What are the theories about Team stages?

In 1965 Bruce Tuckman identified four stages of development that every team experiences. He suggested that all teams go through the first three stages before the final Performing stage.

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing

His work has provided us all with decades of clarity and direction, ie, we know the stages and understand the complexity of each stage. Affectus says thank goodness for Tuckman and today we share what we know.

If you think through your times of working in teams (is there ever a time when you aren’t in a team?) you can understand the Tuckman stages. The four stages of Tuckman’s initial theory were Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Later Tuckman and Jensen added a fifth stage adjourning.

What does Tuckman provide?

What we all know about teams is that teams are not just about the job or the project or task.

Teams are about the people, and the process, and how we feel about the job, people and process.

This makes teams fun, dynamic, chaotic, frustrating, powerful and functional. And these are just some of the words used by our alumni over the years.

Tuckman understood these complexities. And the five stages were developed to include the three elements that he labelled as:

  • Content (the job)
  • Process (the functioning of the team)
  • Feelings.

By knowing these three elements, at Affectus, we have been able to observe teams in various stages and marvel at the leadership demonstrated by so many of the people we have worked with.

Perhaps these leaders know Tuckman and apply their knowledge? Or have had so many experiences that they just simply know? Or is it that they have an intuitive understanding? Whatever knowledge is available within the teams this is what happens during each of the stages.

Forming

Forming - when the team first meets each other.

The team shares information about their backgrounds, interests and experience and form first impressions of each other, and they are exposed to the job.

During this time they are treading lightly and wonder about how they might work together.

At Affectus we call this the honeymoon phase.

The team is very dependent on the person who appears to be the leader. Leadership is in process. Ensuring that the sharing of information happens, not just once, but that there is a regular "who are we/how are we" conversation.

Storming

Storming – when some edges become sharp.

Every team goes through this part of developing as a team. And for some of us, this stage may be our most enduring memories.

At Affectus we call this “the devil appears” stage.

Status and acceptance of difference of opinions will cause conflict within the team. Hence the Storming title. And sometimes you definitely see devilish behaviour surface.

The team, although usually unable to articulate this, is needing roles and responsibilities to be discussed and allocated. The leadership during this stage is about listening, adjusting and communicating about the developing and allocated roles.

Teams that get stuck here need a lot of leadership. While the focus may seem completely on the people and the processes and the feelings rather than the content…that is ok. It is a stage.

Norming

Norming – refining the process and get stuck into the content (the job)

When the team moves into the Norming stage, they are beginning to work more effectively as a team. They are no longer focused on their individual goals and others positions in the teams. Tthey are focused on developing a way of working together.

The leadership here is to ensure that the focus on “how we work together” secures the development of respectful, productive processes and not “norms” that will create power imbalances or unproductive unwritten activities.

Great teams are enabled by personal leadership to monitor this stage and to be reflective.

Performing

Performing – we are there!!

When a team moves into the Performing stage, they are high-functioning and are focused on getting the content ticked – the job done.

I have been a part of many teams who are in Performing. It is like high energy, trusted team members, edge to chaos seeking activities, and confidence that the job is being done. It is WOW!

If you would like to enhance your understanding of teams to get your team to WOW, our Teams Intensive Workshop will assist you with answering “What do I do if my team is stuck in forming, storming and norming?”

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