Weathering the Storm

Tuckman’s model overview

Bruce Tuckman’s model is one of the most frequently cited models of group development. It describes 4 nearly linear phases – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. A fifth stage was added later called Adjourning.

Tuckmans Model

Forming – This is when the team is put together. People are new and trying to learn about each other. They also trying to learn more about their tasks. The focus is usually still on themselves as individuals rather than on the team. At this stage, team members skirt around tough, controversial topics.

Storming – In this stage, the team members start to broach topics that lead to potential conflict – like structure, distribution of responsibilities, leadership and decisions. This stage is also where team members try to establish their status within the team.

Norming – When teams emerge from the storming stage, they enter the Norming stage where they begin to identify with the team’s common goals. Team members begin to accept each other as they are and display more tolerance.

Performing – With roles and norms established, teams may reach a high level of success. Motivation levels are high and so is expertise due to experience and team stability. Dissent expressed in constructive ways is encouraged.

Adjourning – As the project ends, the team breaks up or disbands in the adjournment phase.

Are you caught in the Storm?

Many teams emerge from the storming stage stronger and better. Team members will resolve their differences. They will be comfortable working with each other and enter the Norming stage sure-footedly.

On the other hand, for teams where the storming phase is allowed to get out of hand, it can be destructive and demotivating. The storming stage can be upsetting for team members. Some teams may never emerge from the storming stage. Other teams may regress to this stage when a significant new challenge arises.

Symptoms of being in the Storming stage

In the storming phase, as team members jockey for power, there is high focus on individual glory and competition for individual recognition between team members. This phase is marked by frequent confrontations and emotional responses to tasks and situations. Individuals are frequently highly opinionated and close-minded to dissenting thoughts. Formation of intra-group cliques or sub-groups is common.

Effects – emotional impact

The phase, unless actively tackled, can lead to high frustration. It gives team members a feeling of being stuck. There is a lack of trust between team members. And having to work closely with team members one doesn’t trust can be emotionally draining. An elongated storming stage may lead to a pseudo Norming stage – marked by political correctness, fake consensus, low commitment and low accountability.

 Why the Storming stage is important?

A team that successfully emerges from the storming stage emerges stronger, more versatile and with more room for creativity. The team exhibits higher tolerance and patience for other team members. There is an acceptance of differences instead of a push for homogeneity.

Getting to Norming

Handling and overcoming the storming stage needs deliberate focus. While team members may overcome some issues on their own, a leader or facilitator plays a crucial role to move to Norming. At this stage the leader largely needs to adopt a coaching stance.

The primary focus of leaders/facilitators at this stage is to get team members from Competing to Collaborating (reference to Thoman-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument).

Things to try for facilitators and leaders

Be a good listener – While it may be tempting to look the other way and hope the problem will go away, it is an unlikely strategy to work. Encouraging team members to express their feelings and thoughts is important to avoid unresolved issues from festering.

Meeting team members individually to create safe environments for expressing thoughts may help relieve some of the tension.

Roles – Defining roles, possibly short-lived, to support collaboration can help move the team forward toward conflict resolution and Norming.

Shared experiences – Forming groups cutting across cliques to work on tasks can be a useful measure. Working towards common goals and having shared experiences, is frequently successful in creating an appreciation for skills and strengths of other team members.

Focusing on action – When creating a platform for the whole team to express frustrations, it is important to quickly move to more objective terrain – that of defining and organizing tasks.

Ground rules – Promoting respectful communication within the group and modeling the behavior can help set acceptable rules and norms within the group.

Reward and recognize collaboration – If team members see individual success being rewarded and appreciated, they will continue to stay in conflict-mode. Reinforcing collaboration by publicly appreciating team work can promote desired behavior.

Watch out for pseudo-Norming

It is not uncommon to sweep the problems of the storming stage under the proverbial carpet. This may be done by addressing symptoms instead of root causes. It may lead to an appearance of normalcy. In reality, team members may harbor feelings of conflict internally while externally exhibiting consensus. Team members in a pseudo-normalcy are usually disengaged, don’t identify strongly with the group and are not invested in the success or failure of the group. Decision making is usually not participative and team members look for directions. Motivation is low and team members may do the minimum that is expected from them, taking a check-the-box approach.

In conclusion

There is some overlap between the various stages. Also, teams move back and forth between different stages when exposed to different stimuli. The storming stage can be upsetting but when successfully overcome, can make the team stronger and take it one step closer to high performance – a state of high competency, autonomy, motivation and creativity.



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