Bruce Tuckman’s stages of group development model is also known as “forming, storming, norming and performing” model. It says that all teams pass through four stages as they get to know each other, grow and become an effective and cohesive team. These stages are: forming, storming, norming and performing. Two final stages were later added: outperforming and adjourning.
Summary by The World of Work Project
Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing
It takes time for a group of people working together to become an effective team. This journey towards being an effective team happens every time a group of people come together to form a team. It has four core stages: forming, storming, norming and performing.
Key to this model is the belief that group dynamics are complicated and that team members should establish mutual understanding of the relationships, communication styles, ways of working, levels of trust, shared purpose and social hierarchies within their team in order to be effective.
Tuckman later added a fifth stage to his model, “mourning” or “adjourning” which covered the breaking up of teams. Others have also adapted this model with additional stages, though we don’t focus on them here.
We consider the four core stages below.
Stage 1: Forming
In the first stage of the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model is Forming.
This stage is when team members come together and are focused on learning about each other, understanding the rules of the group and being accepted by the group.
In this stage, individuals are on their best behavior and striving to learn about the social positions of their peers. They make sure they do nothing that may put them at risk of being rejected or disliked by the group.
At this stage, individuals’ priorities are to get to know each other, to be likable and to build relationships. Given this group dynamic is the priority, individuals may not express their true views, do things their own way or try to influence others too much. The reason they don’t is that there is a risk that doing so may lead to rejection by the group.
From a work perspective, this stage normally sees individuals working in their own ways, often on their own tasks. There is little sharing of ideas and approaches, or feedback in relation to performance. Everyone is just doing their own thing, observing others, understanding hierarchies and trying not to rock the boat too much.
From a leadership perspective, this stage should see leaders focusing on coordinating team activities, define goals, setting values and behaviors for the group and helping people get to know each other. Leaders may benefit from using team building or trust building activities at this stage. Alternatively, they could set aside time and provide opportunities for team members to get to know each other socially.
Stage 2: Storming
The second stage of Tuckman’s model is storming. The storming stage only really starts once the individuals in a team have had a chance to get to know each other a little. By this stage they will have stated to develop an understanding of the social hierarchy of the group, of the ways of working of the group, of the power dynamics of the group and of their place in the group.
In the storming phase of group development, individuals start to express themselves and to flex their identities a little bit. They cease being on their best behavior and will instead start to be more their true selves. They will experiment with sharing their honest views and opinions and demonstrating their preferred ways of working, even if doing so may ruffle some feathers.
At this stage individuals will also start to challenge the social hierarchy of the group. They will be subconsciously seeking to establish the best position they can. Friction and conflict are inevitable at this stage.
From a work perspective, the storming stage will see individuals start to strive for more autonomy. They will seek to adopt their own preferred ways of working and potentially start to try to impose their ways of working on the wider group.
From a leadership perspective, this stage is all about helping the group to progress through disruption. The disruption and challenge needs to happen, so it shouldn’t be stifled. Instead, it should be facilitated, respected, understood and managed. Leaders should think of the disruption and conflict as ultimately constructive at this stage. They should also try and ensure that everyone has some voice, that trust is built and that inclusion is practiced.
Stage 3: Norming
The third stage of the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model is Norming.
Once storming has completed, the team start to settle down and normalize. They start to get to know each other more, have a better understanding of the true views and opinions that each other hold and to settle into a broadly accepted social structure and hierarchy.
In the norming stage, disputes are resolved, people accept and understand subconsciously that personalities have been revealed, boundaries have been tested and social positions have been collectively agreed.
As a result of this social stabilization and acceptance, ways of working start to become more consistent and normalized. Trust starts to be built, friction reduces and the team starts to be able to focus on achieving a common goal with broadly consistent and understood ways of working.
From a leadership perspective, leaders should start to empower the team more, while reinforcing values and behaviors. They should help ensure the team accept a shared culture, values and ways of working. Leaders should role-model best practice and help the team to formally standardize their ways of working and processes, where doing so would be helpful.
Stage 4: Performing
Once a team has finished norming they reach the performing stage. The conflict of becoming a team is over. Trust and common purpose are established and team members know how each other like to work. They communicate effectively, are motivated and can deliver well.
From a work perspective, individuals understand the team’s goals and ways of working. They also understand each other and understand the team’s processes. Conflict is a thing of the past. The emotional energy that was spent on social positioning and learning can now be spent on work.
From a leadership perspective, the focus at this stage should really be on reducing friction and removing risks. Where possible, leaders should focus on setting and communicating clear and motivating goals, empowering the team and getting out of their way so they can get things done.
You might be interested in learning more about social threats and trust in teams. Similarly, the steps you can take to reduce social threats and increase trust might be helpful. As a leader, team building activities could be useful.
You might also enjoy our podcast on team building:
The World of Work Project View
Tuckman’s four stages of group development are a really useful framework for both individuals and leaders to be aware of.
From an individual perspective, understanding the stages of a team can help people explain how they and others act at different moments in time. Being aware of the drivers and motivators that people experience at these different stages can help to bring perspective to the actions of others, which can help to smooth some of the difficult stages of team formation.
From a leadership perspective, the model helps leaders understand the different stages their teams can be at and why they may be at these stages. It also provides some useful guidance on how leaders can most effectively help their teams in each of the stages.
In our view, this is a good model that is worth sharing within teams, particularly recently formed teams. It’s also particularly useful in matrix of project environments where teams come together and disband fairly frequently. Leaders can find a range of activities which can be used to bring the model to life, but simply discussing and sharing it can be helpful too.