Stages of Family Council group development. Or, don’t worry, this is normal!

by Family Councils Ontario

Have you ever experienced a change in membership, with people leaving and many new potential members, where people seem hesitant to talk, maybe a few leave early, and several don’t come back to the next meeting? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! This is a common challenge/issue when moving through the forming stage of group development.

Like any other group, a Family Council moves through the 5 stages of group development. This is a cycle, but some steps may take longer than others. You may not progress smoothly; you may need to step back to a previous step before going forward. All of these stages are normal and have their own challenges and potential solutions.

To start with, all Councils go through the forming stage (stage 1). This stage is characterized by a high number of people attending, nervous leaders, people not talking too much, people leaving early, and, often people coming once and then not again. To help your group through this stage, be clear about your goals and what you want to accomplish as a group. Try to get understanding and buy-in from everyone to get people on the same page.

Stage 2 is storming. In this stage, there may be fewer people in attendance and people may not be ready to make a full commitment. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak and stick to the agenda. Set aside time to discuss how the group is and will be working together and to discuss any conflicts that have arisen.

After the storming stage, you’ll move into the norming stage (stage 3). Here you may have fewer but more committed members. People will be more ready to volunteer to take on tasks or pieces of work. There may be more talking and laughter. Here is where you see and continue to build trust. To build on this momentum, share the work. Ask people to contribute based on their skills and interest. Evaluate to make sure you’re on the right path and celebrate your success!

Now, we move into the performing stage (stage 4). In this stage, your Council is working well together, effectively solving problems, resolving conflicts and making decisions together. You share the work and have flexibility in your roles. Maybe you rotate who is in charge of the meeting minutes from one meeting to the next. Or you share the role of chair. To keep the ball rolling, set realistic goals and don’t take on too much work. Start small and build momentum to even greater success. Remember to take time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished so far!

The nature of a Family Council is that there is an ebb and flow of membership. Thus, we come to the saying goodbye or recycling stage (stage 5).

Some members may leave because of the loss of their loved on or they may rethink their commitment to the Council, possibly because of other commitments, changing needs or because they feel that this is the time to move on. Keep calm. This is an inevitable and natural stage and, as members leave, it is important that the Council has an ongoing recruitment plan in place. Have a discussion about what it feels like. Celebrate what you have gained. Breathe. Say goodbye… you are about to reinvent yourselves.

These stages are useful to understand and keep in mind as your Council evolves. Having an idea of which stage your Council is in and how your current situation relates to the other stages will help keep you grounded and calm in the face of challenges. If you feel stuck, consider the ideas suggested above. And celebrate your successes along the way!

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