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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


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


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


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


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


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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Einstein, Model building and Simplification

It’s time to come clean: I started my career as a Theoretical Physicist.  And, for all the changes of direction in my life (I’m on the third at the moment), I always will consider that as the core of my identity.

So, not surprisingly, my hero is Albert Einstein.  A bit of a cliché, I know, but he did overthrow our entire perception of the universe and, in just one year, solved three of the biggest puzzles facing science at the start of the twentieth century. Incidentally, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for arguably the least well-known, most narrow of these (Brownian Motion) – the other two (Quantum Mechanics and Relativity) being seen as too radical.

Anyway, one of my favourite bloggers (Glen Alleman – Herding Cats – a serious and heavy project management blog) cited this quote of Einstein’s:

‘It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.’

Synchronicity or Coincidence?

This came a couple of days after a reader of this blog, Resli Costabell, suggested:

‘I’d love a blog about how to come up with models.  I have all sorts of beliefs and insights and techniques, but I’m not great at translating those into nice simple models that people can mentally grab onto.’

A Blog about how to come up with models …  No

My problem is how to fit such a big topic into one blog – especially as I wittered on for three paragraphs about Einstein.  So this will be the first of a series of blogs, with other topics in between, so it doesn’t get too geeky.

Classification of Models

To help us in discovering how to create a model, I think it’s helpful to start by classifying models – a model of models, if you like.  There are many ways we can do this and, as you’d expect, a model or two might be called for!

So this first model is a model of the different purposes for which models are created and used.  There are three principal* purposes for a model.

  1. Explanation
    Models of ‘what is’ address our need for understanding
  2. Prediction
    Models of ‘what will happen’ address our need for certainty
  3. Process
    Models of ‘how to’ address our need for control

ModelTypesVennWe can illustrate these with a Venn Diagram – overlapping circles.  This makes our model less rigid, by accepting that a model can simultaneously fulfil two – or even all three – of these purposes.

We could plot each model that we have into one of the three circles and, if it fulfils two or more criteria, it will sit in an overlap.

What Mathematicians Know

What mathematicians know is that a model that does not fulfil any of these purposes will sit in the area outside of all the circles.

* Remember the emphasis on the word principal above.  Is it conceivable that a model could fulfil a different purpose?  Yes, of course it is.  I can’t think of anything significant, so I have kept my model as simple as I can.  If you build a model too complex, it hard to apply.  If you build one that is too simple, it is useless.

The Art of model Building

… is to walk that fine line.  So I will give the last word to Albert Einstein again.  The quote at the top of this blog is often itself simplified to:

‘Everything should be made as simple as possible,
but no simpler.’

Ten Recent Pocketblogs about Models

  1. The CECA Loop
  2. Management and Leadership
  3. Spiral Dynamics
  4. Mehrabian and the Feedback Sandwich
  5. Equity Theory
  6. Social Networks
  7. Six Category Intervention Analysis
  8. Mediation
  9. Logical Levels of Change
  10. Thomas Kilmann Conflict Modes

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

As a lover of models, here are some of my favourite Management Pocketbooks:

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The World belongs to Unreasonable People

Kurt_Lewin‘There is nothing so practical as
a good theory’

So said psychologist Kurt Lewin, whose model of change is one of the most valuable resources that managers have [mental note – great blog topic].

But it is foolish to ‘swallow a model whole’, as Peter Honey points out in his foreword to the Management Models Pocketbook.


Instead, Dr Honey gives the following prescription:

Take a model

Distil it into techniques you can use

Test the techniques in practice

Review and refine

Keep practicing until you become skilled

That’s a pretty good model (a free extra in a book with an advertised ten models!).  Peter, by the way, has a new website and blog, and his thoughts are always worth reading.

The CECA Loop

The third and fourth steps of what I will now call the The Honey Model-users Model are about validating a model.  This is the purpose of a rather fine tool, developed by defence scientist, David Bryant: the CECA Loop.


The CECA Loop starts with two models:

  • A conceptual model of how you want the world to be
  • A situational model of how the world really is


First, evaluate the extent to which the two models are consistent with one another.  They do not have to be the same – one is clearly the world as you would like it to be.


Seek out information that will allow you to evaluate your models.


Now assess the extent to which the two models are the same or different.  When you understand the gaps, you can …


Finally you can change your world or change your behaviours or change the way you perceive your world, to move one of your models towards the other.

‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.‘
George Bernard Shaw
Irish dramatist & socialist (1856 – 1950)

So here’s the deal

Changing the world: how much more practical can a good theory get?

Some Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

The CECA Loop is Bryant’s modernisation of the OODA, which he believes is out-dated.  I believe that the two models can work well together, but let’s remember that both Bryant, and John Boyd, the developer of the OODA Loop, were both interested in the military context.

Their work has wider applications and, like Peter Honey, I believe that, as long as we properly attribute their ideas, we are free to adapt them to our own needs.

The Management Models Pocketbook has a chapter on Boyd’s OODA Loop.

You might also enjoy:

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Creative Manager’s Pocketbook

The Learner’s Pocketbook

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