Ever heard of Bruce Tuckman’s Group Development model?
We wont blame you if you haven’t, it also goes by another name: The Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing sequence. That one’s slightly catchier but probably still not all too familiar to most people. In short, it was Tuckman’s way of describing the different stages a group goes through as it forms. If you’re aware of the different stages, it can help you predict behaviours as they arise, and know how to support the positive ones and stamp out those which will not contribute well to group morale and function.
Here are the different phases:
When a team is first created, the forming of the team takes place. This is a very important stage, where people begin to make friends, exchange some information, and set themselves up in relation to others. Individual behaviour is driven by a need to be accepted by others, and initially controversy and conflict is avoided as everyone is on their best behaviour. The main focus tends to be on routines, and setting up administrative tasks like meeting times. Not too much actually gets done, because the individual members aren’t yet completely aware of what the project will entail.
What to do during this phase: Habits set up now will stick. Encourage positive interactions, set the standard for good etiquette and make sure that anything you’d like to happen regularly is set up as a routine now. Now is also a good time to observe your team members, how they behave under pressure and in a new situation.
The storming stage is next in the group formation. In some cases it can be resolved quickly, and in others teams might stay in this stage for the duration of the project. Storming happens when different ideas compete for consideration and team members begin to address what kind of leadership model they will use. This stage can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful, especially to those who don’t like conflict. It’s also completely necessary for growth. Team members must open up and confront each other’s ideas and perspectives.
What to do during this phase: Acceptance and tolerance is so important during this stage. Some people will really struggle with the conflict, and will need extra support. A strong leader should be able to support and guide the team through, without making them feel judged. Ideally everyone will feel comfortable enough to share their views and members will be able to participate with one another and resolve differences, in order to get to the best possible solution.
The team manages to have one goal and come to a mutual plan for the team at this stage. Some may have to give up their own ideas and agree with others to make the team function. In this stage, all team members take responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the team’s goals. The danger here is that members may be so focused on preventing conflict that they are reluctant to share controversial ideas.
What to do during this phase: Encourage discussion to continue. It’s vital to come to some agreements and the ‘common goal’ stage is often people’s favourite, but it’s important to keep challenging one another and make sure no one is just agreeing for the sake of keeping peace.
Not all teams reach this stage, but high-performing teams can function as a unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. By this time, they are motivated and knowledgeable. The team members are now competent, autonomous and able to handle the decision-making process without supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channelled through means acceptable to the team.
What to do during this phase: The team will make most of the necessary decisions, so the supervisor’s role will be more of a participatory one. Here it’s important to continue monitoring the people in your team and watch for anything that might need addressing, but essentially let them get on with the job.
So there you have it – Forming, Storming, Norming and then hopefully… Performing.
Teams might move back and forth through the cycle if circumstances change. For example, a new leader might throw the team back into ‘Storming’ as they figure out the new dynamics and the kind of leadership they’ll accept. Knowing what each stage looks like will mean that as a leader, you can efficiently recognise them and support your team through its development, and into full productivity.
Have you ever watched a team go through these stages? Any learnings you’d like to share?