As someone who works in new and existing teams and committees every day, I see the phases of Bruce Tuckman’s stages of group development in motion constantly. I can affirm that they are exactly the way a group operates from inception, through a normalization phase, to maturity. Tuckman’s stages are Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning (Bauer, 2010, p.191).
Forming starts off with anxiety as people watch each other to determine where they fit in and how the group operates. I notice that this happens with new groups, but also when a new group member is added to an existing group. The new group member is initially very polite and observant, waiting to see what their place is, what their role is, and what their tasks are.
Storming is the phase in which group members give up being polite and begin to assert themselves. This where there is often conflict as team members get competitive, show off, or assume a hierarchy within the group. Again, with new groups or with pre-existing groups, I see this. When a new group member is added, they often struggle with trying to assert themselves by pushing their ideas or agenda, or even trying to assume leadership in decisions within the group. Sometimes this friction is almost like a wolf pack with a new challenger for the pack alpha. It can feel chaotic and painful, but it is a necessary part of group formation. In order to self-organize, groups usually go through this phase.
In the Norming phase, groups finally feel their place of unity and solidarity. They feel that they are finally all in the places they are supposed to be. The group has good, positive energy and operates well. It has reached an equilibrium in its power dynamic. The group has established its ground rules and standard ways of operating.
In the Performing stage, the group is running so well that they are focusing on improvement and how they are operating. They optimize themselves and are more productive than ever. This is usually where process improvement initiatives and tuning become very important. On short term projects, this still exists, but it is when team members are focusing on how to achieve goals faster and better.
In the Adjourning phase, the groups dissolve and retire.
In most classroom settings that I have experienced, since the amount of direct communication and collaboration is not as high as in other settings, we skip the storming phase. Since we are not in constant communication over group projects, we are not struggling for power. Everyone has a mutual need to get finished, and there is little interpersonal friction. Even without knowing each other, there is little reason to “storm,” as there is no value in it in many classroom atmospheres. Classes that are more collaborative and demanding of interaction do experience all of Tuckman’s phases.
Tuckman’s stages of team formation are observable in every team, especially ones that operate closely. In boards, committees, leadership teams, project teams, and operations teams in a typical workday, team members have to adapt to working with each other, develop norms, and hit their performance stride. In all but the more superficial groups, Tuckman’s stages apply.
Bauer, T., Ergodan, B. (2010). Organizational Behavior, Version 1.1. Licensed under Creative Commons. Flat World Knowledge.