Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
While reading this article it is very likely that somewhere in the state of Texas an Extension committee is meeting to plan, implement and/or evaluate Extension programs. One of the fundamental tenants of Extension work is the utilization of committees to identify issues and assist in developing educational interventions to address those identified issues. In order for Extension educators to effectively work with committees it is imperative that we have a basic understanding of group dynamics of a committee.
The process of committee development has been the subject of numerous research studies. A number of theoretical constructs have been created by noted researchers to describe the process of group development (Clifford, Rodgers & Mackin, 2000). In this article, we will simply refer to them as stages 1 through 4. The stages described below share some common ground with B.W. Tuckman’s familiar “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing” format and it will be referred to throughout (Tuckman, 1965). Another common analogy is to the process of human development (Weber, ND)..It also will be referred to throughout. It is important to indicate, however, when using this analogy that the reference to “infancy” is not a statement about the maturity of the group members, only the development of the group as a whole (Clifford, Rodgers & Mackin, 2000).
Most committees begin in Stage 1. In the human development analogy, this is the “infancy” stage. Primary influence over the committee’s behavior is external, and the members are developing their own positions and roles in the committee. Consequently, their focus of concern is internal, within the committee. This stage is the “Forming” stage in Tuckman’s model. Regardless of the model used for comparison, this is often a moderately productive stage. As the group develops its own independence and identity, it will develop into Stage 2, an “adolescent” stage in which the committee will struggle with internal issues of power and control, begin to explore its boundaries and develop energy and ideas about the many possibilities for its future and that of the company (Clifford, Rodgers & Mackin, 2000). In Tuckman’s model, this is the uncomfortable “Storming” stage. Committees in stage 2 are unlikely to get much “productive” work done regarding their goals and mission (Clifford, Rodgers & Mackin, 2000).
As the committee matures, it will grow comfortable with its limitations and focus more clearly on a few realistic objectives. As the issues inherent to committees settle down, the group enters the “Norming” stage in the Tuckman model. Since it is a transitional phase, we have not chosen to give it its own stage in this model. In the human development analogy, the “Norming” stage is the time during which the individual is becoming an adult and at different times behaves “adult-like” and at others “adolescent-like.” Eventually, the committee spends more time in its most productive stage 3, the “adult” stage, or “Performing” stage according to Tuckman. Stage 3 is the most productive stage of the group’s development (Clifford, Rodgers & Mackin, 2000). Unfortunately, it does not last forever. Over time, many committees lose their energy and creativity, and move into Stage 4, an “older adult” stage in which they often resist change and lose their drive for new challenges, or they regress to earlier stages (Clifford, Rodgers & Mackin, 2000).
While these models and stages help us understand what is happening in the group, it should be noted that none of the stages has a clear line separating one from the other, and “progress” through the stages is not likely to be linear. Most Extension committees take a few steps forward then at least one back. Often, the “regression” and repeating of an earlier stage will help build trust and confidence, leading to greater cohesion and trust among members, thus even greater productivity, later on.
Figure 1 illustrates the referenced development models:
Figure 1. Development Models.
Figure 2 illustrates the productivity of groups in relation to their development:
Figure 2. Productivity in relation to development.
An Extension committee will go through these common stages at its own rate. The process needs to be accepted, if the committee is to meet its long-term objectives. Some tips regarding this process is as follows:
As Extension committees develops in its own indenity, through some rather predictable stages, it can develop into a highly productive force for programmatic excellence. Through attentiveness to the stage of development a given committee is in, Extension educators can provide a more timely and useful hand in helping Extension committees achieve progress and productivity (Clifford, Rodgers & Mackin, 2000). Research has shown, and the anecdotal experience of practitioners who work with Extension committees suggest that an effective committee can be instrumental in program success.
Clifford, S., Rodgers, L, & Mackin, C. (2000). ESOP committee guide. The National for Employee Owenship. Oakland, CA.
Tuckman, B.W. (1965) Development Sequence in Small Groups. Psychological Bulletin, , 63, 284-399.
Weber, R.C. The Group: A cycle from birth to death, NTL Reading Book for Human Relations Training, 7th ed. Lawrence Porter and Bernard Mohr. Alexandria, VA p68-71