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Bruce Tuckman: Group Development

Bruce Tuckman developed a model of group development which is among the most viewed management models on The Management Pocketblog. We cannot wait any longer: we must take a look at his life and work with a wider perspective.

Bruce Tuckman

 

Brief Biography

Bruce Tuckman was born and grew up in New York, gaining his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1960, and his MA and PhD from Princeton, in 1962 and 1963 respectively.

From Princeton, he joined the Naval Medical Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, as a research psychologist. Here, he joined a group of researchers that was researching the the behaviours of small groups, thinking about getting the best team working on small crewed naval vessels. His supervisor gave him a stack of fifty research papers, telling him to see what he could make of them. His analysis resulted in the developmental sequence that was to make him famous:

  1. Forming – orientation, relationship building
  2. Storming – conflict
  3. Norming – developing cohesion and behavioural norms
  4. Performing – team inter-dependence and collaboration

Tuckman subsequently acknowledged that it was the choice of rhyming names for the stages that he used in his published paper (1965) ‘which probably account for the paper’s popularity’. The terms are certainly memorable and evocative.

From 1965, when he moved to his first academic post, at Rutgers, Tuckman started to focus on Educational Pyschology. In 1978, he moved to City University of New York and then to Florida State University in 1983. In 1998, he moved to Ohio State University, as Professor of Educational Psychology, where he remained until his retirement.

Developmental Sequence in Small Groups

The group development model for which Tuckman is best-known has been well covered in the Mangement Pocketblog already; so much so that we took the unusual step of creating a portal blog to guide readers to the various articles, at: Bruce Tuckman’s Group Development Model. You can also read Tuckman’s original paper, Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.

In 1977, Tuckman was invited to review his original work and, with Mary Ann Jensen (at the time a Doctoral student at Rutgers, with Tuckman, and now a psychologist in private practice in Princeton, New Jersey), produced a review paper (Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited) that validated the original work, and added a fifth stage, Adjourning, ‘for which a perfect rhyme could not be found’ said Tuckman. Many practitioners (this author included) prefer to use the term ‘mourning’ – not because it rhymes, but because it reminds us of the emotional impact of separation and therefore of the role of the team leader in ensuring the team acknowledges the loss.

Procrastination

Tuckman’s work on procrastination looks excellent. I was going to look it up but…

As an educational psychologist, most of Tuckman’s work is of limited interest to a management audience. But one topic stood out for me: the bane of many managers’ lives… procrastination. We all do it.

In 1991, while Professor of Educational Psychology at Florida State Univesity, Tuckman published a self evaluation tool to measure tendency to procrastinate. This was a core part of his research into students’ self-motivation in studying. This became a a key plank in much later research which he applied very directly at Ohio State University, where he founded the University’s Dennis Learning Center. They still teach workshops and courses based on Tuckman’s research. All the research related to the learning centre listed on its website is Tuckman’s.

Here’s the research paper that caught my eye: at the American Psychological Association meeting in 2002, Tuckman presented a paper that showed how procrastinators get significantly poorer grades in class. What I wonder is this: is it reasonable to generalise that result to the workplace? I suspect it is.

The message would be clear: ‘just get on with it!’

 


 

For more on Tuckman’s model of group development…

… and for more on teams in general:

 

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Forming, Storming, Norming: The Tuckman Model of Group and Team Development

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


‘How do new groups of people develop into
effective teams?’

Bruce Tuckman developed the best known and most widely used answer to this question in the early 1960s. Working for the US Navy, he reviewed a wide range of group dynamics research, to identify a sequence of discrete stages that described the findings of most of the studies.

Tuckman himself ascribes the success of his model over other, later models, to the catchy labels he created for the stages.

Tuckman Group Development Model

1. Forming

When a group first comes together, people are keen to get on with the task at hand, but have little idea what is expected of them. In building relationships, they start with the superficial dialogue familiar to anyone who has arrived in a room full of unfamiliar people. As a team leader, focus on giving people work they can get on with and, at the same time, get to know their colleagues. Tuckman referred to this as the forming stage.

2. Storming

People are social creatures, and we need to assert ourselves, find our allies, and make a niche for ourselves. In the next stage, storming, the group turns inward, focusing on relationship building. Conflicts arise as, like hens in the farmyard, we each seek our place in the pecking order. The group may also start to challenge your leadership so, while you keep them focused on work, you need to assert your leadership and provide support to individual team members.

3. Norming

Following the intensely social storming phase, we withdraw into task-focused activities. We hunker down and get on with the work. The group is now more cohesive, focusing on creating procedures, fulfilling defined roles and making progress. This is the norming stage, and it is often very productive. Because people know what their role is now, focus your leadership on creating links between team members and establishing routines and team habits..

4. Performing

As the quality and depth of relationships build, the group reaches its final stage, performing. Group members support each other in their tasks and show greater behavioural flexibility. The group now feels like a team, with individuals stepping into leadership roles as their capabilities and interests dictate. Your leadership can be very subtle, focused on maintaining the productive environment in which the team can thrive, providing them with the information and resources they need, and protecting the team from disruptive interruptions and distractions.

5. Adjourning

Two decades later, in 1977, Tuckman collaborated with Mary Ann Jensen in reviewing further research studies. As well as endorsing his earlier model, their analysis suggested a fifth stage ‘for which the perfect rhyme could not be found’ in Tuckman’s own words.

They called this stage adjourning, although many authors (including me) prefer the term ‘mourning’. As the group separates, there is a palpable sense of loss. The joy of working successfully with valued colleagues is important to us and we mourn its loss. Like in the case of  ‘real’ mourning, you should make time for your team to reflect on the transition and celebrate the past.

Additional Phases

Trainers and writers have introduced additional phases to the model, which each have their value. Two of these, the ‘yawning’ stage and the ‘transforming’ stage have been covered in earlier Pocketblogs:

Critique

Tuckman’s model was not based on primary research and has been criticised for its linear nature and its discrete stages. Despite this, it accords well with people’s experience and has been applied in a number of related formulations.

As a manager, use the model to understand the evolution of your team, and in interpreting what happens among the groups with which you work.

Further Reading 

  1. The Teamworking Pocketbook
  2. The Management Models Pocketbook
    looks at Tuckman in Chapter 3

Other Pocketblogs you may like

Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

… introduces the model and looks at the storming phase and uses the concept of ‘swift trust’ to understand why some teams skip over this phase.

Team Performance Beyond Tuckman

… isn’t strictly about Tuckman – it introduces the ‘Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model’.

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Tuckman Plus, Part 2: Transforming

Towards the end of 2011, we looked at how teams can get bored and suggested a useful extra phase to the familiar Tuckman Model of group development: forming, storming, norming and performing.

As we start a new year, it seems an opportune moment to introduce another phase: Transforming.

Transforming

Tuckman Transforming Phase

As teams reach maturity, it is increasingly common that they do not simply adjourn at the end of their project.  More frequently, the team re-tasked with a new role.  Some members may move on and new people may join, but just like Murphy’s apocryphal pickaxe*, it is still essentially the same team.

Yet it is different: it has changed.  I hypothesise a new phase: Transforming.

Tuckman Model extended to include Transforming Phase

When people leave, new people join, and the team has a new role, it is unlikely to easily remain in the Performing stage.

Perhaps a new member joins and people get their heads down, get on with their work, and figure out how to incorporate Mr or Ms Newbie into the team.  This feels a little like Norming.

Perhaps the new person has a significant role.  People may compete with one another to influence them.  Or maybe, someone significant leaves and two or three members of the team compete for a promotion to fill their place.  These feel a little like Storming.

Perhaps there is a big change in personnel or the role of the team shifts to a completely new project.  Most team members feel pretty uncertain about what’s expected of them and who their new colleagues are.  These feel a lot like Forming.

So Here is the Deal

When a change happens in your team, it is likely to transform.  Detect the extent of the change, and adapt your leadership style to accommodate the new dynamic.  If you continue to manage your team as if it were still in the Performing stage, then you will delay the team’s return to true performing status.

Happy New Year, and many
Prosperous Transformations,
from all of us here at
Management Pocketbooks

* Murphy’s Pickaxe

‘I’ve had this same pickaxe for 40 years,’ says Murphy; ‘it’s had seven handles and three heads, and I love it.’

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might Like

The Tuckman model and its variants are described in The Management Models Pocketbook.  You might also like:

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Tuckman Plus

The conclusions in Bruce Tuckman’s ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’ are among the best known management models.  In it, Tuckman proposed that groups go through four stages of development: forming, storming, norming and performing.

Later, he and Mary Ann Jensen wrote a follow-up article, ‘Stages of small group development revisited’, in which they proposed a fifth stage, adjourning.  We summarised these stages earlier this year, and looked at why teams don’t always go through the storming phase.

The Tuckman Group Development Lifecycle model: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning

Critical Review

Tuckman and Jensen’s critical review in 1977 was just the first re-analysis of Tuckman’s original 1965 paper.  As recently as 201, there was a wide review article: ‘40 years of storming: a historical review of Tuckman’s model of small group development’ by Denise Bonebright, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota.  In it, Ms Bonebright concludes that there are new theories that are ‘exponentially broader and deeper than Tuckman’s original model. They provide detailed discussion of many aspects of group dynamics from forming through adjourning.’

These theories examine a range of other factors, and yet they do not

‘provide the same breadth of application. HRD scholars and practitioners can learn something from a model that has proved valuable for almost 45 years. The utility of providing a simple, accessible starting point for conversations about key issues of group dynamics has not diminished.’

Can we extend Tuckman’s Model?

There are two principal extensions to Tuckman’s model that give valuable insights, yet do not add unnecessarily to its complexity.  We will look at the more sophisticated early in the new year, and tackle the simpler, commoner one here.

Yawning

Are you getting tired at the end of a long year?  Is your team getting stale and bored?

Tuckman Group Formation - Yawning Phase

A lot of management trainers add an extra phase beyond performing: ‘yawning’.  This recognises that a team, once formed and into performing stage, can become stale.  It is a teaching aid as much as an extension of the  model, to highlight the importance for a team leader to keep the team fresh and challenged – in both the task and relationships dimensions – if you are to maintain high performance.

It is also a reminder that, if your team slips from its high performance levels, this may be what is happening.

Tuckman Model of Group Formation - extended to include Yawning phase

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might Like

The Management Models Pocketbook, bt Mike Clayton

The Tuckman model and its variants are described in The Management Models Pocketbook.

You might also like:

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Team Performance Beyond Tuckman

The Tuckman Model of group development is well-known and provides much insight into how a group of individuals evolves into a high performing team. It’s four/five stages form a mantra for many managers who have enjoyed learning about the model at a training event. They have the huge merit of being easy to remember – because they rhyme (perhaps a lesson to any model builder!

Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing – Mourning

Beyond Tuckman

But there are other models – not least because Tuckman’s model is not subject to copyright. One of the best is the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model, which belongs to The Grove Consultants International. It is widely used in association with their Team Performance Inventory, and as a support to their Graphic Facilitation Pocess.

The Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance ModelThe illustration below is a simplified version. For the full version of the chart, you should refer to the Grove’s website, as it is a protected model.

The Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model

image

What I like about this model is firstly, that it identifies the team issues that are resolved at each stage, and also those that are left un-resolved. Secondly, I like the way that, what in Tuckman is a single stage – ‘Norming’ – is dissected into three components here: Goal clarification, commitment and implementation.

My interpretation is that Goal Clarification starts, for Tuckman, in the Storming phase, but only truly resolves in Norming. Likewise, the process of implementation starts in the Norming stage and continues in Performing. Drexler and Sibbet go beyond Tuckman’s term, ‘Performing’ and use the term ‘High Performance’.

An Historical Perspective

While researching this, I found an article by David Sibbet, in which he describes the genesis of the model. Here is an extract:

‘In early 1980 I began working with my colleague Allan Drexler on a formal model for teams called the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance; System. Earlier research by Allan had generated a simple, four-step model that mirrored the first four stages in process theory. I argued that the model needed to be extended to explain not only the “creating” stages but also the “sustaining stages.” Allan was very experienced with business teams. I applied process theory and eight years, and as many versions later, our Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance™ Model (TPM) has become the standard in the field and used worldwide.’

Also on the same website is another interesting model that David Sibbet had a hand in, The Sibbet/Le Saget Stages of Organization model.

So here’s the deal

The Tuckman Model is excellent – it explains and predicts much. But it is not the only model of team development. We can learn much from the comparisons between different models of the same phenomena. Each will emphasise different aspects, and bring new insights.

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might enjoy

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Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

One of the most familiar management models is Bruce Tuckman’s model of Group Development – sometimes known in the US as the ‘Orming Model’.

A Summary of Tuckman in under 100 words

Tuckmans Model of group Development

Forming

The team comes together in anticipation, enthusiasm, and uncertainty about their roles and their colleagues.

Storming

As they get to know their colleagues and leader, disputes arise over direction, leadership and status.

Norming

The team settles into productive work and establishes ways of working together.

Performing

Team members are comfortable with one another and understand their roles, so the team gets loads done.

Adjourning

The project comes to an end and team members go their separate ways.

For more detail on Tuckman, see the Management Models Pocketbook, or read some of our other blogs on the subject.

The Problem

One of the commonest questions I get asked is this:

‘Mike, I’m not complaining, but why didn’t my team storm?  We all got on with it and moved quickly from Forming to Norming and even Performing.’

My usual first answer is that ‘teams will storm’.  When the pressure for a new team to achieve quick results is lifted, the internal pressures will emerge and, albeit out of sequence, the team will storm.

Teams will storm

This is the Nature of Models

A model can predict or explain, but the nature of a model is to simplify.  This means that, by definition, it must be wrong sometimes!  The better a model, the less frequently it is wrong.

But neither this observation, nor my assertion that ‘teams will storm’ explains why they sometimes don’t storm at the ‘right’ time, nor more so, why some teams do not storm at all – yes, my assertion could be wrong too.

Swift Trust

My answer is hidden in an earlier Management Pocketblog, and in Ian Fleming’s Virtual Teams Pocketbook: ‘Swift Trust’.

The concept was first articulated by Debra Meyerson, Karl Weick and Roderick Kramer and is the subject of a chapter in the cross disciplinary review book, Trust in Organizations, edited by Kramer and Tom Tyler (1996).  Sometimes teams come together rapidly and need to work together effectively without the time it normally takes to build trust.

In some circumstances, trust can be built quickly and this, I suggest, is what delays and even stops the Storming phase.  In my earlier Pocketblog, I offered these six conditions:

  1. Presuming each team member has earned their place
  2. Trusting other people’s expertise and knowledge
  3. Creating shared goals and a shared recognition/reward scheme
  4. Defining a clear role for each person to play
  5. Focusing on tasks and actions
  6. Taking responsibility and acting responsively

Swift Trust emerges when people are willing to suspend their doubts and concerns about colleagues and just get on with a shared task.  They focus on their goals, their roles and the time constraint they are under.

Leadership Role in Creating Swift Trust

Leaders can help foster Swift Trust in seven ways:

  1. Building a great first impression in the earliest days – this will have a big influence on the team
  2. Building relationships from the outset and learning about team members
  3. Swiftly and constructively dealing with concerns and issues as they arise
  4. Creating a feeling that they are present even when they are elsewhere
  5. Encouraging frequent team communication
  6. Using private methods rather than public forums to deal with under-performance
  7. Recognising and celebrating achievements frequently

So here’s the deal

Your team doesn’t have to storm, but if you want to avoid it, you have to build trust: swiftly.

Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

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