team dynamics

Team Dynamics. Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

Teams of people have always come together with the objective of achieving results and outcomes. What is it that makes some teams so much more successful than others? Human behaviours and relationships are fascinating; there’s much to analyse. A good foundation and one that is still widely accepted is Bruce Tuckman’s four stages of team development model, published in 1965, focusing on team dynamics.


The Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing Model Focusing on Team Dynamics

When a group of people come together for the first time, it takes time for them to really get to know each other and to understand the differences in values, experience and motivation that they all have.

If the group is created as a team with a common purpose, it takes many months, if not years, for them to become genuinely high-performing because they need to:

  • know about each other
  • learn how to handle conflict
  • develop a degree of interdependence that is both engaging to team members and achieves the team’s goals

A good foundation to understanding team development and one that is widely accepted is the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing Model, published by psychologist Bruce W Tuckman in his 1965 citation, Developmental Sequence in Small Groups¹.

By recognising and understanding each stage of Bruce Tuckman’s model you have an opportunity to identify issues that the team might be grappling with, know when they’re moving on and be better equipped to help them become effective more quickly.

Stage One – Forming

There is an air of nervous excitement and anticipation as a team is created.

At the outset, before individuals have acclimatised and adapted to the new team, they are dependent upon the leader to articulate standards, roles and objectives. The leader should deliver clear goals and objectives to the team, and to individuals, and will need to adopt a fairly directive style. If they are also able to anticipate the team’s needs well, the leader can shorten what could be quite a lengthy stage.

Team members in the Forming stage are likely to behave independently of each other since, while they are approaching other individuals and the group positively, they have not yet had the opportunity to develop trust.

Time is taken up in testing the boundaries –

“What is my contribution going to be compared to yours?”
“Who is really in control?”
“Wouldn’t it be better if we did it this way?”
“How far can we push decision making?”
“Why do we have this attitude to our external supplier?”


Stage Two – Storming

As team members work at addressing their individual and collective goals, a range of ideas and approaches will start to compete for controlling influence.

This is creative and healthy but needs careful facilitation. If too much focus is put on reaching consensus then options are not fully explored, and opportunities are missed; if agendas are allowed to develop unchecked, they could lead to relationships breaking down and/or the team actually failing.

The real reason for conflict is often, not the choices being made, but rather that people have fallen into the trap of focusing on their own behavioural preferences and on others’ differences in style.

In this stage, people promote their own individual agendas and instead of working in an atmosphere of mutual accountability, the workplace becomes tense and ‘political’. People are uncertain because they don’t have established processes to fall back on. Differences emerge about what the standards are and whether or not they are being met. Doubts creep in about capabilities. Blame is apportioned. The leadership is questioned. People tend to focus narrowly rather than having the confidence to step back and look at the wider picture.


Stage Three – Norming

There will be a gradual transition, with some bumps along the way, where more harmonious working practices become evident. Individual differences will have been resolved, people are more likely to socialise with each other, the contribution of each team member is recognised and the atmosphere becomes less tense. People know what standards are required of them and are more likely to accept mutual accountability.

The team becomes more outwardly focused. There is likely to be greater progress towards goals, and this is likely to be reflected in how well the team is perceived by customers and others on the outside.

The leadership style can become less directive as individuals take greater responsibility.


Stage Four – Performing

Once the team has matured, it reaches – or could reach – the high performing stage.

Structural issues have been resolved, and the team structure now supports the achievement of tasks. Roles are flexible and functional. The team can make most of their own decisions; this is done based on criteria that they have agreed with the leader. The energy of the group is now channelled into achieving – and exceeding – goals.

The atmosphere is very positive with regular, open communication and little conflict. Team members are genuinely interested in both their own and each other’s progress. If team members leave or join the group, it makes little difference.

As a consequence the team’s results are outstanding.

Leadership is shared. The leader is actively seeking to delegate authority so that they are simply overseeing the progress of the team. This means that they can focus on other tasks and on supporting personal development.

¹B W Tuckman (1965), ‘Developmental Sequence in Small Groups’, Psychological Bulletin 63.


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