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"Good Horsemanship is Built on Solid Basics...So is Good Business!"

Group Development - "Join Up" For Equine Work, Volunteer and Competitive Teams
By Lisa Derby Oden

Did you know that groups go through stages of development, just as
horses go through growth and training stages, and riders go through learning
curves? Understanding the life cycle of a group can assist you as you attend
or run meetings, work with your employees, or teach group lessons. The
stages a group goes through are frequently referred to as: Forming,
Storming, Norming, and Performing.

FORMING takes place when a group first gets together. At this point
excitement is high, and those involved are positively minded about what
might be accomplished. Group members go through basic introductions and
orientation with each other. Members may feel ambiguity and confusion as
they get acquainted. As you interact and listen to what others are saying,
you are sorting through who you may get along with the best. During this
phase, what it means to be a group member becomes evident, and members work
to move to similarities. Communication is superficial and polite. You just
don't feel like you know others well enough to disclose more. You stay away
from conflict because you really want to be accepted into the group. The
group is dependent on the leader for direction.

If you have ever moved to a new barn, joined a new horse organization,
or started work in a new place, you have experienced this. As you introduce
yourself, you are absorbing the culture of the group. Within a short amount
of time you know whom you will fit in the best with, and whether this is
situation is a good fit for you. If there is no one calling the shots for
barn policy, organization mission, or to provide workplace orientation, you
will feel somewhat directionless. A good leader helps this first stage to go
smoothly, minimizing the confusion of your new beginning.

The group then moves into the STORMING stage. STORMING is when the
honeymoon is over. Think about when you first learned to trot without
stirrups - your initial reaction was probably, "This is really hard and I
don't know if I can really do this." Or think about a time when you
volunteered to help run a horse show or other equine event. At first you are
really excited to be involved, and then you move to thinking you must have
been crazy to get involved because you really didn't know all that there was
to it. You can probably recall thinking "Oh, this is way more than I had
intended." Your leader, or coach, needs to be giving you direction and lots
of encouragement at this point for the group to move into the third stage.

The STORMING stage is characterized by power and influence issues. The
decision-making process is established during this stage. Because of the
uncertainty felt during FORMING, members attempt to create order and
establish operating rules. Members may feel that the wrong approach is being
taken, the group priorities aren't the same as they had expected, or that
they are better suited to take charge. This can result in attacks on the
leadership. Some members may feel that it is harder than they thought to
accomplish the group task. The group is counter-dependent on the leader.

Out of the "storm" and into NORMING, the group becomes cohesive.
Conflict experienced during STORMING is resolved, and the group's trust
level rises. The competition and testing that took place have now moved to
problem solving. Negotiation takes place amongst members so that functional
relationships are formed. You have had enough time with the others to
determine who is comfortable and/or most skilled at doing the tasks that
have been identified. For example, one person takes on the advertising for a
horse show because they have the contacts from doing their farm advertising.
Another person takes on the ringmaster job because they are good with
people. The group is now interdependent with the leader, and leadership is
shared. You feel like you are getting somewhere now, and are glad to be a
part of this horse farm staff, horse association committee, or riding stable
show team.

Finally, the group reaches the PERFORMING stage. This is where the
group will achieve its greatest levels of productivity. Group members are
collaborative, gain insight from each other, and find growth within the
group. Friendships are formed, creativity is expressed in the tasks
accomplished, and it's fun and exciting to be a part of this group.
Commitment is high in this stage. The group is interdependent with the
leader, who can now delegate. People outside this group can see the vitality
and achievement of the group, which makes the group attractive to others to
want to be part of. Success breeds success. People seek you out to work at
your horse farm, take on a volunteer role in your horse organization, or to
ride with to participate in your show team.

Groups can move quickly or slowly through these stages. It all depends
on how well the members know each other and if they know how to deal with
the issues. There may be times when the group doesn't complete all the
stages if people refuse to deal with the issues and push for results while
all is in chaos.

You can probably think of groups you've belonged to that have clearly
exhibited these different stages. If not, see if you can tell the next time
you're in a group. It may be tough at first, but with practice you'll be
able to pick the stages out as clearly as you can tell when your horses are
healthy or not. Let others know about these group stages too - it may be
just the insight they need so that you all can achieve more together.

(Lisa Derby Oden has been providing business development, marketing, and association consulting services to the horse industry since 1995. Oden is
author of "Growing Your Horse Business" and "Bang For Your Buck: Making
$ense of Marketing For Your Horse Business." She is the 1999 AHC Van Ness Award recipient for outstanding service to the horse industry.
She can be reached at: (603)878-1694; email at; or visit her website at

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