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When should Susan Wheelan’s Integrated Model of Group Development be applied?

When it comes to group development, researchers have proposed many different models. One such model is Susan Wheelan’s Integrated Model of Group Development, which proposes that group development can be broken down into four main stages. Each of these stages can be likened to a stage of human development. 

  1. Dependency and Inclusion (“childhood”) – When a team is newly formed, it is still dependent on the leader and focused on feeling included.  
  1. Counterdependency and Fight (“adolescence”) – At this point, team members feel comfortable enough to speak up, openly disagree with each other, and even challenge the leader. 
  1. Trust and Structure (“young adulthood”) – The group has now worked through any tension during the second stage and has accepted individual differences. This means that there are higher levels of trust. Roles have also been formed, creating structure.  
  1. Work and Productivity (“adulthood”) – Because trust and structure have been established, this is the stage where the group can be most productive and focus on the tasks at hand.  

Many groups also have a “Termination” stage. This is when a team ends, hopefully including some sense of closure. 

Wheelan’s model is one of the most frequently used models of group development, and there is a general consensus that the theory holds. A lot of psychological research has supported her model. But of course, just like with any theory, this consensus doesn’t mean that the model applies to all situations. Some critics have pointed out that just like every person is different, every group is different. Groups might regress to a previous stage or develop much quicker than is assumed by this model. Wheelan acknowledges this, explaining that groups might sometimes take a step forward only to take two steps back again. This means that applying this model to your group is most likely a good idea, but you have to be careful. Models are meant to explain most cases, but there are always exceptions.  

Being aware of typical group development will make it easier to address the unique challenges of each stage. This can facilitate teamwork and ensure that you reach the productivity stage smoothly and reduce conflict sooner rather than later. However, it is important to understand that group dynamics are complex. If the model doesn’t seem to apply to your group, focus instead on addressing your group’s needs. If you want assistance developing and strengthening your groups, feel free to contact us at Balevo.

Suggestions for further reading: 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0164121216302266

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1046496403251608

https://medium.com/integral-coaching/on-creating-effective-teams-a-guide-for-members-and-leaders-by-susan-a-wheelan-a274a11b8c7b

https://www.hyperisland.com/blog/creating-effective-teams-the-detailed-curation

https://blog.crisp.se/2019/11/27/anderslaestadius/ovning-kring-grupputveckling 

https://www.suntarbetsliv.se/artiklar/ledarskap-och-organisation/utveckla-sunda-team-med-modell-av-susan-wheelan/