I am a huge fan of Tuckman’s stages of group development, as they were the foundation of how programs were designed when I worked for Outward Bound Intercept in Florida. “Intercept courses are structured wilderness expeditions that help address behaviors such as unhealthy risk-taking, low self-image and motivation, defiance, poor decision-making and school performance” (Outwardbound.org). These programs consisted of taking a group of 10 students on 30-day canoeing expeditions with two facilitators who guide the group in addressing particular behavioral or emotional issues, with an emphasis on group performance. The goal was to alleviate the focus on “self” through group roles and the establishment of group norms, as this was found to address many of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – food, shelter, safety, respect, self-actualization, love, and belonging.
Using Tuckman’s stages of development, we overlaid 3 phases called training, main, and final. We thoroughly discussed Tuckman’s stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing, and informed the group that they would be in the training phase while forming and storming, which required constant supervision and instruction before moving to the main phase. In the main phase, the group knew and understood their roles and expectations, and supervision and instruction were limited, however, if the group went back to the storming stage, they would also return to the training phase (which was very uncomfortable after having the freedoms of the main phase). Once the group went into the performing stage, they achieved the final phase, which meant complete freedom and no instruction, then allowing them to choose their own schedules, play games, etc., as long as they remained in the performing stage. Each group member was assigned a daily role: leader, navigator, cook, hygiene, water patrol, etc. and each received group feedback on their roles at the end of the day.
We established group norms by creating a group name, a chant/song, and a list of group expectations (no swearing, 3 positives for every 1 negative statement, no slacking, etc.) and then they would sign a group contract. One of the things I really liked about this type of program is that everything was frontloaded, so the group knew that there would be a period of storming, which allowed us to discuss it in a group as soon as it started to manifest. Another thing I really enjoyed was that the consequences were immediate, e.g., if the cook didn’t cook, then no one could eat. Likewise, the rewards were equally immediate, e.g., if the group reached the final stage, then they earned lots of free time. This helped the students to know and understand how and why their behavior matters and provided a safe environment for them to really explore what they value in themselves and others.
Upon arriving home, we would establish a similar structure with their parents and school teachers, so they could continue to grow and develop. While I would like to believe that they were all success stories, I fear that due to particular environments, e.g., gangs, drugs, violence, etc., they didn’t all stay on a positive track. However, I fully believe that they learned a lot about how groups work and function together, along with healthy ways to cope with stress. I wish all students could experience programs like this as “tweens”, as I believe it would help that specific age group in a multitude of ways in their transition into adulthood. The four values of Outward Bound are compassion, integrity, excellence, and inclusion / diversity, which provide a firm and healthy foundation for all young people.
Mcleod, S. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2017). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Outward Bound. (2020). Intercept Florida Canoeing. Retrieved from https://www.outwardbound.org/course/intercept-florida-canoeing/385/