The Five Stages of Executive Team Building
Bruce W. Tuckman is a respected educational psychologist who, in a 1965 paper, first described the four stages of group development in 1965. While looking at the behavior of small groups in a variety of environments, he recognized the distinct phases they go through. He also suggested that they need to experience all four stages before they achieve maximum effectiveness. He refined and developed the model in 1977 with the addition of a fifth stage. We have found this very insightful in our leadership and executive team building work.
His five stages are as follows:
Forming. Team members meet, get to know each other, learn about the opportunity and challenges, and then agree on goals and begin to tackle the tasks. They tend to behave quite independently. They may be motivated but are usually relatively uninformed of the issues and objectives of the team. Team members are usually on their best behavior but very focused on themselves. Mature team members begin to model appropriate behavior even at this early phase. Team leaders tend to need to be directive at this stage.
Storming. In this stage, different ideas compete for consideration. Team members address issues such as what problems they are really supposed to solve, how they will function independently and together, and what leadership model they will accept. They open up to each other and confront each other’s ideas and perspectives. In some cases, the team moves through this stage quickly. In others, the team never leaves this stage. The maturity of some team members usually determines whether the team will ever move out of this stage. Immature team members will begin acting out to demonstrate how much they know and convince others that their ideas are correct. Some team members will focus on minutiae to evade real issues. Team leaders are still somewhat directive, but tending toward supportive in this stage.
Norming. Team members adjust their behavior to each other as they develop work habits that make teamwork seem more natural and fluid. Team members often work through this stage by agreeing on rules, values, professional behavior, shared methods, working tools, and even taboos. During this phase, team members begin to trust each other. Motivation increases as the team gets more acquainted with the project. Teams in this phase may lose their creativity if the norming behaviors become too strong and begin to stifle healthy dissent and the team begins to exhibit “group think.” Team leaders tend to be participative.
Performing. Not all teams reach this stage, but when they do they are high performing, able to function as a unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. Team members have become interdependent. By this time they are trusting of each other, motivated, and knowledgeable. The team members are now competent, autonomous, and able to handle the decision-making process without supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channeled through means acceptable to the team. Team leaders are almost always participative.
Adjourning. The team completes the task, or doesn’t, and breaks up or reforms.
For a PDF of Tuckman’s Paper: Developmental Sequence in Small Groups