Management & Organization

Create an efficient team with Tuckmann’s 5 team development phases

You probably know the situation: You have gathered a team of your best coworkers to solve a critical work assignment. Your star-coworkers are ready, everybody knows it is an important assignment that needs solving, and everybody know that there is too little time to do it, as always.

But now it has been a month since the team was formed, and still they have not really produced anything. The time is spend on internal disagreements, discussions and negotiations.

So what do you do as executive? How can you help your team get to work?

The first thing you need to do is to understand that disagreements and conflicts is a perfectly normal phase in the development of any team. During its “lifespan”/existence every team will go through a line of development phases. Bruce W. Tuckmann’s model, which is most commonly used, describes them as:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing

 Later on he has added another phase, Adjourning, which is also called Mourning.

Before we get to the solving of your team’s cooperation problem, we need to know what characterizes the different phases. Afterwards we will show you how to make your team more efficient and productive by identifying which phase you are in.

The 5 team development phases

As mentioned, every team goes through these phases. In every phase, from establishing to dissolving, there are feelings, thoughts and behavioral patterns attached, of which it is a good idea that both you and your team know of. Such a knowledge can help speed up the unproductive phases and even maintain the team in the most productive phase: Performing. But first let us go through the phase of establishment that Tuckmann calls Forming:

Forming phase
This is the establishment phase where the team members get to know one another. This phase is often characterized by optimism and the team members often go into new projects with great expectations for what they are about to achieve. Therefor this phase is generally optimistic, the team members behave well and are soon in the process creating joint goals, values and understandings.

Storming phase
After the establishing phase a team typically enters a more conflict-filled period. The honeymoon is over and reality kicks in. Now it often appears as if the great expectations cannot be fulfilled, and as a result conflicts will arise.

Norming phase
The team has now made it to the other side of the conflict-filled ocean and a common understanding of goals, values and standards etc. is not established. A sense of community and team-feeling occur. The productivity is higher than in the two previous phases. But in this phase you will also typically see a certain degree of self-satisfaction among the team members.

Performing phase
This is the most productive (and most entertaining) phase. Here there is less process talk and more focus on the assignments and the solving of them.

The team members feel that they are part of something bigger. And they have developed an understanding of the fact that differences in a team is a strength and an advantage for the team and its goals.

Adjourning phase
The dissolving of the team. In any closure it is normal that some will feel some sort of mourning. The productivity often drops in this phase, because focus shifts to for instance grief.

But how can you help the team reach the Performing phase that is the most productive and the most fun to be working in?

Find out which phase your team is in

First you have to identify which phase your team is in. you do this by viewing the descriptions mentioned above and locating the one that fits your team’s current condition the most.

Is the team’s collaboration for instance characterized by small talk, arguing and discussion, the team is most likely in the Storming phase.

Is there within the team a certain level of satisfaction with the cooperation, but you still feel that the team is not performing at its best, it is probably in the Norming phase.

How to help the team move on

When you have identified the team’s phase, you should consider what you are able to do to help the team move forward. Use the suggestions below to understand your part and consider which actions you can take that helps the team on its way.

A good thing could for instance be to ensure that your team knows the five phases. This can for example minimize the frustrations in the Storming phase and help the team remain in the Performing phase in spite of outer or inner changes.

However you should be aware that this model cannot be used as a diagnosis of a team. You should rather use the model to start a dialog within and with the team. It is through an understanding of what is going on in the team, why something is not working and something else is that the team becomes capable of helping and developing itself into a well-functioning team that delivers the achievements that are needed.

Management actions in different team phases

  • Forming: Help the team create a structure, goals, visions and directions. This way the team can build the trust among each other that they need to function as a team.

  • Storming: If the team is placed in this face, you must target your energy at conflict management. Here it is about the team creating some mutual understandings of how to do things. For instance how they solve problems, how they agree on things and how assignments should be delegated. Perhaps break down goals and visions into smaller and more comprehensible parts, focus on minimizing confusion and also focus on developing a structure that works for the team.

  • Norming: Here the team is doing fine. They have reached a certain harmony among the team members. To help the team move on towards the Performing phase you can as executive aid by evaluating team processes and productivity and set more ambitious goals.

  • Performing: Now things are going really well! The team is productive and communication, feedback etc. is functioning well. Great satisfaction. As executive it is your job to do what you can to support the team, so that it remains in this phase. External happenings, restructurings, new members or members who leaves the team can easily send the team back into one of the precious phases.

  • Adjourning: This phases is the dissolving phase. And even though it may seem that there is not much to do here for a team leader, it is about ensuring that the team in the period leading up to the dissolving keeps its focus on the assignment. Meanwhile making room for the grief that is probably occurring among some team members from having to finish a successful teamwork.