Tool no. 84 - Cog's Ladder

Five Stages of a Small Group's Development

  • How should we go about making teams effective?.
  • Charrier (1972) believed that 5 inescapable (?), formative and developmental steps influence the effectiveness of small groups.
  • Groups only move forward if the current stage is completed.
  • See Jean Piaget's Stage model of learning (Piaget, 1929) in which learning capabilities emerge successively in 5 age-categories.

STAGE 1. Polite Stage

An introductory striving for individual acquaintance/re-acquaintance. This informs/establishes the group's structure - polite social interactions. Simple ideas, avoidance of controversy, limiting of self-disclosure, but judgements of others can pre-determine the group's tone.

  • Could use ice-breaker tools to facilitate this process
    e.g. dance workshop
    speed-dating methods

STAGE 2. Why We're Here Stage

Group members will want to know why they have been called together. The specific agenda for each planning session will be communicated by the moderator or leader. In this phase, individual need for approval begins to diminish as members examine their group's purpose and begin to set goals. Often social cliques will begin to form as members begin to feel as though they "fit in".

  • Effective prior explanation on the event's invitation literature / welcome speeches may speed up some of this process

STAGE 3. Power Stage

Bids for power begin between group members in an effort to convince each other that their position on an issue is correct. Often the field of candidates vying for leadership narrows as fewer members strive to establish power. Some of those who contributed freely to the group discussion in earlier stages now remain silent, wishing not to engage in a power struggle. It is noted that interactions arising out of this phase do not usually result in optimum solutions. Hence, there is a great need for structure and patience in this stage.

  • The evaluation of tools that acknowledge many different possible levels of power might be useful, here

STAGE 4. Cooperation Stage

Members not only begin to accept that others have an opinion worth expressing, but a team spirit replaces vested interests. Often new levels of creativity are achieved and the groups productivity soars. If new individuals are introduced into the membership at this point they will be viewed as outsiders or intruders and the group will have to evolve again much as it did initially.

STAGE 5. Esprit Stage

Espirit de corps: Henry Fayol suggests that nothing has the highest pinnacles to reach (what?!) than this.
Mutual acceptance with high cohesiveness and a general feeling of esprit. Charrier states that the planning team can do its finest work and be most productive in this final stage in the model. However it is also noted that this stage will not always be achieved, however for this level of cooperation as well as productivity the other four stages must be met.

  • Tools that encourage metadesigners to evolve complex community systems around keystone synergies.


  • Charrier, G.O., (1972), Cog's Ladder: A Model of Group Growth, company newsletter written when he worked for Proctor and Gamble
  • Piaget, J. (1929). The Child's Conception of the World, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London