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Cog's ladder of group development

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Cog's ladder of group development explained

Cog's ladder of group development is based on the title, “Cog's Ladder: A Model of Group Growth, written by George O. Charrier, an employee of Procter and Gamble, announced in 1972. The initial report was addressed to support group managers to understand the dynamics of group work, thus improving efficiency. Cog's ladder of group development is practiced by the United States Naval Academy, the United States Air Force Academy, and other companies.

What is Cog's ladder of group development?

In the daily life of organizations of different scales and fields of activity, it is often necessary to create groups or teams to do some activity or achieve a certain goal.

Managing such a newly formed group of people is a challenging task, as it is rarely effective from the start. The reasons are various - people do not know each other well, do not trust each other, do not know what is required of them, or enter a fierce struggle for power and influence.

In short, "Cog's Ladder" is a popular tool with which managers can better understand the dynamics of a group, respectively, and accelerate its development.

The name "COG" model comes from the first letters of the names of its author, arranged in reverse - "George O. Charrier".

George Charrier found through empirical observations a characteristic pattern that each group follows in its development. According to him, a group most often goes through five main stages of development, similar to climbing the stairs.

The five stages of development of a group are:

  • Polite stage
  • "Why we're here" stage
  • Power stage
  • Cooperation stage
  • Esprit stage

The Cog's Ladder is a useful tool to understand why a group or team is not working effectively enough. It is enough to assess the development phase, which in turn is related to the characteristic processes that take place in the group/team, as well as to the characteristic degree of overall efficiency.

Let's take a closer look at each of the five "steps" of Cog's Ladder.

Polite stage

Politeness is the first stage of Cog's ladder. When a group first comes together, its identity is not yet formed, and people know little about each other or know little about the task at hand.

Therefore, in the politeness phase, the members of the group most often adhere to a kind and safe relationship, through which they gradually get to know each other. Everyone seeks the approval of others and expresses cautious opinions and positions, usually through "I think…" and "I think…" Tensions and conflicts are usually avoided.

In this stage of group development, people are generally in the "Facade" quadrant of Johari's Window - they share less information and gather more information about others to orient themselves in the situation without "revealing" their cards.

The role of the group (team) leader in this period is to help the members to get to know each other more easily and to build initial trust in each other.

Stage "Why are we here?"

The next stage in group development is "Why are we here?"

In this phase, the group members begin to actively seek guidance on what the group is expected to achieve and what the overall goal is.

People tend to be more open to each other and communication between them is no longer so reserved. The members of the group begin to express more freely their personal opinion about the common task, the ways to achieve it and the possible contribution of everyone to all this.

In the stage "Why are we here?" the members of the group are dragged by different aspects of the task, depending on their strengths, competence, etc., due to which the first "cliques" are formed - small groups of sympathy and "interests".

At this stage, group identity is weak, but still, people begin to realize more tangibly that they are part of something in common.

The role of the group/team leader in this phase is to clearly define the overall goal, deadlines, task requirements, and any other important information. The leader should be prepared to expect many questions about the purpose and how to achieve it.

Power stage

The power struggle phase is the third stage of Cog's ladder in the group's development.

The members of the group (team) compete in the struggle for influence, authority, and power. In this phase, it is common to notice resistance, criticism, refutation of other people's opinions, competition, jealousy, and a lot of tension between people. The group finds it difficult to make common decisions.

Tensions, criticism, and conflicts between members emerge in the group. Some interactions can be particularly fierce. This should not bother the group leader - such a phase is normal and all groups/teams overcome these problems at some point. Conflicts should not be limited, but it is important to take measures so that they are constructive and not destructive. Constructive conflicts involve a clash of ideas. Destructive conflicts are simply interpersonal.

In the phase of power struggle, the members of the group no longer seek the approval of everyone and openly express their opinion. Some of the most confident members of the group may try to dominate everyone else, while others either do not take a stand or quietly take sides.

The role of the group (team) leader in this phase is to explain the roles of people and their importance and specific activities. The leader should strive to establish an atmosphere of cooperation and constructive conflict management through effective communication. Some compromises may need to be made to facilitate group/team progress.

Cooperation stage

The fourth stage of group development according to Cog's ladder is the phase of cooperation.

During this phase, a consensus is reached on the organization of work. Each member is aware of and accepts their role in the group and focuses much more on the group goal than on their ambitions.

Criticism is becoming more constructive. A friendly atmosphere is created. Everyone's opinion is respected and valued more. Over time, people become more empathetic, support each other, and work more effectively together to achieve a common goal.

During the cooperation phase, the trust in the group/team increases significantly. In conflict situations, group members seek the common interest.

Through this phase, the group (team) leader should be ready to share some of his / her leadership functions with people and involve them in common decisions and actions.

Esprit stage

In the Cog's ladder, the last and highest phase of the development of a group or team is the phase of spirit improvement.

In this phase, the cliques disappear and a strong collective identity and close informal relations emerge. The members of the group express complete trust, motivation, respect, and appreciation for each other.

We notice an absolute commitment to the common goal. Problems with relationships and work processes are solved much more smoothly and independently. All members of the group work very effectively. We often mark significant progress towards the goal.

In such a situation, the growth of the group spirit is much more likely for the group/team to be strongly self-governing. The team no longer depends so much on the efforts of its leader. The people in the group need a leadership style of delegating the tasks and projects they work on.

Appropriate management actions are mainly in the direction of maintaining the conditions that allow high efficiency. The work can be completed on time and with the required quality.

In summary

Cog's ladder is a model for group development, according to which each group or team goes through the following phases:

  • Polite stage
  • "Why we're here" stage
  • Power stage
  • Cooperation stage
  • Esprit stage

The higher the group manages to "climb" the ladder of Cog, the more effective its activity will be. Conversely, if the group fails to progress up the ladder, a variety of problems will hinder its effectiveness.


The Cog ladder is very similar to Tuckman's stages. This is another model of group management, but it lacks the "Why We Are Here" stage and calls the other four stages "Forming", "Storming", "Norming", and "Performing". There are other similar models, some of which are cyclic without reaching a final state.

The forming–storming–norming–performing model of group development was first introduced by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. He stated that these phases are very important for a team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle obstacles, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results.

Questions and Answers

What is Cog's Ladder of Group Development?

Cog's Ladder of Group Development is a model that explains the various stages of development that groups or teams typically go through as they form, grow, and mature over time.

How does Cog's Ladder of Group Development work?

Cog's Ladder consists of five distinct stages:

Polite Stage

In this initial stage, team members are polite and cautious in their interactions. They focus on building relationships and avoiding conflict. The primary concern is to create a positive impression and get to know each other.

Why We're Here Stage

At this stage, team members start to clarify the purpose of the group and the goals they aim to achieve. They discuss expectations and responsibilities related to the task at hand. The emphasis is on defining the team's objectives and aligning individual efforts with the group's mission.

Power Stage

In the power stage, conflicts may arise as team members compete for influence and power within the group. Roles and hierarchies are established, and there might be disagreements on the group's direction or decision-making processes. Team members may assert their viewpoints more strongly, leading to potential clashes.

Cooperation Stage

As conflicts are resolved, the group moves into the cooperation stage. Team members begin to work together more effectively, combining their skills and expertise to achieve common goals. Trust and mutual understanding develop, and the focus shifts from individual interests to collective success.

Esprit Stage

The final stage is marked by a strong sense of camaraderie and unity within the group. Team members trust and support each other, leading to high levels of motivation and productivity. The team has developed a shared identity, and there is a positive emotional bond among members.

How can leaders facilitate the group's progress through Cog's Ladder?

Leaders play a vital role in guiding the group through each stage of Cog's Ladder. They can facilitate progress by:

  • Clearly communicating the group's purpose and goals to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Encouraging open communication and active listening among team members, allowing everyone to contribute their ideas and concerns.
  • Addressing conflicts and disagreements constructively to reach resolutions that benefit the entire group.
  • Recognizing and appreciating individual and collective achievements to boost morale and team spirit.
  • Fostering a positive and inclusive team culture that promotes collaboration and mutual respect.
  • What challenges might groups face during the Power Stage?
During the Power Stage, groups may face challenges related to:
  • Competition for leadership positions and influence, which may lead to power struggles.
  • Differences in opinions and approaches to problem-solving, causing disagreements and potential conflicts.
  • Struggles in establishing clear roles and responsibilities, resulting in confusion and inefficiencies.
  • Managing conflicts and power struggles among members, which can hinder progress and collaboration.

How can groups navigate through the Power Stage effectively?

To navigate through the Power Stage effectively, groups can:

  • Establish a clear decision-making process that ensures everyone's opinions are considered.
  • Encourage open discussions and embrace diverse perspectives to find innovative solutions.
  • Seek common ground and compromise when facing conflicts, focusing on the shared objectives.
  • Encourage leadership based on expertise and skills rather than dominance, fostering a collaborative environment.

Is it necessary for groups to progress through all the stages of Cog's Ladder?

Groups may not necessarily progress through all the stages of Cog's Ladder in a linear manner. Some groups may skip stages or revert to earlier stages if they encounter challenges or experience changes in their dynamics. The progression through the stages depends on various factors, including group composition, leadership style, and the nature of the task or project.

What are the benefits of understanding Cog's Ladder of Group Development?

Understanding Cog's Ladder of Group Development can provide several benefits, including:

  • Helping group members and leaders anticipate and manage challenges at different stages of group development.
  • Facilitating effective team-building and communication strategies to enhance collaboration.
  • Improving group cohesion and teamwork, leading to increased productivity and efficiency.
  • Enhancing group performance by recognizing and addressing potential roadblocks to progress.

How can groups sustain the Esprit Stage over the long term?

To sustain the Esprit Stage over the long term, groups can:

  • Continue to nurture positive relationships and trust among members through team-building activities.
  • Celebrate successes and milestones together to foster a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie.
  • Encourage ongoing learning and professional development, supporting individual growth within the group.
  • Embrace a culture of continuous improvement and adaptability, encouraging innovative ideas and practices.

Can Cog's Ladder be applied to virtual or remote teams?

Yes, Cog's Ladder can be applied to virtual or remote teams as well. Although the dynamics may differ due to the absence of face-to-face interactions, the stages of group development remain relevant in understanding how virtual teams form, collaborate, and mature. Effective communication, virtual team-building activities, and clear goal alignment are crucial for virtual teams to progress through the stages successfully.

About the author

Bianca P Robson, Senior Writer at Business Value-Oriented Principles

Bianca Robson is Managing Director of Robson & Co. Bianca always strives to satisfy both the needs of her employees and to achieve maximum results for her company. Mis Robson believes that a positive business approach, optimal work processes, and careful planning are the most important steps to business success.

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