Experiential Learning
Team Building

Group Dynamics, Processes & Development

James Neill
Last updated:
23 Apr 2007


What's New?

What is a Group?

A group is:

  • “two or more people who share a common definition and evaluation of themselves and behave in accordance with such a definition”
    (Vaughan & Hogg, 2002, p. 200)
  • a collection of people who interact with one another, accept rights and obligations as members and who share a common identity.

Criteria for a group include:

  • formal social structure
  • face-to-face interaction
  • 2 or more persons
  • common fate
  • common goals
  • interdependence
  • self-definition as group members
  • recognition by others

Societies can be seen as large groups consisting of a myriad of sub-groups.  For more, see:

Introduction to Group Dynamics

Human beings exhibit some characteristic behavior patterns in groups.  People involved in managing groups and group members themselves can benefit from studying theories and doing practical exercises which help them to better understand people's behaviour in groups and group dynamics.

When group patterns are combined with study of individual development, then group dynamics can also be applied to education and therapy (as is often the case in experiential, outdoor and adventure education).

People may may underestimate the importance of society and group memberships on their lives.  Whilst people sometimes undertake solo journeys ut by and large much of our experiences of life involve being engaged with others and groups.  The nature of these groups can be quite varied, from a family going for a walk, to the crowd at a football game, to an internet discussion group, to a group of fellow workers.

Given the diverse, yet common occurrence of groups, what is the nature and pattern of such group experiences?  The social dynamics which occur within groups over time vary from group to group, but also illustrate some commonalities.

A classic example is the issue of what happens to groups over time?  For example, Tuckman's (1965) forming, storming, norming, performing model of group development is commonly used to describe the evolving experience and organization of adventure-based groups.


Group theory and development
(article index in Journal of Experiential Education)

Bacon, S. B. (1988). The effects of racially homogeneous and heterogeneous Outward Bound groups on the self-report survey scores and drop out rates of minority students. Greenwich, CT: Outward Bound USA.

Ewert, A. (1992). Group development through experiential education: Does it happen? Journal of Experiential Education, 15(2).

Ewert, A., & Heywood, J. (1991). Group development in the natural environment: Expectations, outcomes, and techniques.  Environment and Behavior, 23, 592-615.

Ewert, A. & McAvoy. L. (2000). The effects of wilderness settings on organized groups: A state of knowledge paper. In D. N. Cole & S. F. McCool (Eds.) Proceedings: Wilderness science in a time of change (pp. 13-26). Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Kerr, P. J., & Gass, M. A. (1995). A group development model for adventure education. In K. Warren, M. Sakofs, & J. S. Hunt (Eds.) The theory of experiential education (pp. 285-296). Boulder, CO: Association of Experiential Education.

MacNamara, C. (n.d.). Group dynamics: Basic nature of groups and how they develop.

Neill, J. T., & Dias, K. L. (2001). Adventure education and resilience: The double-edged sword. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 1(2), 35-42.

Neill, J. T. (2002). Social support helps people grow. Horizons, 17(Spring), 32-34.

Neill, J. T., & Dias, K. L. (c.2001). Challenge and support in Outward Bound: The double-edged sword. Outward Bound International Newsletter, 10(1).

Peak Experiences (n.d.). Issues of importance in forming a team.

Ringer, T. M. (2002). Group action: The dynamics of groups in therapeutic, educational and corporate settings. London: Jessica Kingsley.

The Outdoor Leaders Handbook: Activities, Information & Ideas (2002). Tuckerman's stages of group development. - No longer working

Group Dynamic Topics

  • Group development - How does a groups' pattern of behavior evolve and change over time?  What are the stages of group development?
  • Group size - Does the size of the group matter?  How do the experiences of a group of 3 differ from a group of 30 from a group of 300 or 3000?
  • Risky shift - Do people tend take risks in groups that they would be less likely to take alone?
  • Social support - How important is fostering social support within personal development groups?  What ingredients need to combined with social support to effectively facilitate personal and group growth and development?  e.g., Growth = Challenge + Support
  • Group games & activities - What kinds of games and activities can be used to help people get to know one another and develop their interrelationships?
  • Group mix - Group homogeneity versus heterogeneity?  e.g.,, What is the effect of having groups consisting of people from one ethnicity compared to groups which are multi-ethnic?  Is it better to create groups with diverse (heterogenous) or narrow (homogenous) membership?
  • Group norms - What kinds of group norms evolve?  What role does the facilitator play in the formation of group norms?  What kinds of group norms should be established? (e.g., through a group contract and organizational culture)  In what kinds of situations should a participant be excluded from a group?
  • Peak Experience's articles on team, group & leadership development