How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Form, Storm, Norm, Perform
When teams and other groups of people come together, they typically go through a number of developmental stages.
This process can take a few days or stretch over a much longer period. It can easily take six months for a team to settle down.
A role of the manager (or external facilitator) in this process is not to jump straight to 'perform', but to facilitate this social process and speed the team through the four stages. In particular if the group gets stuck at any point, the manager can help to resolve issues and move them on towards ultimate performance.
Forming happens when people first come together. They are initially polite and the conversation is mostly exploratory, finding out about one another and the work that is to be done.
People here are typically in the 'honeymoon' period and are quite excited about the newness and potential of being in the team. Some also may be more fearful and timid, whilst others are less gregarious, observing from the sidelines more than getting in there and exposing themselves
Managing the 'form' stage is best done by introducing people to one another and ensuring the quiet ones are drawn out and not left out. Rituals may be used to introduce people and get them engaged. The work to be done needs to be communicated in a way that helps the team understand what needs to be achieved without overwhelming them with detail.
As the initial politeness fades, people start to get more into the work and their roles and so start to argue about things that were left unsaid or not realized when they first met.
Storming can be fiercer if one or more conditions exist:
The manager here needs to assert their role and help draw out and resolve differences that might otherwise bubble along under the surface, causing continuing team cohesion problems.
Storming can also be reduced by clarifying work goals and individual role and objectives. When people know what individual success means, they become more focused.
External threat can be used to focus the team, but care is needed. When there is little external threat, people easily turn inwards. Extreme threat can also lead to conflict as revert to high-control behavior.
Team rules such as collaboration and sharing may also start to be developed here, continuing into the next stage of developing group norms. At the very least, storming gives a clear indication as to why such rules are needed!
As roles and personal conflicts are sorted out, the focus turns towards the task and what needs to be done. Objectives are clarified and the detail of work is laid out. Feeling more as a team, people start to help one another more.
Socially, group rules develop and are refined. People begin to feel like they are members of the same team and form a clear sense of identity. Internal conflict may be replaced with external conflict as the human focus turns to 'us and them.'
Managing the process of norming requires a balanced focus on people and work. Work planning will proceed apace as people feel more comfortable in their roles and in working with other people. Group norms and behaviors may be deliberately developed and stories used to discuss and deploy these.
Finally, a steady-state is achieved, where the team reaches and optimal level of performance. A good team will feel like a happy family whilst other teams reach working agreements where personal differences are managed and largely kept under control.
The manager cannot sit back and relax in this stage, but their focus can now be significantly more on the work as the people-related activity falls into a maintenance mode with ongoing performance management and motivation.
Care does need to be taken to sustain an effective task-people balance as it is easy to slip into a happy and lower-performing family or to forget the people in an ever-increasing focus on the task at hand.
Towards the end of the natural life of the team, people start to worry about its dissolution. It has become a haven of comfort and friendship where they know how to succeed and do not feel threatened. Whilst some people turn inwards, others may be looking outwards to the next task. Differences and anxiety can consequently explode into internal or external conflict.
There thus develops a sense of separation anxiety, negativity and crisis, with dissenters being expelled and 'true believers' turning inwards. When outsiders come to change or wind up the group they are treated with significant hostility.
When it is time to end or change the group in some way, managers can be perplexed by the blind refusal to change or contemplate a future that is different from today. This requires the skills of change management to be deployed, for example in celebrating the successes of the past whilst steadily revealing then inevitably of the future. As with beginnings, rituals help people cope with the changes of ending.
Beyond 'reasonable performance', some teams achieve a state of very high performance. In these cases there are two common characteristics of the team. Firstly, they have a particularly high respect for one another. They also typically take on significant challenges that others may well think are impossible. They then work all hours to achieve the challenge and prove others wrong.
Sometimes the team will go off the rails. This may happen through poor management or when the manager takes his or her eyes off the pot. It may also happen when key people leave the group or when new people arrive and upset the established social order.
After deforming, work has to be done to re-form the performing group. The group may go through a quick form-storm-norm-perform cycle as new people are integrated or the group restructures itself to cope with the loss of a key person.
After adjourning and the break-up of the team, former members may well go through a process of grieving as they come to terms with the loss of their team and the special relationships within it.
Bruce Tuckman first described the four stages 1965. He developed the model by synthesizing the literature in therapy groups, t-group studies and natural and laboratory groups. He noted that all of these groups tended to follow similar patterns of development in their formation, and so followed on to identify the subsequent stages.
Tuckman refined and developed the model in 1977 in collaboration with Mary Ann Jensen and added the fifth stage of 'Adjournment'.
Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Development sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399
Tuckman, B.W. & Jensen, M.A.C. (1977) Stages of small group development revisited. Group and Organizational Studies, 2, 419-427