Posted on

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:

 

Share this:
Posted on

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’.

Share this: