Tuckman’s Group Development Model
Groups have developmental stages, and the meetings that groups have (and need to have) vary in structure and tone based on the stage of development any given group is in. Sometimes referred to as the Orming Model, Bruce Tuckman’s group development model originally identified four stages that groups experience as they develop—Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.
The bi-directional arrows above indicate that normal group development will ebb and flow through these stages.
Tuckman’s insights came from observation of non-task-driven groups (t-groups, or “training groups”), so while the model is popular and helpful, it does not relate the exact experience work-oriented groups have with group development, which is more the following:
In most work groups and teams, within which meetings are held, the group comes together and forms (Forming) and then is led or facilitated into a task-driven structure that enables goals to be met and work to be done (Norming). Many groups do not go beyond this stage—indeed, for most workplace meetings and many short-term facilitated work groups, the goal of the group may be to stay in this early development stage.
Groups that are together for some time, however, will naturally start to push against the structures and controls of these early imposed norms (Storming) and need to re-visit new ways in which the group could become more functional and effective (Re-norming). Once re-normed, the group may be at a point where it can communicate openly, air and process conflict as it arises, while continuing to do its work or accomplish its tasks (Performing). Groups that have experienced the often intense feelings of connectivity associated with the Performing stage, will need to address the conflict, pain, and lack of focus and productivity that often come with pending and final group disbandment (Adjourning).
Neither the original nor the revised group development model should suggest a strictly linear, one-way progression of the stages. Some groups move quite quickly through the stages, while others can become mired in this stage or that. Some groups will slip—perhaps repeatedly or often—into the Storming stage, and all groups will need to revert to the Forming stage when their membership has changed, even slightly.
This is the stage when issues of identity and inclusion are worked within the group. This stage is characterized by surface-level connections that avoid conflict and high engagement—task accomplishment suffers, for it has not yet been established and fully engaged. At times exciting and warm—at times anxiety-provoking and quite interpersonally chilly, the Forming stage has the following questions asked and answered overtly and covertly:
- What is this group going to be like?
- What is going to happen here?
- What role will I play?
- How important to this group and its members will I be?
- How much of myself can I disclose and/or how much will I be expected to share?
- How much of myself do I need to “check at the door?”
- Who is in and who is out—what makes you in or out here?
Exercises Important to the Forming Stage:
Groups and teams in the Forming stage need opportunities to get to know each other, share and disclose information, experience talking and working with each other and have some fun. This is why most meetings—especially one assembling for the first time—would be well served by an icebreaker activity.
Most leader-led groups and the meetings they have are held in the Norming stage, where the leader establishes rules (norms) and the structure needed to drive through the content filling any given meeting. It is the group’s collective agreement that the task at hand is focusing and important and that the authority in place is appropriate that gives this task-heavy stage its power. The challenge in the Norming stage is for leadership to organize and control well the flow of the meeting. Task accomplishment can be high in this stage and the following questions are asked:
- What is the agenda?
- What outcomes are possible given the time, people and resources at hand?
- What tools do I have (need) to maintain a focused meetings?
- What is my task within this meeting/group—what do I need to deliver or accomplish?
Exercises Important to the Norming Stage:
Groups and teams in the Norming stage need structure, rules, direction, clarity, duties to perform and problems to solve.
In a reaction to the confining structure of the Norming stage, intact groups with stable membership (and groups moving toward shared leadership and collaboration) will start to push against the organization or leader-imposed norms and expectations, engaging with each other on more sensitive issues of control and power. The Storming stage is recognizable by its open conflict and the struggle of a group’s membership, which make for contentious and fitful meetings. Groups that have fairly stable membership, and regular and/or frequent meetings will often have to grapple with this surprising, natural, but disruptive stage. Task accomplishment and morale suffer in this stage, but it is a necessary stage to navigate—not avoid—if more advanced and effective group development is desired. The questions in the air and undercurrent of the group in this stage include:
- How can I exercise more of my power?
- Why do I need to deny or underplay certain aspects of myself (sense of humor,
political or religious views, areas of skill or expertise, et cetera)?
- Why does this person or group keep provoking me?
- Doesn’t this group realize the negative impact of their actions?
Exercises Important to the Storming Stage:
Groups and teams in the Storming stage need a safe environment and the tools and vocabulary to engage effectively in conflict with one another.
This is the stage in which groups discuss the rules and procedures—and build the bridges—that will calm the stormy waters of conflict and bring the group together in a more productive way. Unlike the first Norming stage, the Re-norming stage produces group/meeting norms that flow from the group itself, not imposed upon it by leadership. Affection and openness are critical features of this stage, which is characterized by more conciliatory tones, deeper discussions and relationship building. Task accomplishment increases in this stage and the following questions are asked—overtly and covertly:
- How do I connect with him or her?
- What is the best way to speak to or approach him or her?
- What have I learned from the conflicts we have had?
- What tools or models do the members of this team have in common to help us work more effectively?
Exercises Important to the Norming Stage:
Groups and teams in the Norming stage need opportunities to work, share, communicate, solve problems, and have common experiences that bind and build trust with one another.
Groups that reach the Performing stage—a minority of work teams do so, by the way—are sometimes referred to as high performing or peak performance teams, and meetings held by groups at this stage are seen as important to group and relationship development as they are to task accomplishment. Only collaborative (not leader-led) groups make it to this stage. Groups in this stage are not free of conflict and interpersonal issues, but are able to identify their troubles and conflict in the moment, process it and move on.
Exercises Important to the Performing Stage:
Groups and teams in the Performing stage could always use new tools and models and engage in exercises that stretch their team skills and further bind them together—and help them have some fun.
This is the stage when issues of separation and closure start to bubble up among the group’s members. This stage is characterized by a wide variety of emotions from joy to many of the same stages as the grief process—behaviors that reflect anger, denial, and depression.
Exercises Important to the Adjourning Stage:
Groups and teams in the Adjourning stage need opportunities to celebrate past success, the time they have had together, and the future.
Team Performance Inventory (TPI)
Long a thought-leader in group development and training, OKA has partnered with Impact International in the development of the Team Performance Inventory (TPI). An assessment that collects and aggregates feedback and observations on team development and functioning from that group’s members, the TPI is a unique and powerful tool both to assess a team’s level of development as well as to suggest actions and activities that boost its performance.