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No.17: Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development

This fundamental model of group development was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965, who maintained that there were four phases with distinct characteristics when a group of people, or a team, meet to interact or work together on a project. These phases or stages – Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing – are necessary and inevitable for the team to develop, to face challenges, solve problems, to plan its work, and deliver results. In a later development, a fifth phase, Adjourning (or sometimes, Mourning), was added to extend the model for when the team has finished their purpose and will disband.

Forming – Phase 1

In this initial phase, the different individuals have just met and so there may be lack of confidence in how much of “oneself” one should share. The level of trust between individuals may be quite low. To be able to function well, there needs to be a high dependence on the leader for guidance and direction. The team aims would need to be created and communicated by the leader. Individual roles and responsibilities would generally be quite unclear. The leader must be prepared to answer many questions about the team’s scope, purpose, objectives etc. Processes may not be a high priority. Different members may try to test the boundaries of the system and of the leader’s authority. The preferred leadership style used in this stage tends to be directive, where you tell people what to do.

 

Storming – Phase 2

After a while (some sooner, some later, depending on their character), the team members start speaking their mind, and hence some disagreements are bound to happen. Hence, decisions may  not come that easily within the group. Different team members will vie for position in relation to other team members and the leader. The latter’s authority may also be challenged by some team members. There will be a clearer sense of purpose, but the team members will still face a lot of uncertainties. Office politics will prevail and cliques and factions (depending on the size of the group) will form, with a number of power struggles. The team needs to be focused on its goals to avoid becoming distracted by relationships and emotional issues, and for progress to occur team members may need to strike compromises. The best style of leadership for this phase is the Coaching Style.

 

Norming – Phase 3

Once the disagreements are resolved, consensus develops among the team members, who will react positively to the leader’s facilitation efforts. Roles and responsibilities are clear and accepted and the level of trust between team members increases. While the major decision-making will require some form of consensus of the whole group agreement, minor decisions could be delegated to individuals or small teams within the group. Commitment and unity would be strengthened and the team may engage in social activities. The team discusses and develops its processes and working style. There is general respect for the leader and some of the leadership is shared with different members of the team. The typical leadership style at this stage is one of facilitation and the leader as enabler.

 

Performing – Phase 4

In this “final” phase of group activity, the team acquires clarity about its purpose and its strategy. With a shared vision, it is able to work autonomously with no interference or participation from the leader. The team’s focus is on achieving (and possibly over-achieving) goals, making most of the decisions within the boundary criteria agreed with the leader. Disagreements will occur but now they are resolved positively by the same team members. The team feels empowered and capable of making any necessary changes to both the processes and the structure, able to work towards achieving the established aims, and also to attend to relationship, style and process issues along the way. Team members have each others’ backs, requiring only the delegated tasks and projects from the leader but without needing undue instruction or assistance. Team members might ask for assistance from the leader, but more with respect to personal or interpersonal development. The leader’s style that works best now is one of delegation and overseeing.

 

Adjourning – Phase 5

In this truly final phase the project scope has ceased to exist and the team is disbanding. Hence, there may be an element of grief or sadness (hence the phase is sometimes known as Mourning). There needs to be acknowledgement of the change that is happening. The group needs to acknowledge the effort and achievements of the group and the individuals, and the contributions evaluated.

 

Conclusion

This model remains a very effective tool to understand group dynamics, especially if one keeps certain variables in mind, such as context and the time perspective. In some cases, depending on the characters of the team members, they will go into storming quite quickly (if they are extravert and outgoing or assertive), or take a long time before a minimum of storming happens if they are laid back or reserved individuals. The leader may have to intervene more in both cases to try to get them into a norming stage. There can be extreme instances where, to be able to get the group unstuck from the storming stage, the leader has to remove or replace a team member.

On the other hand, in some cases they may click and breeze through the storming stage and start performing within no time. The leader’s job becomes much easier in such cases. One should also not forget that, in the case of longer projects, a team member is replaced, or new team members added. In such cases, the development phases may have to be revisited from the start.

 

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