Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing
Tuckman's Model for Nurturing a Team to High Performance
You can't just switch on teamwork. It takes time for a new team to "gel" and work to its full potential. What's more, team members go through stages as they move from strangers to co-workers.
Bruce Tuckman's Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing model describes these stages. When you understand Tuckman's model, you'll know how to help your new team to become effective – faster. Let's look at how.
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Where Does Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing Come From?
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase "forming, storming, norming, and performing" in his 1965 paper, "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups."  It describes the path that teams follow on their way to high performance. Later, he added a fifth stage, "adjourning" (also known as "mourning") to mark the end of a team's journey.
What Happens at Tuckman's Forming Stage?
In the beginning, when a new team forms, individuals will be unsure of the team's purpose, how they fit in, and whether they'll work well with one another. They may be anxious, curious, or excited to get going. However they feel, they'll be looking to the team leader for direction.
This may take some time, as people get to know their new colleagues and one another's ways of working.
What Did Tuckman Mean by Storming?
In the storming stage, people start to push against the established boundaries. Conflict or friction can also arise between team members as their true characters – and their preferred ways of working – surface and clash with other people's.
At this stage team members may challenge your authority or management style, or even the team's mission. Left unchecked, this can lead to face-to-face confrontations or simmering online tensions.
If roles and responsibilities aren't yet clear, individuals might begin to feel overwhelmed by their workload or frustrated at a lack of progress.
How Do I Recognize the Norming Stage?
Gradually, the team moves into the norming stage. People start to resolve their differences, appreciate one another's strengths, and respect your authority as a leader.
Now that they know one another better, your team members will feel more comfortable asking for help and offering constructive feedback. They'll share a stronger commitment to the team's goals, and they should make good progress toward it.
What Does the Performing Stage Look Like?
Now your team is in flow and performing to its full potential. With hard work and structured processes, the team is likely to achieve its goals efficiently.
Judith Stein, from MIT's HR department, says of this stage, "Roles on the team may have become more fluid, with members taking on various roles and responsibilities as needed. Differences among members are appreciated and used to enhance the team's performance." 
What About Tuckman's Adjourning (or Mourning) Stage?
Many teams reach this stage naturally. For example, projects come to an end, or permanent teams are disbanded and people redeployed.
People who like routine, or who have developed close working relationships with colleagues, may find this time difficult.
Using the Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing Tool
Follow the steps below to ensure that you're doing the right thing at the right time:
- Identify the stage that your team is at from the descriptions above.
- Consider what you need to do to move on to the next stage.
- Schedule regular reviews of where your team is at, and adjust your behavior and leadership approach accordingly.
Tuckman's model isn't a one-way street – teams may go back and forth between stages. When you hit the performing stage, keep observing your team's progress in case it slips back. For example, a new team member can disrupt the group dynamic, or a new business direction might mean you have to reevaluate your team roles and goals.
Leading Through the Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing Stages
Forming to Storming
To establish clear objectives for the group at this first stage, create a team charter. And help team members to set personal goals so that they can see how their work will fit with the bigger picture.
The forming stage is also about people getting to know one another. If you're working remotely, try virtual onboarding exercises to forge a group bond and establish buy-in to your vision.
Storming to Norming
Storming can make or break a team, so it's essential that you establish processes to track the progress and success of tasks.
The group must also feel safe putting forward ideas. To build team trust, try asking for help on tasks. That way you'll encourage people to reflect on what they can offer and what they need from other team members.
Don't leave team conflict unchecked, but remember that a little friction can be a good thing – it might reveal inefficiencies for the group to fix together and, ultimately, lead to innovation.
But you may have to help quieter team members to have their say. To avoid louder individuals dominating face-to-face or virtual team meetings, ask for, and hear, everyone's point of view.
Norming to Performing
Get your team to bond further with face-to-face or virtual team-building exercises. These social connections are especially important right now, as more of us work from home. So, keep them up through the norming period and beyond.
Use your regular one-on-ones to encourage individuals to step back, review their goals, and take responsibility for them.
Performing to Adjourning
When the team has settled into the performing stage, you can focus on other goals and new areas to benefit the business. Free up more time for yourself – and boost team engagement – by delegating tasks and projects.
You should also make time for the group's personal development. Discuss with your team what opportunities and resources are available to them, such as the Mind Tools toolkits.
Adjourning (or Mourning)
Take the time to celebrate the team's achievements – having positive shared experiences will make it easier if you work with some of the same people again in the future.
If any team members feel uncertain about what's ahead, boost their confidence and career prospects by praising them at company meetings. And offer to provide LinkedIn recommendations and references if they're moving on.
You can also ask the group for 360-degree feedback to reflect, learn, and better manage future teams.
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman described how teams move through stages known as forming, storming, norming, and performing, and adjourning (or mourning).
You can use Tuckman's model to help your team to perform better. First, identify the stage your team is at, then use our tips to move them through the stages.
Remember, teams can slip back a stage, too. Use Tuckman's model to continually review where you team is at – and make any necessary changes to get back on course.
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