If you’ve ever taken a class or read a book on team development, you’re probably familiar with Tuckman’s stages of group development: forming, storming, norming, and performing (Smith 2005). According to this model, successful teams move through stages of group development on their way to becoming high performance teams. Within each stage lies both interpersonal and task challenges that the team, guided by the team leader, must effectively manage before moving on to the next stage.
The new and improved model
Although I’ve found this model useful, I’ve taken the liberty of tweaking Tuckman’s model to enhance its applicability to groups, teams, and their leaders. My change, described below, differs primarily in the third stage, where I’ve divided norming into two separate stages: good norming and bad norming. I’m calling this new version, Tuckman Tweaked: A Revised Model of Group Development.
The Forming Stage
According to Tuckman, the forming stage is the first phase of team development. As the name implies, much of what goes on at this early stage has to do with forming the team, both in terms of relationship building and in task development and implementation. All teams experience the forming stage in one manner or another. Typically, a new team in the early stages of development, would fall into this category.
As you can see in Figure 1, the forming stage often includes an initial level of excitement and anticipation among team members. This accounts for the artificially high positioning of the forming stage on the Relationship axis. However, don’t be fooled; it is too early to see people’s true personalities or group dynamics. It is very common for team members in the forming stage to be on their best behavior with one another. In fact, typically there is little disagreement at this stage, let alone much testing of individuals or the team leader. This is because in the forming stage team members are still assessing the team and their role within it.
It is also possible for an experienced team in any of the advanced stages to return to forming, particularly when there are changes in team membership, or changes in the roles within the team.
What teams want to know in the Forming Stage
- There is a plan and they have a role within that plan
- Specific performance expectations
- How they fit in within the group
- Rules of group membership
- A competent team leader is leading the group
In other words, they need to know that their ship has a direction, a purpose, a place for them, and a skilled captain at the helm to lead them.
Once teammates are comfortable with one another over a period of time and have clarity on their roles, responsibilities, and tasks, they naturally will gravitate towards the next stage: storming.
What could prevent a team from moving beyond Forming?
Not all teams are destined to move beyond the forming stage. Here are some of the reasons why:
- High turnover
- No effort given to building relationships
- Infrequent meetings
- Virtual team with little to no interaction
- Micro-managing team leader fosters a dependency on him/herself
- Team members primarily work independently of each other
- Immature teams
- No direction or leadership
The Storming Stage
As negative as the word “storming” might sound, it is a very natural phase of group development and one that should be encouraged. As Figure 1 indicates, once the novelty of being on a new team diminishes, so, too, can the excitement around the relationships (and sometimes also around the work itself). This is because the more comfortable team members get with one another, the more their natural personalities and behaviors emerge, often revealing dramatic differences in everything from work ethic, to personality quirks, to opinions, and even to affiliations within the group. As a result, these differences between members become more prevalent, causing greater friction, strife, and conflict.
What teams want to know in the Storming Stage
- The team leader is not afraid of conflict
- There is a process to address and resolve differences
- There is no tolerance for dysfunctional or destructive behavior
- The team leader and the team are committed to creating an environment that fosters teamwork and open communication
- Education, training, and teambuilding will be provided to help team members develop the skill sets to work and play together effectively
- Everybody on the team is held to the same standards of excellence
The significance of the Storming Stage
A team’s ability or inability to effectively address and resolve disagreement and conflict will determine whether they move into what I am calling the “good norming” or “bad norming” stage. In many ways, the storming stage tests the resolve of the team and the team leader to become a high-performance team. Teams that are able to effectively manage conflict, move through storming to good norming and eventually on to performing. Conversely, those teams that don’t effectively manage conflict, can get stuck in the bad norming stage. Team development stalls, which leads to dysfunction and decay.
What could prevent a team from moving beyond Storming
- A conflict-averse team leader
- Hot-button issues that have gone unaddressed for long periods of time
- Team members not invested in becoming a high-performance team
- Lack of open communication
- Team prefers superficial to authentic relationships
- Team lacks the ability and skill set to talk through conflict
- Team has no real incentive to resolve issues
- Team is overly dependent on the leader
The Bad Norming Stage
Teams that are unable to address or work through critical issues, conflict, or relationship dynamics, move into bad norming. In bad norming, interpersonal relationships become strained, dysfunctional norms evolve, subgroups and self-protective behaviors emerge, and the team leader’s ability to lead will decline. Because the team leader is primarily responsible for the team even slipping into the bad norming stage, it is not unusual to see a widening gap develop between the team leader and his/her team in this stage.
Example behaviors of a team stuck in the Bad Norming Stage
- Team members talk about other team members rather than to each other
- Team leader refuses to handle a problem within the team and tells the complaining team member to mind his/her own business
- Team is made up of two or three cliques who refuse to cooperate with each other, except on a very minimal level
- Team members are so apprehensive about bringing up issues that they’d rather avoid them or sweep them under the rug
What teams want to know in the Bad Norming Stage
- The problems within their team are either being addressed or will be addressed
- The team leader is accountable for his/her share of the situation
- The organization is aware of the problem and committed to resolving it
- The status quo is viewed as unacceptable by team members
- Team and team leader are willing to do whatever it takes to turn the situation around
When teams enter the bad norming stage, one of two things usually happen: 1) The team stays stuck in that stage and eventually has to be replaced, dissolved or in part dismantled; or 2) They fix whatever needs to be fixed by going back to storming and then hopefully on to good norming.
As Figure 1 shows, a team in bad norming cannot simply move to good norming without first going back through the storming stage. This means that the team needs to be prepared to address, correct, and resolve the very issues that caused them to move into bad norming in the first place. Sometimes this calls for outside intervention, and also may entail potential dismissals of team members or the team leader.
What could prevent a team from moving out of Bad Norming
- Continued fear of conflict
- Team members unwilling to go back to the storming stage to revisit unresolved issues
- Teams that have become comfortable with the dysfunction
- Distrust in the team leader’s ability to lead
- Team’s dysfunction has become too entrenched
- Team truly needs to have a member terminated but the organization refuses to acknowledge or act
- Team is still able to meet its productivity goals, in spite of the dysfunction
- Team leader denies any problem exists
- Organization refuses to intervene
The Good Norming Stage
A team can successfully storm its way to good norming by effectively addressing issues and working through conflicts. Once in good norming, the synergistic team quickly gains its balance and enters this tranquil phase as everything begins to settle into place. Team members find standard ways to do routine things, they drop the power plays and grandstanding, and everyone makes a conscious effort to work together. The newly formed norms are constructive in nature and foster teamwork and open communication.
What teams want to know in the Good Norming Stage
- Team members can build on their successes from the storming stage
- Team members can continue to raise issues and address disagreement and conflict
- The team leader’s level of trust and confidence in the team grows, giving way to a coaching and empowering leadership style
- Team members are able to take on greater roles and responsibilities within the team
- There will be a continued commitment to teambuilding, and ongoing efforts to enhance relationships
- New and exciting challenges await the team as it moves forward
- The team and team leader are committed to moving on to the performing stage
What could prevent a team from moving beyond Good Norming
- Comfort level with the present team atmosphere or unwillingness to “rock the boat” by bringing up new concerns or problems
- Team leader eases up on continuous improvement efforts
- Team members are not invested in becoming a high-performance team
- Individual efforts and accomplishments gradually become more important than the efforts and accomplishments of the team
The Performing Stage
In this fourth phase, the team goes about its business with smooth self-confidence. By now, team members have learned to disagree constructively, take measured risks, make adjustments and trade-offs, and apply their full energy to a variety of challenges. Each team member also takes on greater responsibility within the team, making it more and more difficult to know who the actual team leader is anymore. But what really distinguishes a team in the performing stage is the overriding commitment level that each member has to both the team results and to each other.
It’s important to note that reaching the performing phase doesn’t mean smooth sailing forevermore. A team can experience a stormy period at any time—when it’s under unusual pressure, for example, or when things aren’t going as well as expected. The team may even temporarily return to the forming stage if it adds or loses members or when roles change. But what distinguishes a team in the performing stage from other teams is that they have the experience and the first-hand knowledge of what it takes to move through each stage in order to get back into performing. And what’s more, they are able to apply those lessons to any challenge or setback they may face.
What teams want to know in the Performing Stage
- Team leader is willing to delegate and further empower team members
- There is a team and organizational commitment for ongoing professional and personal development
- Team members are willing to take on greater responsibility within the team
- New and exciting challenges will continue to come their way
What could prevent a team from staying in the Performing Stage
- A significant change in membership, i.e., an influential member or the team leader leaves
- An unresolved conflict emerges that divides the team
- Team structure gives way to a more traditional work group format
- New team leader takes over and does not gel with the team
- Team feels neglected or abused by the organization
The Ending Stage
Tuckman later added a fifth phase, adjourning, that involves completing the task and breaking up the team. I prefer to use the term ending since adjourning infers that the team has decided to call it quits. In reality, a team can experience an ending at any time, and not necessarily by their own choosing.
What teams want to know in the Ending Stage
- Reason(s) the ending has occurred
- What happens next
- There is an opportunity to celebrate and/or put closure on the team
- Lessons learned are explored
- The team’s contributions were appreciated by the organization
What could prevent a team from having an effective Ending Stage
- The team experiences an abrupt ending with no closure
- Lack of communication between the team leader and the team about what happens next
- Failure to assess the team’s performance and lessons learned
- Lack of appreciation
Some final thoughts
The purpose of the Tuckman Tweaked model is to provide an additional framework for analysis and discussion on group development. I want to emphasize that this is a fluid model; meaning that teams can move back and forth through the various stages. It is also a dynamic model where a team as a whole could be in one stage while a subset within the team could be at an entirely different stage. This is why team members may not always agree as to which stage their team is currently residing.
Smith, M. K. (2005) ‘Bruce W. Tuckman – forming, storming, norming and performing in groups, the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/tuckman.htm. Last updated: November 16, 2006.