Cog's Ladder

Understanding and Accelerating Group Formation

The best teams have a strong sense of comradeship.

© iStockphoto/lbeaumont

Imagine this scenario: You've just been put in charge of an important project, and its success hinges on your ability to co-ordinate the efforts of a large and talented group.

But, at the start, people are only interacting tentatively, and don't seem focused on the job in hand.

Fast forward a little, and certain personalities are beginning to clash.

Will the team ever reach a stage where everyone is working together effectively enough to deliver the project?

Often, managing a new group can seem difficult, chaotic, and doomed to end in disappointment. But it turns out that there's a pattern to the seeming chaos of relationships within group – and knowing it can help you as you head into a team project.

More than 30 years ago, a Procter and Gamble manager named George O. Charrier noticed how new groups functioned in P&G, one of the world's most successful conglomerates. He identified five stages of group progression, setting them down in an influential academic paper. Known as "Cog's Ladder," Charrier's theory has stood the test of time. It's now used by all sorts of team leaders from sports coaches to corporate managers. So don't embark on leading a group without first learning about Cog's Ladder!

Note:

No-one seems to know for certain why Cog's Ladder is called "Cog's Ladder". However, thanks to Mind Tools Club member "WildWin" for pointing out that you get COG when you reverse George O. Charrier's initials!

Climbing Cog's Ladder

Charrier saw successful group work as a linear progression with five identifiable stages – the rungs of Cog's Ladder. These are shown in Figure 1 below. Several of the phases might seem chaotic when you're in the middle of them. But familiarity with Cog's Ladder can help you avoid panicking, and instead focus on guiding the group to the next rung.

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