Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing

Understanding the Stages of Team Formation

Learn how to use this simple model to help
your new team become effective quickly.

You can't expect a new team to perform well when it first comes together.

Forming a team takes time, and members often go through recognizable stages as they change from being collections of strangers to united groups with common goals. Tuckman's Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing model describes these stages. When you understand it, you can help your new team become effective more quickly.

In this article, we'll look at how you can use this model to build a highly-productive team.

About the Model

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase "forming, storming, norming, and performing" in his 1965 article, "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups." He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance. Later, he added a fifth stage, "adjourning" (which is sometimes known as "mourning").

Let's look at each stage in more detail.

Forming

In this stage, most team members are positive and polite. Some are anxious, as they haven't fully understood what work the team will do. Others are simply excited about the task ahead.

As leader, you play a dominant role at this stage, because team members' roles and responsibilities aren't clear.

This stage can last for some time, as people start to work together, and as they make an effort to get to know their new colleagues.

Storming

Next, the team moves into the storming phase, where people start to push against the boundaries established in the forming stage. This is the stage where many teams fail.

Storming often starts where there is a conflict between team members' natural working styles. People may work in different ways for all sorts of reasons, but if differing working styles cause unforeseen problems, they may become frustrated.

Storming can also happen in other situations. For example, team members may challenge your authority, or jockey for position as their roles are clarified. Or, if you haven't defined clearly how the team will work, people may feel overwhelmed by their workload, or they could be uncomfortable with the approach you're using.

Some may question the worth of the team's goal, and they may resist taking on tasks.

Team members who stick with the task at hand may experience stress, particularly as they don't have the support of established processes, or strong relationships with their colleagues.

Norming

Gradually, the team moves into the norming stage. This is when people start to resolve their differences, appreciate colleagues' strengths, and respect your authority as a leader.

Now that your team members know one-another better, they may socialize together, and they are able to ask each other for help and provide constructive feedback. People develop a stronger commitment to the team goal, and you start to see good progress towards it.

There is often a prolonged overlap between storming and norming, because, as new tasks come up, the team may lapse back into behavior from the storming stage.

Performing

The team reaches the performing stage when hard work leads, without friction, to the achievement of the team's goal. The structures and processes that you have set up support this well.

As leader, you can delegate much of your work, and you can concentrate on developing team members.

It feels easy to be part of the team at this stage, and people who join or leave won't disrupt performance.

Adjourning

Many teams will reach this stage eventually. For example, project teams exist for only a fixed period, and even permanent teams may be disbanded through organizational restructuring.

Team members who like routine, or who have developed close working relationships with other team members, may find this stage difficult, particularly if their future now looks uncertain.

Using the Tool

As a team leader, your aim is to help your people perform well, as quickly as possible. To do this, you'll need to change your approach at each stage.

Follow the steps below to ensure that you're doing the right thing at the right time:

  1. Identify the stage of team development that your team is at from the descriptions above.
  2. Now consider what you need to do to move towards the performing stage. Figure 1, below, will help you understand your role, and think about how you can move the team forward.
  3. Schedule regular reviews of where your team is, and adjust your behavior and leadership approach appropriately.

Figure 1: Leadership Activities at Different Group Formation Stages

Stage Activities
Forming
Storming
  • Establish processes and structures.
  • Build trust   and good relationships   between team members.
  • Resolve conflicts   swiftly if they occur. Provide support, especially to those team members who are less secure.
  • Remain positive   and firm in the face of challenges to your leadership, or to the team's goal.
  • Explain the "forming, storming, norming, and performing" idea, so that people understand why problems are occurring, and so that they see that things will get better in the future. Coach   team members in assertiveness   and conflict resolution skills  , where this is necessary.
  • Use psychometric indicators such as Myers-Briggs   and the Margerison-McCann Team Management Profile   to help people learn about different work styles and strengths.
Norming
  • Step back and help team members take responsibility for progress towards the goal. (This is a good time to arrange a team-building   event.)
Performing
  • Delegate   tasks and projects as far as you can. Once the team is achieving well, you should aim to have as light a touch as possible. You will now be able to start focusing on other goals and areas of work.
Adjourning
  • Take the time to celebrate the team's achievements – you may work with some of your people again, and this will be much easier if people view past experiences positively.

Key Points

Team formation usually follows easily recognizable stages, known as "forming, storming, norming, and performing." Psychologist Bruce Tuckman, who created this memorable phrase, later added a fifth stage, "adjourning" or "mourning."

You can use Tuckman's model to help your team reach the performing stage as quickly as possible.

First you identify the stage of development that your team is at. Then, you use strategies that move your team through to the next stage in the team formation process. With focus and hard work, you'll quickly have a high-performing team.

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Comments (9)
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    We'll be happy to welcome you as a member, Crystal!
  • Crystal wrote Over a month ago
    I think it would be great to join this and I believe it would be of great help and I'm definitely going to join.
    Thanks
    Cgeng
  • jgancz wrote Over a month ago
    One of the areas that I always find interesting is when there is a change in group membership or group task. Here the forming and storming phases of the model are revisited and the effective team becomes less so. The further into productiveness that a group is, the more disruptie the change, although the time in forming and storming may be less than the first time through.
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Everyone

    We’ve given this popular article a review, and the updated version is now at

    http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/newLDR_86.php

    Discuss the article by replying to this post!

    Thanks

    James
  • GoldenBoy wrote Over a month ago
    Thanks Midgie, great suggestions. The atmosphere is a bit eggshelly at the moment, but I will look for an opportune moment to drop some subtle, or perhaps not-so-subtle, hints. BTW great picture
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi GoldenBoy,
    One thought that jumped to mind when I read your post is to either drop a copy of the Bite Sized Training on Effective Teams on the Project Coordinator's desk or suggest that the team get together to discuss how you can more effectively work together. Brainstorming together ways to work more effectively could be a good bonding exercise, and generate actual change.

    By taking the time to focus on specific ways and things you can do to make it easier for all of you could be a way forward.

    Just a thought!
    Midgie
  • GoldenBoy wrote Over a month ago
    This is a great article, and I have identified some significant points that I can relate to the team of which I am a member. I do not lead the team, but have found that we constantly fluctuate between Storming - where persistent power struggles and authority challenging take place by a couple of members - to the Performing stage, where the team settles into their roles and produces as expected or requested.

    The pendulum-swinging is controlled by a couple of dominant personalities, who see others as nothing-doers, that they are always responsible for shouldering the 'burden' of the work to be completed, and so on. These are all misconceptions, as the entire team works equally toward a common goal.

    This constant flux becomes tiresome and exhausting to work with, but I have yet to see a way to change this, particularly through my role from within as a member of the team. We have a program coordinator who is, to say the least, a yes man to the Executive Director, and is also often cause for conflict and strife within the team by his actions (or sometimes non-actions as well!).

    TTFN
    GB
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    We talk more about the "transforming" stage, which is what sets high-performing apart from teams that perform well, in our Bite Sized Training on Effective Teams ( http://www.mindtools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1908 )

    The whole idea of taking your team to the next level and finding ways to improve the work, the systems, the strategy, etc... is exactly what teams need once they learn to work together effectively. Please do let us know how your team reacts as you work toward the transforming stage. It's an exciting place to be for sure!!

    Dianna
  • yann wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Helena,
    This is a useful model indeed, that I have experienced many times. One extension for permanent teams that I've come across recently and that I found very enlightening and empowering is Transforming v Conforming.

    When a team reaches the Performing stage and stays there for a while without major organisational change on the horizon, team members will feel - as the article says - quite comfortable. They may indeed become so comfortable that they start conforming with established ways of working simply because they are in their comfort zone. You then end up with a performing team that - much like the frog in the water that is gradually heated up - let performance plateau or even slip away without much noticing.

    The antidote to Conforming is Transforming. In practice it requires the team to identify a new performance shift they want to make. If this truly is a shift, they will not be able to get there simply by applying the same recipes. They need to re-invent themselves, which requires to get back to something close to storming level.

    I'll be experimenting with this in the next few weeks. More to come...

    Yann

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