Navigating the COVID Storm — Together

Understanding Group Dynamics to Improve Your Family’s Collaboration and Resilience

By Guest Authors Julea Douglass, Ph.D. and R. Keeth Matheny

Think back to a memorable team experience. It might have been a sports team or a project at work. Every team has its own unique group dynamics

In basketball for instance, each player and the coach are essential to reaching the team goal: scoring points, defending the basket, and ultimately winning the game. Also like basketball, each game is different. New opponents bring new challenges. Teams have to prep for their next game, play to their strengths, and prepare for opposition and opportunities. 

Family Group Dynamics 

Did you realize every family has its own group dynamics? Like sports teams, each family member plays an important, but different, role in contributing to the group dynamic. And those roles change and evolve over time. 

Your role as the parent is different when your children are toddlers than when they are teenagers. And will be different again when they leave home for college and/or a job. If you have multiple kids and/or a spouse, each family member is constantly contributing to evolving roles within the family dynamic. 

During COVID-19 Times

Now imagine you are on a sailboat in the ocean with you and your family members. There is not a boat captain—just you and your family—and you’ve never been on a sailboat before! You’ve seen sailboats on TV, but you’ve never tried to steer one before. This is definitely uncharted territory. COVID-19 effects are a similar kind of curveball, an unexpected twist that requires new skills and strategies.

With mounting concerns about COVID-19 consequences, pressures have been building up worldwide and likely within your family group dynamic. Sharing space, computers, TV, food, and all day and evening can take its toll. You need new skills to navigate this new terrain, and you’ll need to work effectively with your family to weather this storm. 

Tuckman’s Team Development Model

Luckily, there are decades of research in effective team strategies. Your sailboat comes with a guide. Tuckman’s Team Development Model gives insight for your family about what you need to steer your boat and navigate the course ahead. 

The first step to success is a map of where you’ve been and where you’re going. You’ll need this “bird’s eye” view to prepare for your journey (Tuckman’s Team Development Model below).

All teams go through the first two phases of Tuckman’s Team Development Model: 1) forming and 2) storming. Unfortunately, some teams get stuck in “storming” and never make it successfully to 3) norming and 4) performing.  

For your family sailboat to navigate this storm successfully, you are going to need all four phases:

1) Forming: In the first days of a new team or situation, each member is trying to find his or her role within the group and looking to the coach for leadership and teammates for reassurance. 

2) Storming: Inevitably, team members can struggle to feel valued, included, and confident in a new setting. Some members might jockey for the best spots, while others withdraw and underestimate themselves. 

 3) Norming: Here’s where teams can turn it around if they thoughtfully plan how they will treat each other and how they will work together to reach their goal. Without proactive plans, they will fail to get to the next stage.

4) Performing: Together, the team maximizes their abilities and collaborates to reach a shared goal. They are conscious of each other’s needs and all do their best to contribute. They are better together than any of them are on their own. 

Though your family is not a “new team,” you are in a new circumstance (COVID-19) that requires starting at stage 1 (forming) and then very purposefully going through stage 3 (norming) to get to the goal of performing well and creating an environment in which everyone feels supported and valued.

Family Discussion Questions: 

  • Which stage of Tuckman’s Team Development do you think your family is in? And why?
  • What might lead to “storming” in your family dynamic? What are potential unmet needs for you and/or your family members?
  • How have you or could you do to agree on family norms for a) how to treat each other, b) how to share time and space during COVID, and c) how to resolve disagreements?

Family Activity:

  • Try School-Connect’s free EQ @ Home or School lessons. Each lesson includes family discussion questions and activities (

About the Authors: Julea Douglass, Ph.D. & R. Keeth Matheny

Julea Douglass, Ph.D. is co-founder and co-author of School-Connect: Optimizing the High School Experience, a social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum for grades 6–12 (

R. Keeth Matheny is a 20-year teacher, co-author of School-Connect, and founder of SEL Launchpad, a SEL professional development firm that trains and inspires educators nationwide (

About School-Connect: They creates and distributes School-Connect: Optimizing the High School Experience, a research-based middle and high school program for boosting students’ social, emotional and academic skills. They speak nationally on the importance of school connectedness to adolescents’ personal growth and engagement in learning. Learn more!

*CPCK Note: We are so grateful to Julea and Ruldoph Keeth as well as the School-Connect organization for your partnership and collaboration!

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