Notes on Development Sequence in Small Groups by Bruce W. Tuckman

Forming. Storming. Norming. Performing. Every writer who writes about teams all reference this one (and only this one) article, and those four stages. It's foundational, and it rhymes.

Development Sequence in Small Groups, by Bruce W. Tuckman

In 1965 Bruce Tuckman wrote a literature review and synthesis of how small groups come together, and how well the do their job. He looked at three types of groups: therapeutic groups, task groups (e.g. teams for a job), and groups who only exist in a lab setting. In all three types of groups, he identified 4 rough stages, and he brilliantly made them rhyme: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

Loose notes on each stage

Forming

  • Testing the boundaries
  • Learning who each other is
  • Hesitant participation
  • Looking for guidance from leader
  • Quickly accepting the given structure and authority

Storming

  • Intergroup conflict
  • Conflicting factions
  • Clash
  • Pecking order
  • active and less defensive v. passive and more defensive (who seek safety in structure)
  • Interestingly, this stage only occurs half the time in therapeutic groups, but all the time in task groups

Norming

  • Group cohesion
  • The group finally becomes an entity unto itself.
  • Everyone accepts the idiosyncracies of each other.
  • "Harmony is of maximum importants."
  • "Maintenance of group boundaries is emphasized."
  • structure and roles emerge

Performing

  • Can do tasks without emotional energy.
  • "interpersonal problems are solved, and the group is free to function as a problem-solving instrument."
  • All the energy is focused on the job to do, not on each other.

Personal notes

This article is very sticky and it's 100% due to the phase naming. It's just so clever. I confuse the order sometimes, but the concepts are always in the right order. (When I mis-order the phases, I put storming last, because it's like storming the castle, like taking on hard tasks as a team.)

I haven't seen these specific stages in all the groups I've been in. Forming, sure, but eventually I think most groups I've been in end up cycling around Storming and Performing. In a few groups we definitely passed Storming completely: everyone just unemotionally did our jobs and enjoyed each other's company outside of work.

What I really want is more research into what I, as a team lead, should be doing in each stage. It's one thing to say, "caution: stormy weather ahead", it's another to tell me how to manage it.

I have never spelled rhyming correctly on my first try.

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