Dr Bruce Tuckman published his Forming Storming Norming Performing model in 1965. He added a fifth stage, Adjourning, in the 1970s. It is one of the few ‘evergreen’ theories on group dynamics that I know. And I am struck by its predictive validity each time I am involved in a largescale project.
The biggest challenge of large-scale projects is that the end result is depending on the joint effort of a lot of people at the same time; To make things worse, most projects are staffed with people who are regarded as ‘skilled’ or ‘expert’ in their domain. The good news is that these people bring solutions to complex problems. The bad news is that that experts and specialists are among the worst listeners on the planet.
Tuckman’s theory describes and predicts with fair accuracy what happens when these people need to meet deadlines and deliver the same deliverable. In a nutshell, here’s what happens time and again:
Stage 1 – Forming: the undeveloped team
• Feelings not dealt with
• Poor listening
• Weaknesses covered up
• Unclear objectives
• Low involvement in planning
• Boss takes most decisions
Stage 2 – Storming: the experimenting team
• Risky issues debated
• Wider options considered
• Personal feelings raised
• Intragroup conflicts
• More listening
Stage 3 – Norming: the consolidating team
• Methodical working
• Agreed procedures
• Established groundrules
• Close relationships start to develop
Stage 4 – Performing: the mature team
• High flexibility/ability to lead process
• Maximum use of energy & ability
• Needs of all met
• Development is a priority
• High commitment, balanced team roles & shared leadership
In short: as you are approaching a deadline, a milestone or any delivery due date it becomes clear how much you have been assuming things and taking other things for granted. The pressure mounts and molecules move in all directions: a storm which results in new norms, agreements and rules of the game. Norming mostly results in statements such as: “Next time we have to deliver this we will pay extra attention to XYZ“. “From now on all the communication about ABC will be centralized by me“.
After these settlements the team is a step closer to better collaboration until the next conflict arises. Slowly but surely people start to know the boundaries of their performance an that of the team and they start to perform as they should. Unfortunately, to my experience the so-called ‘performing teams’ only exist at the end of a project…and then they adjourn… duh!
Tuckman, B. (1965), Development Sequences in Small Groups, Psychological Bulletin, 63, pp 384-99.