The Tuckman Model
In 1965, psychologist Bruce Tuckman proposed Tuckman model for the first time. Teams would go through five stages of growth, including forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. These phases are said to begin when the group meets for the first time and last until the project is completed.
As project team leaders embark on managing a group, they should be aware of team dynamics, which affect how teams behave and project managers lead. Bruce Tuckman’s Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing-Adjourning model of group development is a good framework to apply. This model suggests that every team goes through the stages of Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. A project leader should discuss how the group will determine it has moved from one phase to another, perhaps by defining “exit criteria” that indicate when the team has completed a development stage.
In the early stages of a team’s development, the forming of the group takes place. From a work perspective, the group meets, learns about the project, agrees on goals, and then begins working on tasks. From a behavioral perspective, the team members tend to act independently and are on their best behavior. This stage is important because the group gets to know one another and grows more friendly.
Because team members are just getting adjusted to new project tasks and new coworkers, the team leader needs to be directive during the Forming stage.
After leaving the Forming stage, teams enter the Storming stage. In this stage, different ideas and/or approaches compete for consideration by the group. The team members feel more open with one another and confront different ideas and perspectives. During Storming, team members deal with questions that include how the team will function independently and collectively, as well as what leadership model will be adopted. The length of the Storming stage varies by team. The maturity of the group members typically determines when the team moves out of this stage.
During the Storming stage, the team leader should focus on two areas:
- Emphasizing tolerance of team members and their differences
- Continuing to be directive in guiding decision making
After the Storming stage concludes, teams enter the Norming stage. After weathering the conflict of Storming, team members modify their behavior as they develop team-oriented work habits. This results in more natural teamwork. The group begins to build internal trust, and motivation increases as the team becomes more comfortable with the project.
The team leader plays a more participative role than in the earlier stages. With the group members working more cooperatively and effectively, they can be expected to take more responsibility for decision making.
High-performing teams reach what is called the Performing stage, when a team finds ways to accomplish its work effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. Team members become interdependent. Conflict is handled through means that are acceptable to the team.
The team leader plays a participative role during the Performing stage, since the team makes most of the necessary decisions.
As the project comes to a close, teams enter an Adjourning stage that offers a sense of closure for the current project and acts as a stepping-off point for future projects. This completion stage gives team members a chance to recognize their achievements and say goodbye to each other before they move on to new roles and activities. This can be a difficult time for some team members because the relationships that have developed during the project are coming to an end, and practitioners may be beginning new assignments that are not well-defined.
In the Adjourning stage, team leaders may need to rely on their “soft skills” to alleviate concerns and enable team members to appropriately shift their focus to their new activities. Leaders may be called upon to provide guidance to group members and to assist in these transitions, to reduce uncertainty and ensure a smooth progression to subsequent work.
The five stages of Tuckman’s Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing-Adjourning model may seem very obvious when discussed in the abstract. However, working through these phases and recognizing when one has been completed and the next has begun can be difficult. Often, teams want to move directly to the Performing stage without first passing through Forming, Storming, and Norming.
A project manager may especially want to skip over Storming, a stage during which many teams fail. During Storming, team members may have little energy to spend on progressing toward the group’s goals, and project leaders should recognize this instead of chastising their teams. Instead, the project manager should coach team members on working past their differences to help the group complete this stage more smoothly. In fact, one of the positive by-products of Storming is that group members will begin to understand each other. During this time, it may be useful to hold separate one-on-one meetings with team members to gauge how they are feeling. There are no shortcuts in project management, and team performance can suffer if teams ignore or attempt to bypass any stages.
Once the team moves into the Norming phase, the project team leader must be willing to take a more participative management approach. In this stage, the group should be transitioning into more independent decision making. Without the distractions of Storming, the team has more time and energy to spend on the project. Eventually, as the team begins to function more effectively, it will enter the Performing stage.
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