Bruce Tuckman is known for producing the single most quoted models of group development way back in the 1960s. But what held true then still has importance to team models today. Learning about these different stages and where your team fits into the grand scheme of things will help you work and grow together as a single unit. Here are the basics.
What started out as a four-stage model (the original forming, storming, norming, performing sequence) was supplemented by a fifth stage, adjourning, a little more than 10 years after the original publication of the developmental process. When viewed together, these stages can be tough to recognize from within the team, but the implications of the group’s phases can be highly impactful to the collaboration efforts and successes of the group. If people can develop that extra self-awareness to understand where they are in the series, it is possible to increase group effectiveness and functioning.
Tuckman describes this initial phase of a group’s development as the point where “groups initially concern themselves with orientation accomplished primarily through testing.” These testing behaviors help individuals identify the boundaries of their tasks and their interpersonal relationships. At the same time, dependency relationships are established between leaders and group members, and group members amongst themselves. This orientation and figuring out where each member fits into the larger structure of the group is essentially the process of “forming” a team.
The second phase, called “storming,” refers to a period of conflict and polarization usually based on interpersonal issues and emotional responses relating to tasks and responsibilities. This can be a disruptive time in your team’s development, but keep in mind that it’s just a phase and is a natural part of a group’s growth.
Once the period of resistance is overcome, and a feeling of cohesiveness develops, your group has reached Tuckman’s “norming” stage. At this time, new standards evolve and new roles are adopted. Personal opinions are better expressed and tasks are generally accomplished with little struggle. Team members are better able to get comfortable in their roles and gain confidence in their ability to work together.
This leads to the “performing” stage of group development. Roles become more flexible and functional for the good of the team. Group energy is fully channeled into accomplishing the tasks set before them. All structural issues have been resolved and hierarchy is supportive of task performance.
The fifth stage is one which addresses group dissolution, entailing the termination of roles, the completion of tasks, and overall reduction of dependency. This stage of “adjourning” is also considered to be one of mourning, as the feeling of loss is sometimes felt by former participants.
Where Are You?
It’s important to recognize where in this series of developmental stages your group currently resides, because that knowledge can highlight specific challenges and provide better understanding to issues as they occur.
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