Tuckman’s Model of Team Development and Dynamics


“Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing."

– Warren Bennis, Ph.D., "On Becoming a Leader"

Effective teamwork is fundamental in today’s world, more so in the modern business world where, for most companies today, the physical barriers of office space – even the almighty cubicle – have practically disappeared to give way to open floor plans set up to maximize group interaction. However, as you’ll know from the teams you have belonged to or led, new teams do not perform at high levels right from the start. Building a team takes time as the team evolves from a bunch of strangers to a united group with a common goal.

Whether your team is a temporary working group, a virtual team or a newly-formed, permanent team, understanding the stages they’ll go through in this journey, will help you create a more integrated, productive and performing team.

Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing

In 1965, psychologist Bruce Tuckman, came up with the Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing model of group development. Tuckman maintained that these phases are necessary in order for a team to grow, as they face challenges, find solutions and plan work in order to deliver exceptional results. Tuckman’s model describes the path to high-performance through a staged development model to which Tuckman later added a fifth stage called "Adjourning” (in the 1970’s).

In short, the stages of Tuckman’s model are:

  • Forming –team members are introduced
  • Storming –the team transitions from “as is”to “to be”
  • Norming –the team reaches consensus on the “to be”process
  • Performing –the team has settled its relationships and expectations
  • Adjourning –the team shares the improved processes with others

These stages seem obvious but it is not always easy to identify in which stage a particular team is at any given moment. Neither is it simple to completely move from one stage to the next.

One of the most common issues teams face, is that participants want to move to the Performing stage without first going through the first three stages. The Forming stage is simple enough. The Storming stage, however, is where the complexities of human behavior mostly present themselves and, many times is the cause of the team’s failure. Performing seems easy once the storming process is complete and successful.

As with any staged process, one of the most common issues is how to identify when a stage is complete. Is it when:

  • The team members agree that the stage is complete?
  • The team coach agrees the stage is complete?
  • The team simply moves on to the next stage?

Another important question is whether or not all team members should be made aware of the team forming dynamic. If they are, perhaps it’s best to clearly define each stage’s exit criteria in advance. If not, then at least the team leader should define for himself stage goals and exit criteria, so that he can spot either when the team has moved to another stage or when he can move the team to another stage.

Forming

Teams initially go through the "forming" stage in which team members are positive and polite. Behavior is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, which avoids controversy or conflict. Serious issues and feelings are avoided, and people focus on more routine work (team organization, who does what, when to meet). Team members are also gathering information and impressions about each other, about the scope of the task and how to approach it. This is a comfortable stage to be in, but by avoiding conflict not much actually gets done. Roles at this stage are usually unclear except for the role of the team leader. As such, team members tend to behave quite independently. They may be motivated but are usually relatively uninformed of the issues and objectives and tend to focus on themselves rather than the team’s goals.

In short, this is the “polite” stage, when the team members first come together. This stage is usually fairly short, and may only last for the single meeting at which people are introduced to one-another. Everyone is trying to figure out what the team concept is and the team is usually positive in the initial meetings, with feelings such as:

  • Excitement, anticipation and optimism
  • Pride in being chosen for the project
  • Suspicion and anxiety about the job
  • A tentative attachment to the team

Hints for team leaders:

  • Setup team objectives clearly;
  • You usually need to be directive during this phase;
  • Consider sharing information about Tuckman’s model with the team so that when conflict arises during the Storming phase, team members can relate back to the model.

Leadership Style:

  • Directing

Storming

After the “honeymoon” phase, the team will enter the “Storming” phase where ideas compete for consideration. During this phase, the problem domain is clearly established as is how the team will function and how decisions will be made. Some teams address these topics directly and assertively and quickly move to the next phase. Other teams never leave this stage. Team member maturity can be instrumental during this stage in helping the team move on. Silent leaders may be clashing for control during this stage. As ideas are confronted and clash, disagreement may lead team members to blame and question the team concept. If the team gets too hung up on internal discussions and bickering, team members may have little energy to progress toward the team’s goals.

During this stage, team members often experience feelings such as:

  • Defensiveness or competitiveness;
  • Disunity, increased tension or jealousy;
  • Sharp fluctuations in attitude about the team and the team’s chance of success;
  • Questioning the decisions and decision-makers involved in selecting the project and (the other) team members;

Hints for team leaders:

  • Use a mix of team and individual coaching to get team members to work out their differences;
  • Assert your leadership;
  • Watch out for the feelings identified above and the different ways they may manifest themselves (these might include resisting taking on tasks, resisting suggestions by other members, arguing and bickering while agreeing on fundamental issues or setting unrealistic goals);
  • Be positive but firm in the face of challenges to your leadership

Leadership Style:

  • Coaching

Norming

After a few “stormy” interactions, where team members start to get to know each other, with the proper leadership teams move to the norming phase as they get more confortable and become more productive working together. Team members are able to ask each other for help and provide constructive criticism. The team develops a stronger commitment to the team goal and actively works towards it.

Teams will inevitably bounce back and forth between the “Storming” and the “Norming” stages whenever issues arise. These, however, will dwindle as the team matures and becomes increasingly independent. A team in this stage still requires leadership, but you can start to delegate some tasks more confidently. This will allow leaders to surface in specific areas.

During this stage, team members often experience:

  • Friendliness and trust towards other team members;
  • Confidence in the team goals;
  • Team cohesion and spirit;
  • Pride and sense of belonging to the team;

Hints for team leaders:

  • Start delegating some tasks;
  • Nurture natural leaders;
  • Help the team take responsibility for working towards the common goal;
  • Consider organizing a social or a team-building event to increase team cohesion;

Leadership Style:

  • Participating

Performing

Teams that mature past the Norming stage become a high performance team. Such teams can be given new projects or tasks (in fact, they may even look for new projects by themselves) and very seldom fall into the “storming” phase. When they do, they are able to resolve differences effectively and quickly, so the team makes fast progress towards it’s goals supported by the structures and processes that have been set up. Individual team members may join or leave the team without affecting the performance culture. Being part of the team feels easy at this point compared to earlier stages. There is no set time frame for reaching this stage. Some teams will reach it within 4 to 6 months, while others may take longer. Some teams might never reach this point before they are adjourned.

During this stage, team members often experience:

  • Constructive self-change;
  • Deep sense of belonging;
  • Understanding of each others strengths and weaknesses;
  • Self-organization of work;

Hints for team leaders:

  • Delegate all work you sensibly can;
  • Focus on developing team members;

Leadership Style:

  • Delegating

Adjourning

Breaking up a team can be stressful for all concerned and the "adjourning" stage is important in solidifying team goals and reaching personal conclusions. During this stage, it is important for the team to brief and share their improved processes with the rest of the organization. It’s not uncommon for team members to maintain a close relationship long after the team disbands.

During this stage, team members often experience:

  • A bittersweet sense of accomplishment;
  • Reluctance to leave the team;
  • Uncertainty about future roles or jobs;

Hints for team leaders:

  • Make the wrap up of the team and it’s accomplishments memorable for the team – wrapping up is important to build a sense of closure and of achievement;
  • Make time for individual wrap-ups;

Final Thoughts

Teams can achieve more than each team member individually. Being part of a high-performance team can be extremely rewarding, but it requires time and commitment to get to that stage. As a team leader, it’s your job to help your team reach and sustain high-performance, but there is no quick and easy way to go about it and you’ll have to adapt your behavior and your leadership style to the different challenges presented at each stage. Remember that ultimately you can’t decree a performance culture upon your team – the team as a whole will have to go through the stages itself. Your role is to be aware of the challenges the team will face and support the team throughout this journey.

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7 Responses to Tuckman’s Model of Team Development and Dynamics

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  7. awesome!
    Leadership also includes looking for leadership potential and plan in others.

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