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Forming - Storming - Norming – Performing

Team development theory.



First proposed in 1965 by Bruce Tuckman, an American psychologist, this has become one of the best-known theories of team development.  Tuckman’s theory focuses on the way in which a team undertakes a project from the initial formation of the team through to completion of the task.



When a team is first brought together there is usually a degree of goodwill between team members; they are keen to create a good impression (particularly on a designated team leader) and will strive to avoid conflict or controversy.  Team members’ behaviour is usually driven by a desire to be accepted by others within the team.  However, team members do not yet know each other or individuals’ capabilities, etc. Neither do they know each other well enough to trust one another.


The focus of the team at this stage is usually project-directed as they set about defining the task, collecting information, making initial plans, etc.


During this phase, individuals are gathering information about the scope of the task and forming opinions about the best way to tackle it.  They are also forming impressions of their fellow team members and trying to gauge what their contribution might be.


At this stage, team leaders need to be quite directive – and team members will usually be co-operative but will tend to act independently.  Although goals may be agreed, the team may not actually achieve very much.




This is the phase where the team really starts to “get down to business” and team members will begin to put forward suggestions regarding the best way to achieve the team’s objectives.  Because these are unlikely to coincide, there is the likelihood of conflict as team members each seek to promote their own ideas.  Tuckman suggests that, although this phase can be a difficult or uncomfortable one, it is a necessary one for the growth and development of the team.


Team members may have formed different concepts of the task to be achieved. They will almost certainly have different ideas about the best way to proceed, the way in which the team will function, individual responsibilities, etc.


Relationships between team members will be made or broken in this phase and, unless it is well managed, this phase can be destructive for the team.  Effective team leaders (and members) will emphasise the need for tolerance and it is often their level of maturity (and emotional intelligence) that determines whether a team moves beyond this phase.


If a team is too focused on achieving consensus, however, they may agree to a plan which “keeps everybody happy” but which is less effective in completing the task.




If teams can agree on a common perception of the task before them and on the ways they will work together, the team moves into this more harmonious phase.  The team becomes more familiar with the project (and feel less threatened by the size of the task – and by each other).


Team members exhibit tolerance towards each other and learn how to work together in harmony.  Clearly defined roles and responsibilities contribute to team members developing trust in each other.


As team members get to know each other better, their views of each other begin to change.  They begin to recognise each other’s professional (and personal) strengths.  Ideally, the team comes to recognise the vital contribution of each member and individuals feel valued.  This leads to increased motivation.  As individual team members take greater responsibility for their part in the project, team leaders can take a step back from the team to become less directive and more participative.


There is a risk that a more settled approach may lead to complacency – and the creative drive that characterised the storming phase may be lost.


Some members may feel overwhelmed by the amount of responsibility they have been given.  This can lead them to revert to storming again.




Performing teams are characterised by high levels of independence, motivation and achievement.  They are the teams that “get the job done” and will often thrive on challenge.  They are able to call upon the range of skills and personal qualities exhibited within the team to cope with new problems.  They are able to self-manage, working without external supervision.


Team members have become interdependent and decision-making is collaborative.  There is a high level of respect between team members, communication is honest and differences are encouraged.  Performing teams recognise that diversity contributes to creative problem solving.


Supervisors of the team during this phase are almost always participative.


However, Tuckman warns that not all teams will reach this phase.  Furthermore, changing circumstances (such as a change of leadership or in the composition of the team) can lead to the team reverting to the storming stage.




Tuckman later recognised another phase of team development during which the project is completed and the team disbanded.


Some teams may experience a kind of "mourning" as they acknowledge the end of an era.  Enlightened managers may arrange for some kind of celebratory event to mark the achievements of the team.  Team members often leave successful projects with fond memories of their experience.


Sometimes a team may move into a transforming phase in which new projects or goals are set and which may involve the team readjusting roles and responsibilities.  This is achieved on the back of the respect that team members have for each other.


The drawback is that such teams frequently do not manage to capture the same "magic" as previously.  This is particularly the case when new members need to be drafted into the team because of their knowledge or expertise.  Although performing teams can transform, in practice the team may revert to the forming or storming stage.




It has been suggested (by Timothy Biggs) that an additional stage be added to Tuckman’s model.  Biggs notes that there is often a stage after forming where the performance of a group gradually improves (without the team having undergone the storming process).


At this point, a “diplomat” or “peace-maker” team leader, satisfied with the level of performance, may prevent the team progressing through the storming phase.  Biggs suggests that this stage could be regarded as “norming” – and the subsequent post-storming phase would then be seen as “re-norming”.



Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing:

Successful Communication in Groups and Teams

Donald B Egolf


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