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Dr Bruce Tuckman published his Forming Storming Norming Performing model in 1965. He added a fifth stage, Adjourning, in the 1970s. The Forming Storming Norming Performing theory is an elegant and helpful explanation of team development and behaviour. Similarities can be seen with other models, such as Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum and especially with Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership® model, which developed about the same time.

Tuckman's model explains that as the team develops maturity and ability, and relationships establish, the leader can change leadership style. Beginning with a directing style, moving through coaching, then participating, finishing delegating and almost detached. At this point, the team may produce a successor leader and the previous leader can move on to develop a new team. This progression of team behaviour and leadership style can be seen clearly in the Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum - the authority and freedom extended by the leader to the team increases while the control of the leader reduces. In Tuckman's Forming Storming Norming Performing model, Hersey's and Blanchard's Situational Leadership® model and Tannenbaum and Schmidt's Continuum, we see the same effect, represented in three ways.

The Conscious Competence learning model, together with Kolb's learning cycle theory, and the Johari Window model all provide helpful additional ways to learn and to teach others about Tuckman's ideas and their applications. These will be discussed later.

See also leadership tips and leadership theories, both of which relate strongly to understanding and managing groups.

The progression is:

  1. forming
  2. storming
  3. norming
  4. performing

Here are the features of each phase:

Stage 1: Forming

High dependence on leader for guidance and direction. Little agreement on team aims other than received from leader. Individual roles and responsibilities are unclear. The leader must be prepared to answer lots of questions about the team's purpose, objectives and external relationships. Processes are often ignored. Members test the tolerance of the system and leader. The leader directs (similar to Situational Leadership® 'Telling' mode).

Stage 2: Storming

Decisions don't come easily within the group. Team members vie for positions as they attempt to establish themselves in relation to other team members and the leader, who might receive challenges from team members. Clarity of purpose increases but plenty of uncertainties persist. Cliques and factions form and there may be power struggles. The team needs to be focused on its goals to avoid becoming distracted by relationships and emotional issues. Compromises may be required to enable progress. Leader coaches (similar to Situational Leadership® 'Selling' mode).

Stage 3: Norming

Agreement and consensus largely form among the team, who respond well to facilitation by the leader. Roles and responsibilities are clear and accepted. Big decisions are made by group agreement. Smaller decisions may be delegated to individuals or small teams within a group. Commitment and unity are strong. The team may engage in fun and social activities. The team discusses and develops its processes and working style. There is general respect for the leader and some of the leadership is more shared by the team. The leader facilitates and enables (similar to the Situational Leadership® 'Participating' mode).

Stage 4: Performing

The team is more strategically aware; the team knows clearly why it is doing what it is doing. The team has a shared vision and is able to stand on its own feet with no interference or participation from the leader. There is a focus on over-achieving goals, and the team makes most of the decisions against criteria agreed upon with the leader. The team has a high degree of autonomy. Disagreements occur but now they are resolved within the team positively, and necessary changes to processes and structure are made by the team. The team is able to work towards achieving the goal, and also attend to relationship, style and process issues along the way. Team members look after each other. The team requires delegated tasks and projects from the leader. The team does not need to be instructed or assisted. Team members might ask for assistance from the leader with personal and interpersonal development. Leader delegates and oversees (similar to the Situational Leadership® 'Delegating' mode).


Tuckman's 5th stage: Adjourning

Bruce Tuckman refined his theory around 1975 and added a fifth stage to the Forming Storming Norming Performing model - he called it Adjourning, which is also referred to as Deforming and Mourning. Adjourning is arguably more of an adjunct to the original four-stage model rather than an extension - it views the group from a perspective beyond the purpose of the first four stages. The Adjourning phase is certainly very relevant to the people in the group and their well-being, but not to the main task of managing and developing a team, which is clearly central to the original four stages.

Adjourning - stage 5

Tuckman's fifth stage is the break-up of the group, hopefully, when the task is completed successfully, and its purpose fulfilled; everyone can move on to new things, feeling good about what's been achieved. From an organizational perspective, recognition of and sensitivity to people's vulnerabilities in Tuckman's fifth stage is helpful, particularly if members of the group have been closely bonded and feel a sense of insecurity or threat from this change. Feelings of insecurity would be natural for people with high 'steadiness' attributes (as regards the 'four temperaments' or DISC model) and with strong routine and empathy style (as regards the Benziger thinking styles model, right and left basal brain dominance).

This simple overview of the Tuckman forming storming performing norming model offers a simple easy way to understand how groups develop. Tuckman's model is especially helpful in training people about group work because it relates so obviously too many other theories about how groups develop.

Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership® model

The classic Situational Leadership® model of management and leadership style also illustrates the ideal development of a team from immaturity (stage 1) through to maturity (stage 4) during which management and leadership style progressively develop from relatively detached task-directing (1), through the more managerially-involved stages of explanation (2) and participation (3), to the final stage of relatively detached delegation (4), at which time ideally the team is largely self-managing, and hopefully contains at least one potential management/leadership successor.

The aim of the leader or manager is therefore to develop the team through the four stages and then move on to another role.

Ironically this outcome is feared by many managers. However, good organizations place an extremely high value on leaders and managers who can achieve this.

The model also illustrates four main leadership and management styles, which a good leader is able to switch between, depending on the situation (i.e., the team's maturity relating to a particular task, project or challenge.)

(Situational Leadership® is a trademark of the Center for Leadership Studies, which represents the interests and products of Dr Paul Hersey. Ken Blanchard (who incidentally wrote 'The One Minute Manager') went on to develop the Situational Leadership® system into what he called Situational Leadership II®, which now covers a range of products marketed by his organization, The Ken Blanchard Companies. Use of material relating to Situational Leadership® and/or Situational Leadership II® requires licence and agreement from the respective companies.)

Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum

The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum also correlates in a way to the models above - essentially that management style tends to offer more freedom as the group matures.

The diagonal line loosely equates to the dotted line on the other two models. As the team matures and becomes more self-sufficient and self-directing, so the manager's style should react accordingly, ideally becoming more detached, more delegating, encouraging and enabling the group to run itself, and for a successor (or if you are a good manager or a lucky one, for more than one successor) to emerge.