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Sushama Kirtikar



Groups are an enigma. Have you ever been part of a group: let's say a church committee, a PTA assembly, a cultural organization board, or a non-profit executive team? Have you ever wondered how they function despite all the swirl of zany activity, flurry of ideas, parallel conversations, and internal strife and then lo and behold positive results?

Welcome to the world of groups. Groups are strange phenomena. They provide a forum for people to converge and work towards a common goal irrespective of the nature of the goal, be it entertainment, networking, learning, planning, etc. The dynamics of groups become complicated as people get up close and create uproars that can be deafening. But if you step back and get a bird's-eye view of the group, you can see how it represents a family that is growing. It goes through developmental stages just as we go through life cycles.

Psychologist B.W. Tuckman refers to 'Four Stages and Four Challenges' of groups:

Stage 1 - 'Form' is when the members clarify their goals and membership.
Stage 2 - 'Storm' is when the members test relationships and power dynamics.
Stage 3 - 'Norm' is when the members set individual roles and process.
Stage 4 - 'Perform' is when the members work towards the predetermined goals.
Stage 5 - 'Transform' is when the members adjust to new circumstances.

Do you see the reflection in our own psychosocial life stages?

'Form' refers to 'Infancy' when a new entity is given birth. It is a beauteous occasion, breathtaking and full of promise. Everyone around is happy and smiling and celebrating with exchange of chocolates or pedhas and jalebis. Life is good.

'Storm' refers to 'Adolescence' when the whippersnapper is ready to push your limits and the air is thick with angst and a power struggle that is fit to be tied. Who is ever prepared for the fuzzy logic and the personalized thinking? Yikes. What happened when you weren't looking? This is where most groups get stuck. If left unattended it could threaten its existence. It requires a lot of skillful maneuvering to extricate the group out of the quagmire of hurt feelings to find resolution.

'Norm' refers to 'Early Adulthood' when the young adult group is able to see beyond its nose. Rules and norms are now established and there is decorum of stability. The mission is in focus and the group process becomes important to its members. There is a distinct sigh of relief.

'Perform' refers to 'Adulthood' when the mature group is now able to actually act on the tasks of the bigger goals and carry out individual duties. Income is earned, house is maintained and some community involvement is nurtured to raise the 'family.' The dependability of each group member is assured. Life is good.

'Transform' refers to 'Older Adulthood' when the members are truly in their prime and are ready to take risks, make major transformations and bring in fresh energy. Community outreach becomes the primary focus. It is a time of splendorous change. The group grows beyond measure and is poised for future successes. It can be awe inspiring.

If we can but step back and out of our personal agendas and watch the group process with wonder and non-judgment, we begin to see how the struggles are so necessary for growth and renewal. No group can truly skip any phase. It is like saying I want to jump from childhood to adulthood. It just does not happen. If we allow for the struggles and work through them effectively, the group will be ensured longevity. The composition of the group may vary as members are lost to attrition but the group itself is here to stay.

A group is a microcosm of the world. The global crises are representative of these morphing phases as the environment, peace, economy and our morale yoyo up and down. May we find our balance and learn to maintain it. But in case it starts to wobble, let us not panic. Let us breathe and realize that this represents yet another transition to yet another phase. Be still.

Speaking of transitions, I will not be returning on a monthly basis as I have been thus far. The Patchwork Quilt will appear less frequently. Thank you for your loyal readership. As this tumultuous year draws to a close, I wish you all peace and happiness.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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