“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
– Henry Ford, US industrialist and pioneer of the assembly-line production method (1863-1947)
Tuckman’s generic model of group development (proposed in 1965) suggests that, for a team to grow from a group of individuals to a performing team, 4 stages are necessary and inevitable: forming, storming, norming and performing. An ultimate phase (added in 1977), adjourning, closes the team development cycle. Being able to identify the current maturity stage of your teams will help you to deploy the relevant approach and strategies to develop them to the next stage till they reach a maximal performance level.
Based on his research into the theory of group dynamics, Bruce Tuckman has proposed a model of group development that asserts that, for a team to grow, to handle and solve issues and to perform optimally, it will go through 4 stages called Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing. Following this last stage of high team maturity, it is very probable that the surrounding environment will bring new challenges requiring to transform the structure in place. The team development cycle will then be closed by an ultimate stage called Adjourning and a new cycle can start in order to build the new team that can tackle those changes.
Obviously, as a leader, it is your responsibility:
to understand in which stage your team operates,
to design the relevant strategies to develop your team till the Performing stage,
to follow-up on the execution of those strategies (including working on the necessary adjustments when and where required).
In the following paragraphs, you will find a description for each stage of the Tuckman’s model and, more importantly, a list of recommendations to help you manage your team within each stage. It is also strongly suggested to couple those recommendations with the use of the PDCA method in order to prevent from getting stuck at a given development stage, thanks to continuous incremental improvement efforts.
- Forming stage
- In this first stage, the team is brought together. At that stage the team is more to be seen as a group of individuals than a real team.
- Each individual will look at understanding his new environment (role, mission, challenges…) and will spend time getting to know his colleagues, avoiding conflict and building new relationships.
- Because the relationship between each team members is usually not yet established at this stage (unless some employees were already working together previously), everybody will strive doing his best to achieve the tasks at hands in an independent manner.
- As a pre-requisite to the team constitution, the manager in charge of building the team must of course be clear on the goals for his team, the role it will play in the overall department mission and/or company strategy. In other words why is the team being built in a first place and what is it expected to achieve?
- Then, the manager will have to be able to assess the progress of his newly-created team and identify how it performs against the objectives: this requires the definition of relevant metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that will serve as a dashboard. The manager must keep in mind that KPIs are only a tool to measure the progress; it cannot replace himself as the “pilot” in charge of the team and KPIs cannot be considered as objectives as such but are only a measure of the success in accomplishing the mission.
- In parallel to a clear mission statement and metrics, the manager must reflect on the values and attitudes that he wants to promote within the team (encompassing but not limited to the corporate values, if existing). Which behaviours will be supported in the team and what are the ones to be banned?
- On top of the above points, developing a common culture within the team will also require the manager to think about the “language” to use (vocabulary specific to the team / job /product), as well as the supporting practices and structure required to achieve the goals.
- Ideally, the recruitment of talents for the team should not start before the manager has a precise idea of the above points. Moreover, once the team is formed, establishing a Team Charter summarizing the above points and sharing it with the team members is a possible means to set initial expectations. Running frequent team meetings is also key to set the right direction from the beginning.
- The Forming stage is also the phase when the manager should spend quality time with each team member to understand who they are, to identify what makes them ticking, to see how they react to various situations and how they start interacting with their colleagues, peers, customers, providers… Getting to know personally each team member will help design appropriate individual objectives and team goals. It will also be of a great support during the Storming phase to adjust the leadership styles depending on the employee.
- A “leader control” leadership style is usually more appropriate for this discovery stage. It is though important to give space to employees to know each other and to voice their first concerns if any.
- Storming stage
- In a second phase, once the team members have got accustomed to their new manager, colleagues and work, the popping challenges or issues faced by the team will bring competing ideas or views on how to tackle them. In other words, every team member will try to position himself in the team, sometimes creating conflicts or raising divergences on how to handle the various situations at stake (from interaction and team rules definition, to management style expectation or also methods and practices to use by the team).
- Team members will confront their ideas and opinions, using the relationships they have built in the Forming phase. This confrontation can be painful, especially for conflict-averse people, and even destructive for the team if not handled carefully by the manager in charge.
- In the same way, this phase may come as a large source of stress for the manager in charge.
- If not properly handled by the manager, the team may never leave this stage…
- Although a “Leader control” leadership style is more appropriate in this phase in order to keep things under control, the manager should also encourage the exchange of ideas in a constructive manner, arbitrating objectively each situation and focusing on what is required to be achieved by the team. Prohibited behaviours as defined in the Forming phase must be quickly reprimanded if surging.
- Respect of the diversity in opinions and tolerance between team members is what will help the manager to get the best suggestions on the way to move forward while supporting the creation of the necessary bound within the team. For that purpose, the manager should focus on creating relevant team objectives that will foster collaboration (goals that require the unique knowledge and expertise of each single team members to be achieved), identifying possible quick wins.
- In the same way, progress on the individuals objectives should be closely followed up through one-on-one meetings and goals should be adjusted to support both the employee’s personal development and the team’s one.
- As an example, having the individual team members working as a team on the revision of the Team Charter to improve it based on the first observations is an activity that can help fostering a greater team spirit when well-controlled by the manager. A consultative decision-making style works the best for this type of team member synchronization exercise.
- Norming stage
- If well handled, the result of a constructive Storming phase should naturally bring the team to a state where each team member is clear on their accountabilities, working methods, and way of interacting with each other.
- The culture of the team has normally been embodied and the team members as well as their managers are fully synchronized, working in the same direction and focusing on delivering on the team objectives.
- At that stage, the manager of the team should put some more efforts on developing further every single employee through personalized plan.
- Because the team is more mature, the manager can adopt an “employee control” leadership style, giving more space for the employees to improve the team further by themselves. For that purpose, the decision-making process within the team can progressively move toward a majority vote or consensus approach for organization-related matters.
- Nonetheless, because the team is perfectly synchronized, the risk is to see the development of an over-consensus attitude aiming at keeping harmony at any price. Therefore, in this phase, the manager must still stimulate healthy debates and exchange of opinions (even if divergent) so that action plans to develop the team further can be created. Without that, the Performing stage may never be reached. Similarly too much uncertainty or poorly controlled conflicts during the Norming phase (for example due to high pressure conditions) may bring the team back in Storming…
- Performing stage
- The team has reached the ultimate stage of maturity (actually very few teams will reach that stage); it can run independently with minimum supervision or input from the manager. Team members are fully competent and know perfectly how to handle routine; they can also tackle unexpected situations falling in the scope of the team responsibility.
- As an image of a performing team, let’s get a refresh of what is a professional team handling a pit stop in Formula 1.
- The last duty for the manager in charge of the team will be to prepare for the future… If he is promoted thanks to his success in developing the team up to its highest maturity stage, it is then his responsibility to find the best successor and help the transition. If he stays as the head of the team, he needs to anticipate what may come and disrupt the current equilibrium (new technology, new mission, new product, new business landscape, new management…)
- In both cases (a new manager or a disruptive context), the team will go through its last stage, adjourning, because the new conditions or environment will call for a revised structure starting again a new team development cycle at the Forming stage…
- exercise 1: Look at the various teams and departments within your company; in which stage of the Tuckman’s model are they now?
- exercise 2: When you had started in your current role, in which development stage of the Tuckman’s model was your team operating? In which phase is it now? Which actions have you taken to navigate the team from one stage to the other?
- exercise 3: Considering your current team, which further actions can you take to lead them to the Performing stage? In case your team has already reached the Performing stage, how are you preparing the future?
By considering the Tuckman’s model that divides the team development cycle in 5 stages: Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing – Adjourning and by identifying in which stage his team operates, the manager in charge can better define the type of strategy that is required to develop his team up to the highest level of maturity, synonym of high performance. While being clear on the objectives, values and KPIs during the norming stage, the manager needs to set the foundation to handle the difficult storming phase. Adapting to each individuals, promoting tolerance and open, constructive exchange of opinions while showing the direction as a leader should then allow the manager to move his team from the storming stage to the norming one. Having then all team members working aligned with the team mission should not prevent the manager to set higher expectations and identify areas of improvement to reach the performing stage. All team members have obviously an active role to play in moving the team to this high maturity stage. Finally, because most businesses and organizations are by nature volatile, subject to external moving conditions as well as internal change factors, the team will very probably need adjustment; it will be adjourned letting place to the creation of a new structure that will start a new cycle at the forming stage…