Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development for Work

Group development leads to engagement in the workforce. Here is an idea useful to helping you understand how to keep your team engaged. In 1965, psychologist Dr. Bruce Tuckman proposed a model of group development that he called “Tuckman’s Stages.” This model included four stages:

  • Stage 1: Forming

  • Stage 2: Storming

  • Stage 3: Norming

  • Stage 4: Performing

To help you understand this model, here’s an example: Suppose you and your partner decide to have a child. Fast-forward nine months, and — boom! — you bring the baby home. You’re crazy excited. You’re forming a family!

Soon, the reality of parenting sets in. The baby won’t sleep through the night. He cries all the time. You and your partner are exhausted and increasingly irritated with each other. You haven’t had an evening out together, just the two of you, in months. Welcome to the storming stage of your new family, or team.

Eventually, the baby starts to sleep. He figures out how to soothe himself, so there’s not so much crying. You’ve found a few babysitters to step in so you and your partner can have some time alone. You settle into a routine. This is your team’s norming stage.

Before you know it, your baby is 2 years old. Although some challenges remain (they don’t call them the “terrible twos” for nothing), things have settled down. Your “team” is performing quite well! In fact, having forgotten how painful the storming stage was, you’re even thinking of having another child. When you do, you’ll be right back at the forming stage, and the cycle will start again.

Of course, growing families aren’t the only “teams” that follow Tuckman’s Stages. These stages also applies to work teams and to the lifecycle of companies. And although this example showcased what happens to a “team” when new people are added, the same cycle occurs any time a significant event occurs, such as an acquisition, starting a new project, converting to a new system, organizational changes, changes to company leadership, or the departure of team members.

These days, the one thing we can count on is that change is a constant. Understanding Tuckman’s Stages can help leaders ensure that team members stay engaged amidst change.

All teams must go through the forming, storming, and norming stages to get to the performing stage. If you think you’ve skipped a stage, look a little more closely. Teams rarely skip stages.

The speed at which a team progresses through these stages will depend on the size of the change, the experience of the team members, the experience of the leader, and how engaged the team is as a whole. Strong, engaged teams will find ways to accelerate through the stages.

This simple but powerful team-development model has stood the test of time, and continues to be used even today by academics and consultants in classrooms and workshops across the world. The key points to keep in mind about Tuckman’s Stages is that they’re a natural aspect of team development, they should be anticipated, and in many ways they’re part of a virtuous cycle.

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