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Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development

Posted on Dec 14, 2016 by in Agile & Lean, Facilitation & Soft Skills | 0 comments

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman derived that all newly formed teams go through similar stages, before they can perform well together. He laid it out in his paper “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups” (Paywall). The stages are not strictly linear. Some teams skip a stage, others fluctuate e.g. because of changes in team membership, leadership, tasks, …

The original four stages are Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Tuckman himself later added a final stage: Adjouring.

Lately I hear a lot of suggestions for another stage inbetween “Performing” and “Adjourning”. I’ve first heard about it from Heidi Helfand. She calls it “Stagnating”. This stage highlights the trade-off between keeping teams stable (you don’t have to go through the stages again) and too stable (stagnating).

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Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development

New teams go through certain stages, before they can work well together. The stages are not strictly linear: some teams  skip a stage, others oscillate between stages.

1. Forming

The team comes together. Everyone is on their best behavior and mostly focused on themselves – trying to figure out the team’s goal and their role and responsibilities within it.

2. Storming

Working styles and personalities clash. Only 50% of teams hit this stage, the others go straight to Norming. Storming isn’t necessarily a bad thing: “Disagreements within the team can make members stronger, more versatile, and able to work more effectively as a team.” Unfortunately some teams never grow past this stage because of frequent changes in team membership, leadership or goals.

3. Norming

Team members resolve their differences. They grow to respect and appreciate each other and tolerate each others whims. They can ask for help and give constructive feedback. They share a common goal and everyone takes responsibility. The team starts to deliver more.

4. Performing

The team hums along. Their processes support them. The team is incredibly productive and great things happen. It’s an awesome time to be part of the team.

Stagnating (Not an official Tuckman stage)

A team can hit this stage when it stays together for too long:  members don’t learn much anymore because there are no new people  to learn from. Sometimes members don’t enjoy working with each other anymore and their job satisfaction and results suffer.

5. Adjourning

The team members know that they are going their separate ways, e.g. because the project is nearing completion or the organisation is changing. It’s time to grieve.

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