Groups and teams go through predictable stages as they come together and work towards shared goals. In 1965, psychologist Bruce Tuckman published his forming-storming-norming-performing model that explained how groups develop. Understanding these group development stages can help leaders better guide their teams through each phase.
Stage 1 - Forming
This first stage is characterized by orientation and exploration. Team members are brought together, often unsure about the group's purpose, structure, and leadership. There are tentative attachments as people get to know one another. Performance is limited as goals, roles, and responsibilities are still unclear. The leader provides direction by outlining the mission, objectives, and ground rules.
Stage 2 - Storming
Next is the storming phase, which is marked by conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues. There are struggles for leadership and disagreement over priorities or procedures. Cliques form, and there may be power struggles. This stage can be contentious as some team members resist the requirements of the group task. However, conflict can help further define roles. The leader coaches' members through this turbulent phase.
Stage 3 - Norming
In the norming stage, in-fighting is replaced with greater cohesion and collaboration. Consensus begins to form regarding the team's goals, structure, and working style. Processes are established as norms for getting the work done. Members listen to each other and find common ground. They respond more positively to constructive criticism. Respect develops, and the team pulls together. The leader can delegate more while facilitating participation.
Stage 4 - Performing
Teams reach the performing stage when hard work leads to progress towards the shared objectives. The structures and processes established in the norming stage help optimize group efficiency. Members fulfill their roles, understand each other, and collaborate smoothly. Cohesiveness, morale, and productivity are high during this stage. The leader can focus less on management as the team becomes self-motivating and self-directing.
Stage 5 - Adjourning
Tuckman later added a final stage of adjourning or mourning when the team project ends and the group disbands. Some reflection on the experience is useful both for individuals and organizationally. Team members may feel a sense of loss and want to mark the end. The leader can acknowledge achievements and facilitate this transition.
For groups to fully advance through these stages takes time. Recognizing these development phases can empower leaders to shepherd teams through periods of confusion, conflict, and ultimately, greater cohesion and performance. Consciously moving groups towards higher maturity enables teams to achieve optimal effectiveness.