In my Training Tips Thursday post last week I wrote about different facilitation styles or modes of facilitation. Towards the end of the post I mentioned that the stage of learning the group were at or where they were in their group life may affect the facilitation mode you are in as a trainer.

Life of a Group

Bruce Tuckman first developed a model in 1965 about the stages a group will go through during their time together or during the life of the group. These stages are:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing


This is when the group comes together. They are getting to know each other a little bit and are starting to get on with the task at hand.


This is when there could start to be some conflict within the group (the storm) or a lack of participation. Group members try to identify what position they should hold in the group and accept the task they have to carry out.


This is when the group start to gel. They have found their roles, they are accepting of the work they have to do and they can see a way forward.


Now that all is good within the group and they have dealt with that, they can now focus on the task at hand. They are in the right mind set to engage in the activity or the learning, whatever the purpose of the group is.

Group Stage and Facilitation Mode

This is how I feel group stage and facilitation mode relate to each other:

Forming  – Hierarchical/Authoritarian – When the group have just formed they will be looking for someone to tell them what they should be doing, set the task and the guidelines and give them the knowledge they need.

Storming – Co-operative/Democratic – While the group are trying to establish roles and how best to approach the task then they will need to be able to discuss their feelings and thoughts but they will also need guidance through this process and perhaps an impartial voice and someone to give suggestions who is not directly a member of the group.

Norming – Co-operative/Democratic – This is where a trainer may still need a little input but will be starting to move to a more autocratic mode as the learners move out of the storm and become comfortable within their roles and the way they are working and learning.

Performing – Autonomous/Laissez-faire – The group of learners are now able to get on with the task at hand without any input from you as a trainer, so you can take a step back.

There will be times that groups revisit the storming and norming stages or when it is appropriate to start a new activity or piece of learning so you need to be aware of when you will need to occupy the other modes again in the future.

Stages of Learning

Many people have referred to four stages of learning. Who can really take credit for this theory is open to much discussion as you can see in this article but what I am going to focus on today is how it relates to training delivery. The four stages of learning are:

  • Unconscious Incompetence –  You don’t know what you don’t know.
  • Conscious Incompetence – You know you don’t know something.
  • Conscious Competence – You now know the thing but it doesn’t come naturally and you are very conscious of doing it.
  • Unconscious Competence – You know it so well you don’t even think about it anymore.

When this theory was first taught to me it was described from the point of view of learning to drive:

  • At one point as a child you had no concept that you couldn’t drive a car. Other people drove you and you probably thought one day, when you’re bigger, you will do it too.
  • As you get older you realise you want to be able to drive and it take lots of time to learn. You have your first lesson and you stall the car more times than you can remember, can barely turn left and the instructor grabs the wheel and uses their break a number of times. You are painfully aware you can’t drive.
  • As the lessons progress you realise you can do it. You pass your test and when you go out by yourself for the first time you are having to concentrate on every thing you do. Don’t forget to look in the mirror. Don’t forget to indicate. Feed the wheel. Hands at ten to two.
  • Then, sometime down the line you drive from work to home and, scarily, you barely remember the journey. You can drive without thinking about it.

In all of the training we are doing we are imparting knowledge to our learners, whether that is in practical skills or knowledge. I’m developing a WordPress training course at the moment. At the start of the course some of my learners won’t know how to put a new blog post onto their website. Hopefully, a couple of months after they have completed the course they will be putting new blog posts out each week with fantastic header images and links to other websites without having to give a second thought to which buttons they have clicked on etc. In between those two phases they will still have been doing it but they may have been checking their notes to help them at first and then muttering the process to themselves every time they click to do something, before getting to the point where it’s a natural routine for them.

To get them to that place, the learner needs the right style of training delivery for each stage of learning they are at.

Learning Stage and Facilitation Mode

Unconscious Incompetence – Hierarchical/Authoritarian – They need to be informed about what they don’t know.

Conscious Incompetence – Hierarchical/Authoritarian – They need to be told or shown how to do something.

Conscious Competence – Co-operative/Democratic – The learner is at the stage where they can do it but need you there for reassurance or to ask questions of.

Unconscious Competence – Autonomous/Laissez-faire – The learner has got it and you can step back but if things change, maybe laws or best practice in their field of work changes, they may not be aware of this. It is your role as a trainer to inform them of this so you may work with them again down the line in one of the other modes again.


So many areas of learning seem to fit into a cycle which is why it is important that we keep reviewing our delivery and making sure it is right for the group. We need to work with our learners to review their learning to identify what type of input is right for them for them to develop in the best way possible. And if we are working with groups it is just as important to review how well the group is working as it is to review their learning.

Next Week

In my next Training Tips Thursday post I am going to look at dealing with conflict as a trainer or facilitator.