Understanding Tuckman's Team Development Stages

Building Cohesive and Effective Teams

Building and managing successful teams is a critical component of achieving organizational success. Whether you’re working in a corporate setting, a non-profit organization, or even leading volunteers, the ability to understand and navigate the dynamics of team development is essential. One of the most widely recognized models for understanding these dynamics is Tuckman’s Team Development Stages.

Tuckman's Team Development Stages

Forming

The first stage of team development, known as “Forming” is when a new team comes together.  New teams can be created in many ways- a new project team, turnover resulting in new members joining an existing team, or a new organization/ restructure.

At this stage, team members are often polite and cautious as they get to know one another. There may be excitement and anticipation, but there can also be anxiety and uncertainty. Team members may have varying levels of enthusiasm and commitment, as they are not yet fully aware of the team’s goals and objectives.

During the forming stage, the role of the leader is crucial. Leaders should provide clear direction, establish goals, and create an environment where team members feel safe to express themselves and ask questions. This stage is also an opportunity for team members to clarify their individual roles and responsibilities within the team.

Storming

As team members become more comfortable with one another, they move into the “Storming” stage. This phase is characterized by increased conflict and competition as individuals begin to assert themselves and their ideas. Differences in opinions, values, and working styles may surface, leading to potential friction within the team. You may notice the creation or emergence of silos or subgroups within teams. Where your teams had previously been silent, you are now starting to hear the ‘noise’.

Effective leaders during the storming stage should encourage open communication, mediate conflicts, and help the team develop strategies for resolving issues. It’s important for team members to recognize that conflict can be healthy when managed constructively, as it can lead to better decision-making and team cohesion.

Norming

Once the storming phase is navigated successfully, teams enter the “Norming” stage. This phase is when the team really starts to come together.

Clearer roles start to emerge within teams, individuals are developing skills, establishing procedures and norms or shared expectations, for how they will work together, for example, “How do we deal with conflicts on our team?”. The focus shifts from individual competition to collaboration towards common goals.

Team members become more comfortable confronting issues, giving feedback, and expressing their “real” ideas and feelings. There is more trust between team members at this stage, and there is an increasing acceptance of others on the team, recognizing that the variety of opinions and experiences makes the team stronger.

Leaders should continue to support the team during this phase by reinforcing positive behavior and maintaining an open line of communication. This is also a great opportunity to revisit and clarify team goals and objectives, ensuring everyone is on the same page. Leaders also need to be aware that the team might be working very effectively at a norming stage, but a new member joining the team might take them back to the storming stage.

Performing

The “Performing” stage is where teams start to function at their highest potential. Team members have built trust, have a clear understanding of their roles, and work together seamlessly. Productivity is at its peak, and the team is making significant progress towards its goals.

Teams at this stage have clarity, are resourceful, flexible, and have systems and structure. Their energy is focused on tasks, and getting the work done. They have a close, open, and supportive relationship and are clearly dependent on each other as colleagues and team members-

Leaders should take a step back during this stage and allow the team more autonomy. Their role shifts towards facilitating and supporting the team’s efforts rather than directing them. It’s essential to maintain motivation and recognize achievements to sustain the high level of performance.

Adjourning

An additional fifth stage, titled “Adjourning,” was added to Tuckman’s original model in 1977. This is characterized as the stage when the team members leave the team or when there is a significant change to the team structure. As with everything else in business, things change, and teams change. Either the team continues to grow and takes on more responsibilities, and team members must transform their operations and interactions. Or, the team accomplishes its goal and is disbanded.

This stage can bring a range of emotions, from a sense of accomplishment to sadness and loss. Team members often reflect on their experiences and the relationships they’ve built during their time together.

Leaders can help the team members through this transition by acknowledging their contributions, providing closure, and celebrating their achievements. It’s also an opportunity to capture lessons learned and carry them forward into future initiatives.

Conclusion

Tuckman’s Team Development Stages provide a valuable framework for understanding the natural progression of teams from initial formation to high-performance collaboration. By recognizing and addressing the challenges and opportunities at each stage, leaders can guide their teams toward greater cohesion and effectiveness.

Team development is not a linear process, and teams may revisit earlier stages as new challenges arise. Embracing this model can help organizations create and sustain successful teams that drive innovation, achieve objectives, and foster a positive working environment.

Other Resources

Thank you for reading CFI’s guide to Tuckman’s Team Development Stages. To further enhance your knowledge and help advance your career, CFI recommends the following resources:

Leading High-Performing Teams

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