Tuckman's Theory of Teams
The Stages of Team Forming
by Elena Dieckmann
For teams to be effective, the people in the team must be able to work together to contribute collectively to team outcomes.
“When your team first gets together, you likely sit around and look at each other, not knowing how to begin”
But this does not happen automatically: it develops as the team works together. You have probably had an experience when you have been put on a team to work on a school assignment or project. When your team first gets together, you likely sit around and look at each other, not knowing how to begin. Initially, you are not a team; you are just individuals assigned to work together. Over time you get to know each other, to know what to expect from each other, to know how to divide the labour and assign tasks, and to know how you will coordinate your work. Through this process, you begin to operate as a team instead of a collection of individuals. This process of learning to work together effectively is known as team development.
Truckman's stages of team development
Research has shown that teams go through definitive stages during development. Bruce Tuckman identified a five-stage group development process. He called the stages: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.
The forming stage involves a period of orientation and getting acquainted. Uncertainty is high during this stage, and people are looking for leadership and authority. A member who asserts authority or is knowledgeable may be looked to take control. Team members are asking such questions as “What does the team offer me?” “What is expected of me?” “Will I fit in?” Most interactions are social as members get to know each other.
The storming stage is the most difficult and critical stage to pass through. It is a period marked by conflict and competition as individual personalities emerge. Team performance may decrease in this stage because energy is put into unproductive activities. Members may disagree on team goals, and subgroups and cliques may form around strong personalities or areas of agreement.
“...subgroups and cliques may form around strong personalities or areas of agreement.”
To get through this stage, members must work to overcome obstacles, accept individual differences, and work through conflicting ideas on team tasks and goals. Teams can get bogged down in this stage. Failure to address conflicts may result in long-term problems.
If teams get through the storming stage, conflict is resolved and some degree of unity emerges. In the norming stage, a consensus develops around who the leader or leaders are, and individual member’s roles. Interpersonal differences begin to be resolved, and a sense of cohesion and unity emerges.
Team performance increases during this stage as members learn to cooperate and begin to focus on team goals. However, the harmony is precarious, and if disagreements re-emerge the team can slide back into storming.
In the performing stage, consensus and cooperation have been well-established and the team is mature, organized, and well-functioning. There is a clear and stable structure, and members are committed to the team’s mission. Problems and conflicts still emerge, but they are dealt with constructively. (We will discuss the role of conflict and conflict resolution in the next section). The team is focused on problem-solving and meeting team goals.
In the adjourning stage, most of the team’s goals have been accomplished. The emphasis is on wrapping up final tasks and documenting the effort and results. As the workload is diminished, individual members may be reassigned to other teams, and the team disbands.
There may be regret as the team ends, so a ceremonial acknowledgement of the work and success of the team can be helpful. If the team is a standing committee with ongoing responsibility, members may be replaced by new people and the team can go back to a forming or storming stage and repeat the development process.
Bonebright, D.A. (2010) 40 years of storming: a historical review of Tuckman’s model of small group development. Human Resource Development International. 13 (1), 111–120.
Tuckman, B.W. (1965) Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological bulletin. 63 (6), 384.
Tuckman, B.W. & Jensen, M.A.C. (1977) Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited. Group & Organization Studies. [Online] 2 (4), 419–427. Available from: doi:10.1177/105960117700200404.