Stages of development

Community groups go through stages of development. Many remain operating as small, volunteer-based groups while others develop very quickly into large and organisationally sophisticated groups.


Typical characteristics

Matters to consider

Starting out

One person or a small group, passionate about a particular issue and wanting to do something


  • often led by a visionary and/or strong, entrepreneurial person
  • high ideals often not clear
  • where does this fit with other things that are going on in the community?
  • clarification of/agreeing on purpose of the group

Becoming structured

Small group committed to making something happen

  • generally operates as a committee or collective
  • the work of the group is done by the group members (generally voluntarily)
  • minimal financial structures - often group member contributions, perhaps small funding grants
  • what structure best suits the purpose?
  • getting organised
  • assigning roles
  • agreeing on what needs to be done (not just the high ideals)
  • establishing systems


An organisation can outgrow its volunteer structure

  • the group inevitably faces challenges
  • some members often do the bulk of the work, leading to resentment and tension
  • the loose, voluntary structure is replaced by a more formal, structured committee or board
  • a co-ordinator, administrator or chief executive may be employed to do the tasks delegated by the committee/board
  • applying for funding to support the organisation's increased operation
  • establishing good organisational processes
  • setting up governance, management and reporting structures
  • increased financial, legal and employment responsibilities
  • maintaining external relationships


Group is functioning well


  • systems and structures are formalised
  • generally a separation of governance and management roles
  • employs staff
  • ongoing evaluation of the group's effectiveness and relevance
  • challenge of keeping relevant (or getting stale)
  • learning/reflective practice
  • avoiding a loss of passion
  • business management responsibilities financial, employment, premises, assets, contract management etc.


Work is done or refocus


  • things change, either externally (in the community) or within the group to indicate that it is time to wind up
  • some groups may reinvent themselves with a different focus rather than winding up
  • others might limp on, resisting dissolution, although they could be increasingly irrelevant to the community
  • evaluation at both group and personal levels
  • dealing with grief some members might not want to finish
  • celebration
  • tidying up and moving on


Another well known theory of the stages of group development was developed by psychology professor Bruce Tuckman.  Community organisations pass through various stages throughout their life cycles, described by Professor Tuckman as forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.


The “forming” stage occurs when the team first assembles together. The group leader plays a vital role during this stage as this leader is tasked with laying out the group's objectives, methods and practices. 


The "storming" stage is often the most turbulent time in any group's life cycle. In some instances this stage brings about "brainstorming" but clashes of personalities can also occur. 


The "norming" phase occurs when the personalities of the group have settled into their roles. During this phase, the individuals understand their responsibilities and act as a cohesive unit to accomplish the organisation's goals. 


The "performing" phase sees the group at its peak. Each member knows their role and carries out their duties with the full support and understanding of the rest of the group. 


The final phase, "adjourning," reflects the end of the group's life cycle. Adjourning can occur when a project is completed, when members of the group leave the organisation or when the organisation closes its doors permanently.


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