The Tuckman Model of Team Development

William Meller - The Tuckman Model of Team Development

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman described how teams move through stages known as forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.

Maybe it is possible to say that has never been a time of greater conflict between members of newly formed teams than during today’s world of huge corporate change, where relationships are made and changed so fast.

Effective teams take time to develop, right? 

It is rare that a group of people can come together and begin to perform immediately. 

The most common is that teams go through a series of different levels before effectiveness is achieved.

William Meller - The Tuckman Model of Team Development
Image: Big Ideas Simply Explained - The Business Book

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman identified four stages of development – forming, storming, norming, and performing - that every team experiences. In 1977, Tuckman, jointly with Mary Ann Jensen, added a fifth stage to the four stages: adjourning

The team growth framework suggests that unless the issues of processes and feelings have been satisfactorily addressed, it is unlikely that the team will reach the most productive final fifth stage.

As all stages have their own focus, they also correspond to a different set of feelings, behaviors, and group tasks. 
William Meller - The Tuckman Model of Team Development
Image: Okpalad, based on Tuckman and Jensen

Forming: In the first stage of the group development, a new team is formed and everyone in this team shows their best attitude, trying to build a polite atmosphere. From a leader's perspective, strong guidance is needed, considering that the objective and goals of the team are not clear yet. 

Storming: In the second stage, some guidance is needed by the leader to help the team starts to gain trust in each other, but some lack of progress could be common and frustration with the goals not being achieved are common, where some conflicts occur. They start to learn about individual working styles and what it is like to work with each other as a team.

Norming: Just in the third stage, the team members start to agree on their differences, appreciate others' strengths, and respect the guidance of the leader. Resolved disagreements and personality clashes result in greater intimacy, and a spirit of cooperation emerges

Performing: With some team norms and roles established, group members focus on achieving common goals, often reaching some level of success as a team. Team confidence makes team roles more fluid and more tasks can be delegated by the leader.

Adjourning: When all tasks are completed, it’s a moment to celebrate the team’s positive goals achieved. Letting go of the group structure after long periods of intensive team work can also generate uncertainty for individual team members, once that involves completing the task and breaking up the team.

William Meller - The Tuckman Model of Team Development
Image by Rebecca Nestor for Aurora, 2013

The team also needs to be trained in how to resolve its inevitable conflicts during the storming phase of the Tuckman Model. The team will use its knowledge of conflict resolution to come up with agreements and rules for the norming phase of the model.

The problem is that all these team formation models assume leaders build their teams from scratch, carefully choosing members and setting direction and goals very clearly from the very beginning, which we know is not the reality.

Many factors determine how quickly a team will evolve towards effectiveness including its size, geographical spread, frequency and duration of meetings, the synergy of team types, stability of team membership, external influences, and time pressures, and the nature of its activities.

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