How Tuckman's stages of group development can benefit your team

tuckman's stages of group development for teams

Leading a team can be a challenge, especially when there’s a big project and tight deadlines. Understanding the lifecycle of a team, however, can help you keep your team productive and happy.

In 1965, psychologist Bruce Tuckman proposed that all teams go through a series of stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. (His student, Mary Ann Jensen, later added a fifth stage called adjourning.) In this post, we’ll break down what each stage entails and how to help team members every step of the way. Plus, we’ll share how to optimize your time for each stage.

Why are Tuckman's stages of group development important?

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Understanding Tuckman’s model will help you identify your team needs as you move through the stages. As a team leader, you’ll be in a better position to support your team, empower them, and promote healthy team dynamics. The result is shared leadership and less micromanaging.

It also means higher productivity. By guiding your team through the stages of group development, you also reduce bottlenecks and other hold-ups that might be caused by poor group dynamics. 

(If you’re curious about the original paper, click here to read Tuckman’s Developmental Sequence in Small Groups in the Psychological Bulletin!) 

1. Forming

First up: the forming stage of group development. As the name suggests, this first stage is all about the formation of the new team, establishing the team’s purpose, and navigating emerging group dynamics. 

How to recognize this stage

In the forming stage, members feel unsure of their status on the team, and increasingly look to the leader for guidance. Little to no risk is taken, as group members value acceptance and stability over innovation. This is the stage where the team form’s their mission and establishes ground rules and objectives. Members need more guidance, since they’re less likely to take initiative and partake in any decision-making. 

How to optimize your calendar for this stage

Of the five stages of group development, the forming stage requires the most meetings. Team members need frequent direction and feedback, so you should anticipate a lot of meetings between members and leadership. 

Clockwise’s Flexible Meetings feature allows for effortless scheduling across multiple calendars. Clockwise automatically chooses the best meeting time and even reschedules meetings when scheduling conflicts arise, allowing for more efficient project management.  

What your team needs to move on to the next stage

While the forming stage is useful in establishing objectives, members rarely branch out from their individual roles. As the group process starts to gel, leadership needs to provide enough structure and direction so that team members feel confident enough in their roles to take risks and assume more responsibility. During this period of team formation, it’s critical that the leader encourages members to go outside of the comfort zone and explore new ways of working together. 

2. Storming

The storming stage of group development is one of the most critical stages, but it’s also the most dreaded. This stage is marked with turmoil and interpersonal conflict as group dynamics are established and members compete for their ideas to be heard. 

How to recognize this stage

The storming stage is like the teenage phase of group development – boundaries are tested, and arguments are inevitable. In this stage, individual members vie for leadership roles while others chafe at their team members giving them direction. Cliques and subgroups start to form, and members value competition more than collaboration. Different working styles clash, and productivity decreases. 

How to optimize your calendar for this stage

It’s essential during the storming phase to reduce frustrations arising from your operations process. Slack integration for Clockwise brings the powerful scheduling tools of Clockwise right to your workspace. Your team members might be snippy at each other, but at least they won’t have the added frustration of dealing with multiple platforms.

What your team needs to move on to the next stage

In order to move on to the next stage, embolden high-performing team members to step into leadership roles, while taking care to actively involve all team members. To avoid power struggles, this is the time to invest in team building and conflict resolution exercises. It’s critical to move your team beyond the teenage mentality of testing boundaries and towards a problem-solving mentality. Learn how to listen to team members. To move to the next stage, your team needs less oversight on the project itself and more team building facilitation. 

3. Norming 

When the clouds part, the group moves from the storming stage to the norming stage of group development. In this stage, the team learns how to work towards a common goal  and shared leadership emerges. 

How to recognize this stage

In the norming stage, team members start to offer new ideas and suggestions. Problem solving becomes a core part of the process of collaboration, and members take responsibility for their outcomes. The team utilizes all resources to meet milestones, and team members step up to support each other.  

How to optimize your calendar for this stage

During this period of high creativity, it's important that team members have periods of time in their day where they can focus completely on their tasks, and not be interrupted by meetings. Clockwise automatically shifts meetings to create uninterrupted blocks of Focus Time. Focus Time is perfect for increasing productivity, and allowing innovative ideas to be implemented. 

What your team needs to move on to the next stage

While the norming stage sounds ideal, they must move on to the performing stage for true interdependence. To facilitate this group development, leaders should continue to give constructive feedback and support, and make collaboration as easy as possible. At this stage, things are going so well that team members might fear the break up of the team if further risks and innovations are taken. Encourage your team to continue to break out of their comfort zone to achieve better results. 

4. Performing 

The performing stage of development is the ideal stage that teams strive for. This was originally the last stage in Tuckman’s model, but it really represents what your team should look like at the height of productivity. 

How to recognize this stage

The performing stage is when your team is truly interdependent. Teamwork and creativity is at an all time high, and team members step up to take ownership over multiple parts of the project. Leaders provide little direction, meanwhile team members share new information and solutions constantly. In this stage, everyone is working towards the team’s goals, and group cohesion is at an all time high. 

How to optimize your calendar for this stage

In the performing stage, team members are often involved in multiple processes, and leading different efforts. Color Coding calendars is a great way for members to block time effectively, and plan their day at a glance. Clockwise automates the process of Color Coding by allowing you to assign different colors to types of tasks, eliminating the need to manually change colors every time you schedule a new task. 

What your team needs to move on to the next stage

All good things must come to an end, and at a certain point, the project will wrap up. To ensure a smooth transition to the Adjourning stage of the project’s end, it’s important to recognize and reward everyone’s efforts, and carry the collaborative effort on to the next project, if applicable. 

5. Adjourning

The final stage of team development is Adjourning. Tuckman’s doctoral student, Mary Ann Jensen, added this phase to acknowledge the process of closing out a project. 

How to recognize this stage

As the project is waning, team members are more focused on the next opportunity than finishing the project. The high energy of collaboration and creativity slows down, as team members check out mentally. 

How to optimize your calendar for this stage

This is another stage where meetings are essential. As members are more focused on personal development and the next opportunity, their schedules might be less flexible, so using an automatic scheduling tool like Clockwise reduces scheduling frustrations. 

What your team needs to move on to the next stage

While there are no stages left, it’s important to ensure that your project ends on a high note. This may be the time for more oversight, similar to the forming stage, to encourage the tying up of loose ends. This is also an important time to meet with team members, provide feedback, and discuss next steps. 

Going forward

Although Tuckman’s stages of group development were first written about in 1965, they remain a useful tool even today in learning what creates high-performing teams. Stages of group development examples can help you understand that what your team is going through is completely normal. Understanding the five stages and how to keep your team moving through each of them helps bolster productivity and foster a creative and collaborative team. 

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