we meet anybody else. If we know the facilitator or leader of the group then they will be in our picture and there may be one or two others that we know, or maybe we don’t know anyone else. This is Tuckman’s Forming stage, and Peck’s Pseudo-community stage. This image is based on past experiences.

The leadership role at this stage is to define the major external and internal boundaries.

The Who Are They? image (Undifferentiated) looks like this:

Imago Stage One

The second image we create is when we are in the group and feel comfortable with some, but usually not all, of those present. This adjusted image is called : Some Are Okay image (Adapted Group Imago, or Partially Differentiated. This links with Tuckman’s Storming phase and Peck’s Chaos) and looks like this:

Imago Stage Two

Then we may start to get into some conflict with the facilitator. They are not doing what we want them to do. This may reinforce how it was in our families and we might think “Typical. Here we go again. This always happens to me”. At this point we may react by withdrawing, storming out of the room or getting into conflict with the facilitator. At this point, those people who are important in our group image will be the ones who are involved in the conflict, and all others may pale into insignificance. This diagram is called the This Is Me Image (Secondarily Adjusted Group Imago) and looks like this.

Imago Stage Three

Then, comes the Get On With image (Fully Differentiated Group Imago ). This is where we recognise and accept other people even if we don’t always agree. We get on with others and in our group image they all take on their own personalities. This is the time in the group where we can get on with the task, discuss differences and come up with something which is greater than any individual might have come up with on their own. This is the place where people feel safe enough to be really productive. The Get On With image looks like this:

Imago Stage Four

Then, when a new member comes into the group the participants may well return to an earlier stage and recycle the other states until they feel safe again with the new person and how the group now is.

So, in summary, the stages and diagrammatic images are:

1)  Who Are They?

2)  Some Are Okay

3)  This Is Me

4)  Get On With

Berne's Structural Diagrams

Berne used these diagrams to assess the processes of a group or an organization. Through the use of circles to represent the group space and boundary we are able to show the influences on this boundary and the relationship dynamic between the external environment and the various elements within the organization. There is a major external boundary between the organization and its environment, and a major internal boundary between the leadership and the rest of the workforce. At its simplest, this can be diagrammed as follows:


The boundary between the leadership and the workforce can be seen as a major internal boundary. If we now look at the workforce in more detail, there will be what Berne called minor internal boundaries for instance between people in a team:

Internal/External Boundaries

This can be further adapted to show the existence of sub-groups within a group:

Major Internal Boundaries

These diagrams can be used creatively to describe the structure of an organisation. Berne supplies us with ideas of what we can denote in a diagram.


Instead of individuals, the following diagram denotes the process between departments. Let’s take an example of a large not-for-profit organization where, to do their work, the trainers need to travel nationally and internationally. The Finance Department and the Administrative Department see this as the trainers getting all the perks and spending all the money. They see themselves as the real powerhouse of the organization – more important than any other group or team. Therefore an alliance develops between them. This could be drawn as follows:

Example Internal

So far, the examples have been at the simplest level. Figure 14.09 below denotes a more complex group with major and minor boundaries between divisions, teams, management or individuals. This might occur where there are partners working in an organization or co-chairs of a board. If the line responsibilities are not clear, people may well experience contradictory direction from the two partners, or may play the two off in a manipulative way:

Complex Structural

A compound organization, on the other hand, distinguishes between levels of the hierarchy in a larger organization – each concentric circle denoting another level of the structure:

Compound Diagram

This series of circles denotes different levels of the workforce in relation to the level of power they exercise. For example, in some organizations the CEO may have developed a culture where they hold most power, and their leadership region in the centre could be drawn much larger. This would obviously vary from organization to organization. Each subsequent circle radiating from the centre would represent the different level of power held by that section of the workforce. So, you might then get the Senior Management Team in the next circle, then Divisional Managers, Department Heads, Team Leaders, and so on. The Senior Management Team’s second circle would have a width representing the amount of power they were seen to have and so on to the outer edge of the circle where cleaning staff may be. The use of thinner or thicker lines can be used to denote the extent of the internal boundary between levels. Sometimes for instance, the two upper levels of the hierarchy separate themselves off from the lower levels who have a closer relationship with each other. These diagrams could be used in conjunction with the private structure (see below) in that people will perceive their position differently. This can also be linked with the concept of psychological distance.


Clarkson (1991) defines a group as: “A collection of individuals who interact with each other for an apparently common purpose”. She includes the word “apparently” because the group may agree at a social level about its task whilst at the psychological level there may be conflicting, confluent, or complementary ulterior-level agendas.

Therefore, the public structure (Berne, 1963), may be agreed upon. However, the private structure is more complex and labile. The group imago is to do with the private structure of the group.

Berne (1963) stated that we all enter groups with a range of needs:

  1. a biological need for stimulation
  2. a psychological need for time-structuring
  3. a social need for intimacy
  4. a nostalgic need for patterning transactions
  5. a provisional set of expectations based on past experience.

The task then is to adjust these needs and expectations to the reality that confronts them.

Although Berne only identified four stages of group development he states that “The real aim of most dynamic psychotherapy group is to clarify the group imagoes of the individual members”. Clarkson, therefore, goes on to describe a fifth and final stage.

“As the group imago is a facsimile of an infantile group imago or a reproduction of a childhood group imago, its clarification and differentiation is part of facilitating individuals and groups to live more in terms of their current needs……. If a group experience has been successful for a member it will usually result in a higher level of functioning and integration”.

This final stage is one of mourning or adjourning, on saying goodbye.  Everyone experiences this stage differently, dependent upon their attachment pattern.


Berne E. (1963), The Structure and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups, Ballantine Books

Clarkson P (1991), Group Imago and the Stages of group Development, TAJ 21:1

Mountain, A. & Davidson, C. (2011), Working Together, Organizational Transactional Analysis and Business Performance, Gower

Peck S. (1987), The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, Simon Schuster

Stock Whitaker, D. (1985), Using Groups to Help People, Routledge