Developing a project with the Tuckman's model

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Bruce Tuckman, professor[1]


Why we need this model and how it works?

When it comes time to carry out a project, there are a number of elements that are essential for the proper functioning of the team or group assigned to it. In the first place, the cohesion and synchrony of the team are essential to progress effectively, in addition, good leadership of one or more members (depending on the size of the group) can become one of the key factors for the success of this project. [2]

If you have worked on any of these projects, you will know that this is not easy, since most people come from different backgrounds, cultures, origins, ways of working... and therefore this synchrony is not always achievable. To solve this, B. Tuckman designed in the 70s, a model (Tuckman's Model), which more than a model can be considered a tool, since it helps to improve the productivity, synchrony and performance of teams through growth and development of the members of it. All this based on giving these people a sense of belonging to a group and some marked phases in the development of these projects.

Therefore, to achieve this through the Tuckman's model, we can say that this tool consists of a group of phases that a group is considered to have to face for its development and correct functioning, and that are considered necessary to be able to speak of a high-performance team. [3]

How is it distributed

Initially, the model consisted of four ordered parts in which a non-linear progression was obtained, that is, the effectiveness of the team does not increase as it progresses through the phases, but rather it is about obtaining a better performance as a whole at the end of the phase. These 4 and not during them. We can also consider a fifth phase that is not considered in some cases (adjourning phase), but we will talk about this later. [4]

The name of these phases in a sorted way are forming, storming, norming and performing.

The different stages

Forming phase (Stage 1)

This is the initial stage for all projects, even those in which this model is not intended to be followed, we can see that it is still being carried out, to understand this we are going to explain what this phase consists of. In the first place, we find ourselves in an environment where the members do not know each other, there is greater uncertainty and lack of knowledge about how I can contribute to my team, what they can contribute to me, what is expected of me and what I expect of them.

This behavior leads to an individualistic attitude where it is about standing out so as not to denote insecurity or lack of confidence, or on the other hand so as not to be seen as dominant people, quite the opposite. For this phase it is important that the leader is able to detect the strengths, abilities and skills of the people in his group and thus be able to assign each of them their role, trying to guide all the members towards the same direction where all members can show their strengths, but also learn and show different points of view. [5]

In addition, this is a good phase for the leader to declare his way of working, where he may want the group to perceive a high dominance of the leader in the project or, on the contrary, a much flatter structure where the leader only manages the work but does not is the most important member.

Once these elements are clear, it is about reaching an agreement on how you want to manage this project and its objectives, and although all these may vary, it is important and very useful to have them established and clear beforehand

Storming phase (Stage 2)

This is considered the phase where the participants show less cohesion and less performance in terms of group work. At this point problems can arise, which leads the different members to disagreement and to express the different points of view on how to deal with certain elements or problems, in the same way you can see the different dynamics proposed by the members and their strategies to solve these points based on your experiences, perceptions and opinions.

Although it is necessary to work carefully, since at these time dominance problems may appear on the part of the leader with respect to one or several members, the role of the leader must be marked and the conflicts must occur under his supervision it is important to establish that the team needs to focus on its goals to avoid becoming distracted by relationships and emotional issues as well as make clear that compromises may be required to enable progress. Is in this stage when most of the groups loses the interest in the project based on that, and that is why is important to do this as soon as possible in the lifecycle of the project. [6]

These confrontations, once resolved, show the different members of the team that it is not a negative thing to express their opinion, confront each other or try to change the opinion of the rest and leads to an environment of confrontation and problem solving rather than an environment of avoidance. These, since it must be clear that conflicts are not a negative element but an opportunity to take different points of view.[7]

What is expected at this point (already at the end of this phase, is that the members are able to talk about the problems, expose them and that it does not affect the group individually, in addition, the trust between the members will have been increased and therefore it is more difficult to disintegrate the group.

Norming phase (Stage 3)

At this point, the group should be highly cohesive, demonstrating great trust and communication with each other and a shared goal, viewpoints and objectives. In addition the members are aware of the different abilities of the members as well as their strengths as a team.

Our group has also accepted their roles, which allows us to generate both a complete group feeling and great security when working in it. This allows that despite the fact that big decisions require consensus and debate, small tasks can be delegated to other members without the need for constant supervision, a quality that is present in high-performance teams. In addition, the feeling of leadership by the person in charge of the project will have been completed and this will facilitate many of the problems that occur in other types of scenarios. [8]

Although this stage is very beneficial, it is taken for granted that to reach this stage the acceptance of changes has been required by all the members, including the leader, depending again on what type of project we are in (pyramidal or flat).

Performing phase (Stage 4)

In this phase often considered the last phase, we start from a base which we can consider stable and we have an independent group that does not require the instructions of a leader (although these can be carried out) to advance, in addition the group is focused in completing the objectives established in the initial phases and in completing the project, making many decisions with the own criteria acquired thanks to this method, giving the group high autonomy and reducing the leader's workload. [9]

The changes, although heavy due to the advanced situation of the project, are very simple to carry out since the group functions as an individual and the work style has been adapted to it.

All members no longer need to be instructed and try to complete the project in the best possible way. It is the members themselves who are aware of this improvement and thanks to the cooperation, coordination and collaboration that has been achieved, we have turned our team into a high-performance team.

Although this phase is the most productive and having reached it, the chances of finishing the project as a success are considerable, it should be noted that not all groups manage to reach it, dissolving or not functioning as a high-performance team.

Adjourning phase (Stage 5)

Characteristics and strategies (adjourning phase) There is quite a bit of controversy regarding this phase, which was added by Tuckman himself refining this methodology in 1975, and we can find information related to it referring to it as adjourning or deforming.

Much of the criticism of it is due to the fact that we must consider this a phase of complementation rather than an extension phase or a new phase per se. The location of this step in the tool provided by Tuckman is after the 4 phases, at the end of the project.

It is relevant for the people of the group on a personal level, of trying to use different members of this group in future groups or in future projects or simply of wanting to complete a cycle for the members of the same, since this phase does not focus on the project, but it acts when it is finished and therefore we consider that it is above the objective of generating a successful and quality project and focuses on the members as individuals.

This phase is the dissolution of the group once the task has been completed satisfactorily, and as different experts, including Tuckman himself, consider regarding this fifth stage :

Therefore, in this phase, the leader will be in charge of dissolving this group in the best possible way and thus not affecting the future performance of these workers in the short to medium term, trying not to affect the insecurities of the members or creating insecurity due to the uncertainty of a new project.

Performance using this model

Figure 1: Tuckman's Team and Group Development Model.[10]

As we have previously introduced, this is not a linear model, but can change greatly between different groups, both the time spent in the stages and the productivity of the team during the different phases. As we can see in the image, it could be said that a new group, working as a team without prior knowledge, based on their past experiences, will have a performance close to 30%, which is really not too much.

With the first phases, we will put in common the different points of the team, etc. (in case of not knowing how it works, review phase 1, forming), this will allow our performance to be close to 40-50%, still very far from considering ourselves a high-performance team. Now comes phase 2, in which the majority of teams that fail carry out their failure, during this stage, as we know, confrontation is sought, which results in a loosely united group, with fears and many insecurities, that is when our team will have about 20% of its maximum performance, but it will only be when we finish that phase and enter the 3rd phase, in which we will be able to say, thanks to the confrontation, agreement and sharing, we will find better results than the initial ones, and It is here when trust increases, roles are accepted... and therefore our team begins to increase its productivity enormously (about 70%), it is through habituation to this phase that we will arrive at the last (or penultimate) if we consider phase number 5) phase, where thanks to the autonomy and trust of the group, and the tranquility of the leader to delegate as well as of the different members, it will allow us to reach 100% productivity as a team.

It is clear that all this is explained from a theoretical framework, reality never works exactly as planned, but there is no doubt that if the characteristics that have been stated in these last phases are acquired, we will have a high-performance team. Finally, we can talk about phase 5, where the project is finished, and productivity is no longer relevant. But it is this phase, which will allow us to be able to join new projects without that feeling of loss and therefore start with a better rhythm, giving a better impression and showing ourselves to be more cooperative at the beginning of these new proposals.

Current problems with the Tuckman model

Why is it currently not considered such a good model? Numerous articles are recently written referring to the fact that this model is wrong and lacks effectiveness. [11]

Tuckman's Model without a leader

Tuckman's model was clearly intended to be executed by a group with a leader, who can work authoritatively and hierarchically as well as cooperatively without imposing on the rest of the group and only managing the different stages. But more and more projects are started without a fixed leader, that is, rotating, changing or lacking. In these cases the Tuckman model could present many difficulties and setbacks.

Problems divided into phases

Phase 1

In this phase there is no one who proposes a way to work or initiate contact between members, and there is no one who can guide the team through the objectives in a neutral way. Probably the group establishes the most dominant member as a pseudo leader, which can lead to inferiority complexes, criticism against the dominant individual or expectations about him that are not in line with reality. In addition, there is no one person to turn to in case of conflict, which increases tensions and reduces the spontaneity of the participants.

Phase 2

This is probably the worst of the phases to not have a leader, during this time the team is at its worst, without any choesion between the members and waiting for various discussions and criticisms, there is no one in charge of maintaining the tone of these or the dynamics of the same, which can lead to personal problems between the members. Also, in case of reaching a discussion without a clear winner, both parties will feel that they have won or that they have lost, but nothing will have been obtained from this discussion, other than the separation of the group, which in itself at this point does not is small. Continuing with the case of a dominant member, he can try to solve the problems, which can cause a rejection of him for appropriating a power that does not correspond with him, as well as the feeling of not being able to express a different opinion about it, even being in principle at the same level of responsibility and opinion.

Phase 3

In the unlikely event of having passed phase 2, we are now in a phase where the roles should be clear, but this is probably not the case since they have not been objectively distributed by a person who is considered more external with respect to the other members. In addition, the delegation of tasks cannot be controlled, and the fact that tasks are required from another member who is not the leader can be identified as an attempt at dominance, which once again can generate tensions in the group. In addition, to get here and complete this phase, as we have explained before, an open mindset is required to accept changes, which may never be carried out due to lack of consensus due to the entity of the missing leader.

Phase 4

In this phase the members do not need to be instructed and the burden that should supposedly be assigned to the leader is practically non-existent, which is why in these phase problems should not arise. However, it is during this phase that the project is finished, and the last touches can be perceived as unnecessary for some members or really important for others, it is then that the lack of leadership appears, since an authority is required. To terminate the project in case the dead line is blurred.

Long term benefits

Despite the fact that this idea of a lacking leader presents a large number of drawbacks, and making it clear that these outweigh the advantages, in the unlikely event of reaching phase 4 without this leader, the group should find themselves in a great synchrony and probably with a very large collective mind that allows them to agree on most aspects of the project, in addition, the discipline would be given by each individual and not by a leader who forces it. The feeling of unity would be greater among all the members since there would be none that is above from the beginning. However, this is a very risky strategy, since most attempts with this dynamic have ended in failure during the second stage.


  • Adams, S. L., & Anantatmula, V. Social and behavioral influences on team process. Project Management Journal
- Recommendations on how to manage the group at each of the stages, intresting in the project manager view.
  • Williams, J. Team development for high-tech project managers. Artech house.
- Motivation on team management, group work and using Tuckman's model can be found in this article
  • Blaskovich, J. L. Exploring the effect of distance: An experimental investigation of virtual collaboration, social loafing, and group decisions.
- Differentiation between online and in person group work,as well as expanding on the possibilities of this model.
  • Jie Zhen. Application of Tuckman's Model in the Community Folk Team Management in Community Education
- This paper sums up the practical experience from using the model to the non-governmental organization in order to provide a reference for other community group development.
  • Denise A. Bonebright 40 years of storming: a historical review of Tuckman's model of small group development.
- Historical overview of the Tuckman model describing the stages of group development
  • Tudor Rickards,Susan Moger. Creative Leadership Processes in Project Team Development: An Alternative to Tuckman's Stage Model-
- The framework proposes two structural barriers that bear on team performance, and modifies the well-established team development model of Tuckman.


  1. Bruce Tuckman, (2017). Bruce Tuckman
  2. Susan Mohammed and Sucheta Nadkarni, (2011) The Academy of Management JournalVol. 54, No. 3, pp. 489-508
  3. Deirdre Scully", (2020) The 5 Stages of Team Development
  4. HBR Editors, (2016) The Four Phases of Project Management
  5. Sheri L. Johnson, Liane J. Leedom, and Luma Muhtadie, (2012) The Dominance Behavioral System and Psychopathology
  6. Abraham Zaleznik, (2002 )Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?
  7. Amy R. Overton, and Ann C. Lowry,, (2013) Conflict Management: Difficult Conversations with Difficult People
  8. Jasmine R. Linabary, (2011) Small Group Communication: Forming & Sustaining Teams ch.10 MAKING DECISIONS IN GROUPS
  9. Phil Rabinowitz, (2020) Leadersip and Management, Ch13, S3
  10. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named R1
  11. Doc Norton, (2017). Tuckman Was Wrong!

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