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.
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⌗
- Testing the boundaries
- Learning who each other is
- Hesitant participation
- Looking for guidance from leader
- Quickly accepting the given structure and authority
- Intergroup conflict
- Conflicting factions
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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.