The Tuckman model states that there are several stages of team development. But knowing the existence of these stages is not enough.
Knowing how to identify them and what to do about them is the real power for improving your team.
If we look at the drawing – it maps the development stages to the performance of the team over time.
The stages of team development
the team is formed, a common goal is defined, and people understand they depend on each other to complete it.
the moment when things go down… This stage is full of uncertainties (people don’t know what to do) and conflicts (for roles, ideas, and power).
people start having clarity and agreements. The team synchronizes on the ways of working.
team productivity goes up! The team now knows what to do and does it together, in an aligned way.
Now, let’s dig deeper.
There are 3 key aspects:
1. The stages are repeating
They aren’t static. As a leader, you should know what stage the team is. Different stages require different actions.
2. Identify micro-events
Whenever there is a desire to change or an actual change from the normal way of working, this will trigger the team to move into the storming or even the forming stage.
Micro-events could come from within the team or from external forces. They could also be unexpected events.
Let’s see some examples:
- a team member joins or quits the team
- someone proposes a process change
- a bad delivery breaks the product
- major global event (e.g. merger)
- an unusual customer request
- restructuring of the team
- a new team goal
3. Manage the drop
The storming drop happens for all teams. What high-performing teams do exceptionally well is anticipating it, recognizing it, and managing it swiftly. The drop shouldn’t be too deep or take too much time.
As a leader, you should:
- normalize the storming drop and prepare people it will happen
- announce to the team when you are experiencing it
- navigate the team to pick a solution everyone commits to
Knowing these 3 key aspects separates great team leaders from average ones.
How to identify the different stages and what to do while they happen
The Forming Stage – Why are we together?
Any change of the members of the team (in or out), change of the roles of people, or change of the goal will put the team in a forming stage. Here it’s crucial to make the bigger picture clear.
The Storming Stage – Do we know what we are doing?
You’re in this stage if you have any conflict (healthy or not), debating on different points of view, any uncertainty. Moreover, micro-events that occur will trigger this stage. If you have a bad delivery on Friday, if you have a person on sick leave, or if someone suggests a process improvement – this could derail you from your normal ways of working. In this phase, the most important thing to do is to listen and allow people to speak. It’s a phase where it’s important that every person is heard and different ideas are put into a discussion. It’s natural that it will be uncomfortable or even painful. It’s normal that people will have different ideas on how to proceed. If someone is not heard in this stage and their opinion is not taken into account – whatever decision is made, people might not be committed.
The Norming Stage – We know what we are doing.
The norming stage is a natural consequence of the storming stage. If you are trying to choose a common approach – then you are trying to norm. This is the stage where things get clear to everyone. Most teams suck at this stage as they don’t have a decision-making process. If you want to be quick – establish a clear decision-making process that everyone agrees to follow and then you’ll be able to synchronize on differences in an instant.
The Performing Stage – We are doing it!
At last! It actually feels great to work! You are in the zone! Things flow smoothly! You are delivering results. Everyone knows what they are doing and you can count on each other. The ways of working are clear, the standards are clear and everyone is following them. This is the phase where it’s crucial for team members not to avoid accountability. As things are clear – people should remind each other (or even correct each other) when someone is not following what’s agreed.
Enjoy the performing stage while it lasts 🙂
In essence, this is what you should do to have great results in each stage:
Forming: make the bigger picture clear.
Storming: make sure every person is heard and different ideas are put into a discussion.
Norming: establish a clear decision-making process that everyone agrees to follow.
Performing: have a high standard and make sure people don’t avoid holding each other accountable.
Let’s wrap up
As a leader, you should:
1. Know that the curve is continuous and it goes up and down all the time.
2. Expect and recognize the micro events, which will trigger a drop in performance.
3. Manage the storming drop: don’t let it be too deep or take too long.