5 Stages of Teaming
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Overview

This model has persisted for over half a century and continues to inform the development of high performing teams — plus it rhymes, so what's not to like? 

Tuckman’s 5 Stages of Teaming describes the process where groups tend to work through stages of forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. 

Did you notice that I slipped in the ‘adjourning’ stage? You might not have come across that fifth step, as it was a more recent addition — see Origins & Resources below for more.

DIVING INTO THE FIVE STAGES.

Here are those stages in a little more detail: 

  • Forming: when a new team comes together.

    • How people tend to feel: excited, positive, even if a little anxious.

    • What people tend to do: ask questions, generally seek acceptance so avoid conflict. 

    • What leaders can do: set ground rules; develop shared mental models; enable discussions to provide clarity and purpose; and highlight team member’s strengths. 

  • Storming: when disagreements rise to the surface.

    • How people tend to feel: frustrated, stressed, angry, even defeated. 

    • What people tend to do: speak up and argue over priorities or direction; form cliques over different positions; be less productive.

    • What leaders can do: facilitate debates and provide and explain direction; allow dissent to be heard and address issues; shed light on conflicting mental models behind the disagreements; individual coaching as required. 

  • Norming: starting to find the grove.

    • How people tend to feel: relief, a sense of acceptance and commitment. 

    • What people tend to do: resolve conflicts; value others and collaborate more effectively; accept ground rules and refocus on project goals.

    • What leaders can do: monitor the situation, supporting the team to connect and collaborate using events and coaching as required. 

  • Performing: getting it done.

    • How people tend to feel: pride and satisfaction. 

    • What people tend to do: remain positive through challenges; actively problem solving; valuing differences; maintaining high productivity.

    • What leaders can do: acknowledge and celebrate achievement; delegate and support autonomy including encouraging constructive disagreements. 

  • Adjourning: closing out the project, wrapping up the team.

    • How people tend to feel: sadness, loss and anxiety. 

    • What people tend to do: finishing final elements such as documentation and reporting; often less focused as work starts to diminish.

    • What leaders can do: continue to acknowledge achievements while coaching individual members about their potential next steps; provide transparency about the wind-down process including facilitating a ceremony or event to mark completion.  

While generally used as a linear process these stages can overlap, particularly between the storming and norming phases. 

IN YOUR LATTICEWORK.

This model has strong links to Psychological Safety, particularly in the forming and storming stages, and has interesting references to the Hero’s Journey in the sense it defines a narrative of developing clarity, moving into action, overcoming challenges, and achieving goals.

Finally, this model is of particular relevance to organisations embracing Agile Methodology which involves the fast formation of, often multidisciplinary or T-shaped teams. 

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Actionable takeaways
  • Kick off project teams with a focus on connection and clarity. 

The forming stage can be supported with an emphasis by leaders and team members alike on forging meaningful connections with one another and providing clarity about how the team will work, as well as on project scope, processes and goals. A positive approach to diversity in the team can be supported by an emphasis of the T-shaped model and clarity might be supported by models such as The Golden Circle. Finally, teams should begin to develop a literacy around their Mental Models, to uncover assumptions and differences. 

  • Prepare and facilitate storming to gain greater clarity.

Rather than trying to avoid conflict, prepare for this stage as a way for individuals and the team as a whole to better understand their purpose and ways of operating. This stage can be best supported by actively building Psychological Safety. Doing so might involve applying additional models such as SCARF and Non-Violent Communication

  • Don’t be complacent during norming and performing.

Appreciate that these stages can overlap and that there might be periods of storming and conflict even as the team apparently starts to ‘norm’ and improve performance. In that respect, assume that some teams will cycle through a few iterations or face new challenges that initiate a change. 

  • Acknowledge the end.

Rather than letting the team ‘fizzle out’ as a project is complete, find ways to acknowledge and mark the end. This might include an event, possibly a celebration; formal acknowledgements; or a ceremony as part of an organisational process. It’s important that people are able to both acknowledge their achievement, express their sadness, and be supported to identify their next steps beyond the team.

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In Practice

Tuckman applied to sports teams.

This article outlines the experience of sporting teams going through Tuckman’s stages. It provides examples of the formation of State or Olympic teams doing things such as stopping participants from wearing their team colours, instead quickly creating a new team identity in the forming stage. The article also advocates using profile assessments to provide athletes with self-awareness during the storming phase. 

Limitations

Tuckman himself provided a criticism of his model, pointing out that it emphasised a “therapy-group setting” and did not consider broader types of teams. That said, many teams have found the model useful and applicable. 

Perhaps a more substantial critique was best captured by this study from the US Military in an Acquisition Research Program. They looked at 321 “small, short-duration technical teams within the Acquisition Community.” They found a 95% confidence level that Tuckman’s stages only applied to about 2% of the teams, but discovered that a modified version which viewed storming as an ongoing process throughout the team duration, as opposed to a defined stage, did apply to over 70% of the teams. 

In other words, the criticism consists of viewing these categories as linear stages — particularly the storming stage — rather than a part of a team, no matter what it’s developmental level. This might be more apparent in Agile based teams, though the evidence is still lacking to make a definitive call there. 

Proponents for the model might counter saying that conflict in a ‘storming’ stage plays out totally differently to the conflict in a ‘performing’ stage, with the latter being managed more constructively and not interrupting performance outcomes. 

Build your latticework
This model will help you to:

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Origins & Resources

This model was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965 as a necessary framework to describe team development. Tuckman teamed with Mary Jensen in 1977 to write a paper titled Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited, which added a fifth stage of ‘adjourning’, often referred to as ‘mourning.’ 

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