Why Leaders Should Care About Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development

Navigating Leadership of Teams

Tuckman’s theory of group development is a five-stage model that was created to explain how groups change their behavior from forming to performing.

In the first stage, ‘forming’, members of the group get to know one another and begin establishing some informal roles. 

In the second stage, ‘storming’, conflict arises as different points of view clash, and team members may feel increasingly threatened by each other. 

The third stage, ‘norming’, is marked by settling down period in which conflict fades away. In this stage, more formal roles are established, and people begin feeling increasingly secure with one another. 

In the fourth stage, ‘performing’, roles have been well-established and individuals have a sense of stability and security.

In the fifth and final stage, team members ‘adjourn’ at the end of a project.

Tuckman’s 5 Stages of Group Development in Detail

Tuckman’s five stages of group development are collectively called the ‘stages of group development’. These stages are characterized by changes in group dynamics, task focus, and relationship quality.

Stage 1: Forming

At this stage, members are introduced to one another and maybe learn about the team’s purpose. Members become acquainted with one another and the work they will do together. The dominant task for this stage is to establish norms for how to operate as a team.

Stage 2: Storming

This is when things start getting interesting. As people begin taking on roles within the team, they may start finding themselves in disagreement with others who have different opinions or skill sets than them. This can be healthy for growth, but it can also cause friction ─ a conflict that needs to be resolved to make progress.

Stage 3: Norming

The norming stage is characterized first by frustration and anxiety, which is generated when the members of the team are struggling to express themselves. However, team members start to notice the contribution of their colleagues, and the team begins to settle down. Individual strengths are recognized, and collaboration improves.

Stage 4: Performing

In this stage of group development, members of the teamwork together to produce their best-quality work with confidence and efficacy. This is also where group members start getting comfortable with a new level of collaboration. The team will offer their suggestions and feedback to each other as they explore innovative approaches to solving problems.

Stage 5: Adjourning

In group development, the final stage is adjourning. The groups disband and their work is finished. This stage is a time for reflection on the task at hand and a time to evaluate whether the task was completed successfully. This stage is sometimes called ‘mourning’, because team members can feel a sense of loss now a project has been completed and the team is disbanded.

Benefits of Knowing Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development

For any team to be successful, it is important that everyone knows their role. Tuckman’s theory of group development helps you understand the challenges of working in groups and how to overcome them. 

Insight into how groups develop gives leaders knowledge of the stages a group goes through to become cohesive and effective over time, the factors that influence these changes, and the leadership style needed at each stage to create positive progress. 

Tips for leaders at each stage of group development

Coaching a team is a delicate process. Leaders need to know what to say and when, how to give and receive feedback, and how to lead a team through all the stages of development. Here are some brief tips to help leaders lead more effectively through each stage of group development.

Forming

A leader should offer guidance and structure for the team so that they can get off on the right foot and figure out who is in charge.

Storming

The leader should help the team find what unites them, while also keeping an eye on potential conflicts that may arise.

Norming

As the team becomes more cohesive, a leader can focus on improving performance by setting goals and establishing better communication with team members about their role in reaching those goals.

Performing

A leader’s goal is to make sure each person has a clear idea of what is expected from them while striving to maintain a balance of power, respect, and healthy communication.

Adjourning

This stage is characterized by the need to review the successful accomplishments of the group, finalize plans for future meetings or activities, summarize progress by members, and for letting go before setting up guidelines for future work.

How Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development Can Transform the Way We Manage Teams

Organizations need to understand team dynamics and how leadership can shape them by adapting to their needs. 

Leaders are responsible for the success of their teams. They need to make sure that it is running smoothly, with all members aligned and supportive of one another. It is their responsibility to make sure that the team is self-sufficient and has what it needs to grow.

Understanding Tuckman’s theory of group development will help leaders recognize where their teams stand at any given moment and inform what the leader should be doing to facilitate healthy teamwork and productivity.

For more insight into developing and leading high-performing teams, read more about our Scaling Talent Workshops.

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