The Tuckman model of team development describes the stages that groups go through as they mature. By moving from forming, storming, norming, and performing, your team will perform well and produce great work.
Learn how to identify and help your team move through these stages of development to get the best from your team and your projects. This guide works even if you’re working with a virtual team.
What are the 4 stages of team development?
The Tuckman model of team development was developed by Dr. Bruce Tuckman in 1965. He studied teams at Harvard University and found that there are four stages of group development: forming, storming, norming, and performing. In each phase, the group shows certain behavior to help recognize where they may be in the model.
These 4 stages in the framework are still widely used for understanding group development. Team leaders can use this framework to help teams mature for better performance. And because Agile teams are self-guiding teams, this model can be helpful for them, too.
Benefits of Using the Tuckman Model of Team Development
As a team leader, there are good reasons for you to understand Tuckman’s stages of team development. By doing so, you’ll be able to…
- Understand how to manage group dynamics and build effective teams.
- Learn how to create a culture of trust and respect.
- Develop strategies to help teams become more productive and successful.
- Gain insight into what works and what doesn’t when managing teams.
- Understand how to build a team that works well together.
- Learn how to identify and manage conflict.
- Gain insight into the dynamics of group decision-making.
- Develop skills to lead and coach others.
- Learn how teams develop and change.
- Learn how groups are formed and function.
How to Use this Model for your Teams
Use the Tuckman model of team development to assess where your team is in the process and identify the steps to help your team move to the next stage of team development.
Teams go through various stages on the way to becoming high-performing teams. They need leaders who can identify the stage they’re in and help them move forward to reach their potential. It can be messy and challenging. To help the team advance, leaders must fearlessly coach them along. The result is a great team made up of individual members who support one another and create great work together.
Forming stage of Tuckman’s model
In the Forming stage, new members join a team. They’re unsure of their roles and responsibilities. During this stage of team formation, there’s uncertainty and tension among team members.
It starts when teammates first meet one another. Team members are uncertain about who will play which role on the team. This could cause some initial anxiety. But there’s also excitement about the new team and the work they’ll do. The team may feel optimistic and happy to be coming together as a group.
Characteristics of the forming phase:
- Team members depend on the leader for guidance.
- Members are not clear on their roles and responsibilities.
- Team dynamics are not established.
- The leader provides lots of information about the team’s goals and objectives.
Do this to help your team move through the Forming stage:
- Your team needs clarity on what you’ll be doing. Provide information about the work, and how the team will work together.
- The team needs to build rapport and relationships. Don’t rush into executing your project or solution. Instead, spend some time helping the team get to know one another. Use icebreakers and team-building activities. Spend time face-to-face to help the team learn about one another and build relationships. If the team is remote, use video chat or video meetings to help team members learn more about one another more quickly.
Storming Stage of Tuckman’s Model
In the Storming phase, team members question the purpose of the team and whether they should continue working together. They also disagree with each other. They may even argue and criticize one another. Individual personalities may clash as team members assert their opinions and working styles.
They’ll also have lots of questions during the storming stage about the work and rely heavily on team leaders for guidance.
The group will likely get frustrated with one another as they work out the team dynamics. This is normal and a healthy team will work this out with respectful communication and gain a better understanding of one another and the work.
Do this to help your team move through the Storming stage:
- Create a psychologically safe space for team members to share thoughts and ideas.
- Stay calm during arguments. Focus on listening carefully to understand why certain points were made. Try to find common ground rather than focusing on differences. Remember that every person brings something unique to the table. By respecting those differences, you can encourage collaboration instead of competition.
- Encourage team members to communicate with one another. This helps them better understand one another. By getting clear on thoughts and expectations, they’ll work together and collaborate more easily.
- It’s critical to build trust during this phase. Establish ground rules for communicating respectfully. Make sure everyone gets to share their ideas and opinions. Conflict can be productive and helpful, so don’t jump in to stop discussion every time team members disagree. Pay attention and make sure team members communicate in a healthy and respectful manner.
- Remind the team that you’re working towards a common goal to build cohesion.
Norming Stage of Tuckman’s Model
Norming is the third stage. Here, team members begin to get along better and trust each other. They develop shared values and goals.
In the norming phase, most conflicts should subside. Group members work better with each other and get along much better. Team members are now comfortable enough to share ideas and opinions without fear of being criticized. This means that everyone contributes.
The group also develops behavior expectations about what’s acceptable. People who don’t conform to those standards risk losing status or respect.
Team members reach consensus more easily. The team is unified and team members respect one another. During conflicts, there’s no need to resort to power plays or threats.
The group understands team expectations, and members are clear on the roles and responsibilities within the group.
Do this to help your team move through the Norming stage:
- Provide constructive feedback to team members on performance. Ask for feedback in ways you can continue to support the group and individual members.
- Continue building relationships among team members. Spend quality time with your colleagues outside of work, if possible. This might mean finding time during the workday to talk about things other than work.
- Continue to learn new things and grow. Encourage group members to do the same. For example, attend conferences, read books, or take courses.
- As the leader, help the team continue to collaborate and facilitate when needed.
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Performing Stage of Tuckman’s Model
When everyone is fully engaged in what needs doing, the team has reached the last stage: performing. You have a high-performing team that works well together.
When performing at its best, a team has reached the peak of productivity. Everyone is working toward common goals while maintaining trust and respect. Conflict resolution is easier since there are fewer misunderstandings.
Team members commit to each other and to achieving success together.
They’re ready to tackle any challenges that come along. And if there are problems, they have the skills needed to solve them. They don’t rely as much on leadership for guidance.
Do this to keep your team performing
- As a leader, ensure that your team remains focused on their goals and objectives. Don’t allow distractions to derail progress.
- Keep up with current events and trends. Stay informed about industry changes and technological advances.
- Remember that no matter how good your team gets, there will always be room for improvement.
Tuckman determined the 4 stages of group development. But there’s now a fifth stage – the adjourning stage. Tuckman and his doctoral student, Mary Ann Jensen, added this step in 1977. It occurs when groups disband or dissolve, and may happen at the end of your project. Adjourning teams often have trouble transitioning back to individual roles after spending months together in a cohesive unit.
Do this to facilitate the transition to the Adjourning Phase
- Consider having discussions where individuals discuss what worked well and what did not.
- Celebrate success! Celebrate milestones by taking photos, making videos, writing blogs, sending emails, etc.
- Show off your accomplishments to others. They will appreciate knowing that you recognize their hard work.
Teams naturally move through various stages of team development as they mature into high-performing teams. As a team leader, understanding the Tuckman Model of team development can help you intentionally move your teams forward for great performance.
By understanding the characteristics of each phase of Bruce Tuckman’s model, project managers can observe group behavior to identify where teams are and help move them forward. This is true whether you’re working with a traditional waterfall team or an Agile team to improve team performance.