Applying Tuckman’s model for team development

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A team can be defined as a group of individuals who work together to achieve a common goal. This is defined by Professor Thomson of the Kellog School of management as he states that “[a] team is a group of people who are interdependent with respect to information, resources, knowledge and skills and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal" .[1].

This definition makes a team quite different from a group. An example of a team is a football team is a team working together towards a common goal. It is individuals who are interdependent, this means that the work needs to be a joint effort and synergy effects emerge. Whereas groups are independent individuals who are put together, here they interact and exchange information to achieve a particular goal, this has been defined by Robbins and Judge (2009). [2]. Here it is clear who did what part of the project and the result is the sum of the work of each individual.

When a team is formed it goes through a maturity stage which can be described with the Tuckman’s model, also known as the “Form-Storm-Norm-Perform" (FNSP)-model which was introduced and determined in 1956 [3].

Tuckman’s model can be applied to crack the code of understanding how teams behave, and what to expect during the process. This process starts before they can reach a high-level performance and until the end where they reach their common goal. Teamwork is not something that can be forced, it needs time to evolve, to get to its full potential. This can only be done by letting the team members get to know each other and go from strangers to co-workers, which makes the work more effective at the end, due to mutual understanding and respect. There are however some challenges and limitations to the model, since it does not look further into for example cultural differences and the aspect of inclusion. [4]., [5]. Which is an important factor for whether the team members will work effectively or not. The stages only tell us generally what to expect from the point of forming a team to the performing of the team. The model is from 1965 and has therefore been further developed not only by Tuckman himself, but also by other interests. [6].

The stages of Tuckman's model

Figure 1: Bruce Tuckman’s Group Development Stages, adapted from [7].

The Tuckmans model, also known as the “Form-Storm-Norm-Perform”(FNSP)-model was first proposed and introduced in 1956 by Bruce Tuckman [3]. here he states that there are stages that teams go through, and that these are necessary and cannot be avoided in order for the team to develop and step up to the given challenge. “The following model is offered as a conceptualization of changes in group behaviour, both in social and task realms, across all group settings, and over time.” [8]. This will enable them to tackle different problems, plan better, find results, and in the end, get the results to reach their common goal. This will make the team more effective, give them more stability and maturity over time, this however can be done at different rates, which is stated in several bibliographic sources [9]., [10]., [11]., [12].".

The four stages

Stage 1: Forming In the stage of forming the team is assembled and put together, this is also commonly known as the honeymoon phase because everyone is usually on their best behaviour. Here the team gets to know each other, discuss, and agree on how to handle future conflicts amongst the team members. Here a group contract will deal with how to handle challenges, opportunities, and expectations are set to reach the common goal. At the same time, the scope of the project is discussed, defined, concerns are brough up, and how to approach the scope is discussed. Roles are also usually given during this phase by the project manager.

Stage 2:Storming The second stage is the storming. This phase can also be defined as where disorder, confusion, and crisis appear. The members has been assigned different roles and statutes along the way and conflicts start to rise with the progress. “Group members become hostile toward one another and toward a therapist or trainer as means of expressing their individuality and resisting the formation of group structure.” [8]. This is because the team is starting to sort itself out and with it comes trust issues and airing different opinions among the members, where everyone might not agree with decisions. The individual team members might realize that the task at hand is not as simple as they had thought, and the prioritization of the project and leadership could be questioned.

Stage 3: Norming Once the storming is over and the dust has settled, the team enters the norming stage. Here everyone has evolved and learned to adapt to the team. “…conflicts are resolved and some degree of unity emerges. In the norming stage consensus develops around who the leaders are, and individual member’s role” [9]. Here the team will increase in performance and will move their focus to the task at hand, making the team able to reach the common goal.

Stage 4: Performing The last stage the performing stage. It is the most efficient stage of the progress. It is also known as the stage where the team reaches a high-performance, hence the name “performing”. Here the team is cooperating, matured, organized, and have reached a form of synergy. There is now a clear and stable working structure, and the team members can acknowledge strengths and weaknesses among the members. The workload has also been optimized by dividing and being flexible with the responsibilities between the members. This also means that the team can resolve conflicts more efficiently than before, due to implementation and make changes to move onwards with the project. Milestones are also celebrated which also motivates the members to work more efficiently.

Applying Tuckman's model for team development

Table 1: Own illustration of the table of "Moving teams through the stages of team development" from Glasgow University [13]..

Teamwork is not something that just can be switched on, it is an effort that must come from all team members. But using Tuckman's model can make it easier to decipher the phase that the team is in and how to handles the situation in the best way possible. This way the project manager can make the team more effective and easier deliver a high-performance result.

Responsibilities of the Project Manager

During the forming stage, it is advised for the project manager to investigate the qualifications of each team member. How can they best contribute to the team to work most effectively and reach the common goal? Personality tests can also be advised to better secure the communication, workflow, and acceptance of roles on the team “…. The team members are very excited to meet each other. Each of them has heard of one another, although they have not worked together as a team before. They believe they each bring value to this project” [14]. This however will not necessarily prevent the storming phase but might make it shorter and more manageable for the project manager. In this stage, its orientation and getting to know the team members is important for the morality and cooperation of the team.

Table 2: Own illustration of the table of the list "Effective or not" from Projectsmart [14].

Due to the different personalities and different work styles, it is unavoidable to not experience power struggle and conflicts. They will appear due to opinions and frustrations when working with the project. Here it is important to handle the conflicts, instead of trying to ignore them. Here the team needs to be able to seek help from the project manager to resolve conflicts. [9]. A way to make the team more effective and create a better understanding and cooperation is to make workshops. Small tasks that are easily managed and strengthens the bond and trust between members. “The group must feel safe putting forward ideas. To build team trust try asking for help on tasks. That way you’ll encourage people to reflect on what they can offer and what they need from other team members.” [15].

This way they can get past the team conflicts and move on to the stage of norming. The social connections between team members might open for more possibilities and encourage them to support each other. This stage is crucial to move past, if not, the team may end up having a plan that is less effective to reach the common goal because they are to focus on consensus. This means that at this stage, the team can either be made and move on or be broken and may not recover. In some extreme cases, the team can be stuck in the storming phase. Here a one-on-one with the project manager, to review the goals and take responsibility for the members of the team, could be the solution to move on. [16].

If the team gets past the conflicts and enters the norming stage, the cohesion returns, and the members can agree on rules, plans, processes, and values with the help of the project manager. Here it is important to create a positive environment for teamwork, this enhances the workflow and gives the members opportunity to recognize individual expertise and a natural synergy might emerge. Which makes them enter the performing stage. When the team is at the performing stage the team will become more effective, and one might feel that there is no more to contribute with as a project manager. But that is quite the opposite, the project manager should keep engaging the team members and boost them by delegating tasks and celebrate milestones.

Effective or not

Work efficiency in a team is important for not only reaching the common goal but also for the progress of how fast and what kind of result can come out of the team. There can be different indicators on whether a team is effective or not with their work. Some characterizations of whether a team is effective and successful can be set up as follows in table 2. [14].

Limitations and challenges in Tuckman's model

Table 3: Own illustration of the Tuckman's team building model from G. Essien [4].

Tuckman’s model has been used for decades as a management tool for the development of teams, but like many other tools, it has its challenges. Some of them were identified by Tuckman in 1965 where he states that “First this literature cannot be considered truly representative of small-group developmental processes, since certain settings have been overrepresented….”[7].

The setting is not the only challenge when managing a team since not all teams and team members are alike. Many factors can influence how the team might handle challenges and how Tuckman’s model might not be a straight a road from A to B. A diverse group can be a challenge since different personalities and cultures can influence the team development and the cooperation of the team. “culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy; cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster” [4]. To manage a diverse group, it is necessary to develop and implement different strategies other than Tuckman’s model. In that sense that the project manager might have to adapt to the different roles during the different stages to accommodate the team’s needs. This way the progress can run a bit more smoothly, and one is able to handle the different situations and ensure the team and the organizational success see table 3.

Inclusion is also an important factor to consider. This is not something that Tuckman’s model goes deeper into or includes in the model. Making a safe environment for individuals will result in more effectiveness and easier cooperation. “…. Involves creating the conditions in which individuals can feel safe, valued, and fully engaged, while believing that they can be fully themselves in ways that recognize the process of human development at work because it entails a sense of being at ease and engaged while at the same time encouraging and even requiring individuals to stretch beyond their comfort zones.” [5]. Making everyone in the team feels safe to encourage them to speak up during brainstorming, which as mentioned earlier is something that should not be frowned upon or questioned. This would make the member feel insecure and excluded from the team, making them withdraw themselves from the team. Social interactions within the group do not only invite inclusion but also to longer relations between the members.

Further developments

There have been further developments over the years to better optimize Tuckman’s model for team development. This was something that even Tuckman himself choose to investigate 12 years later.

Adjourning The last stage was not originally a part of the model from 1956 but was added jointly with Mary Ann Jensen in 1977 [6]. The adjourning stage is the stage of ending and departure. This is the final stage of the team development, also the end of the project. This stage is usually associated with more stress, as the deadline of the project is nearing, and most likely new projects are starting up. There is however also a cause of celebration when all the work has been handed in and the common goal has been reached. Here the team also evaluates their work and takes everything they have learned in the teams with them to the next project. When the project ends the people in the teams typically disappear along with the project. Therefore, it is important to leave on a good note, because you might not know when you need their help another time or when you might work with them again.

Virtual teams There have been many challenges due to the global pandemic (COVID-19), where many companies have sent their employees home. Home offices have not only turned our daily routine around, but also made new challenges when it comes to working in teams. We have come accustomed to the physical advantages of working in teams, the brainstorming, the handling of conflicts, the workflow and the social interactions. Team development has therefore changed to something more global and international, still having Tuckman model in mind, but also making and adding changes to fit this century and current situation to help the project managers better guide their team members through these odd times. One of the important factors to enhance better teamwork is real time information sharing, using the right software that accommodates to everyone's needs and trust is a major factor for working efficiently among team members who are unable to meet. “In terms of trust, the majority of respondents said that using collaborative tools enabled them to communicate more effectively and regularly than they would have done if they were working face-to-face, and that this connectivity between team members helped them get to know each other and build trust more quickly.”[17]. This is something that will probably be investigated further, due to a lot of companies being more global and international. Here diversity and cultures might clash at some point, just like it would be physically. But not being able to handle it face-to-face might pose some challenges, when it comes to virtual teams.

Annotated Bibliography

  • Tudor Rickards and Susan Moger – Creative Leadership Processes in Project Team Development: An Alternative to Tuckman’s stage model (2002)

This journal is a proposal that theories of team development and of that creativity can be integrated into a new conceptual framework. It investigates in modifying Tuckman’s model to create creativity amongst leaders and effectiveness among team members. They propose to make the stages in Tuckman’s model more fluent thus enhancing the leadership in a creative direction. They also add in a stage between “Performing” and “Adjourning”, which they call the “Outperforming” stage.

  • Alasdair White – From Comfort Zone to Performance Management (2009)

Alasdair examines Tuckman’s development sequence when he is developing the White-Fairhurst TPR model. Here they choose to simplify the FSN stages into one phase “Transforming”. He also demonstrates a link between Tuckman’s model with that of Colin Carnall’s coping cycle and the “comfort zone theory”

  • James B. Shaw and Elain Barrett-Power – The Effects of Diversity on Small Work Group Processes and Performance (1998)

The research article examines the question of diverse teams, here it is the terms of gender, race, ethnicity, age, national origin, and personal characteristics. When a group is diverse, what impact does this have on the team’s effectiveness and performance? How do different work ethics and culture affect the work environment, social interactions, and efficiency of the team? The article does not only apply the Tuckman’s model, but also other models and their own concepts model to see how it affects the diverse groups.


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