Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Group Development

Volume: September 2012

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


So you have a group of individuals and you want to mold them into a performing team. This is the quintessential leadership task. Alternatively, perhaps you have a team that is embroiled in conflict and you desire to normalize the situation. No matter what group dynamic your team is experiencing, it is tempting to launch into solution mode in order to enhance the situation. Sometimes though, it makes sense to insert a strategic step prior to diving into solution mode. In such instances, it is best to take a breath, step back, and review the nuances and complexities of group development. A classic group development model to ponder is Bruce Tuckman’s Forming–Storming–Norming–Performing model of group development (Developmental Sequence in Small Groups by Bruce Tuckman).


In his model, Mr. Tuckman theorized that these phases (forming, storming, norming, and performing) were a necessary and inevitable group dynamic that occurred as a team grew and developed. One depiction of his model is shown below.


During the Forming stage, Tuckman stated that team member behavior is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, and to avoid conflict. At the same time, team members are also gathering information and forming opinions. Leaders often need to be directive during this phase.


The Storming stage calls for the team to address issues and conflicts that have arisen, as well to determine how they deal with each other’s perspectives and ideas. This stage can be contentious and unpleasant, especially for team members who are averse to conflict. Tolerance and patience are needed for the team to successfully navigate this stage. It should be noted that some teams never develop past the storming stage. Tuckman calls for leaders to be more accessible during the storming stage, but also to remain fairly directive and decisive.


By the Norming stage Tuckman stated that team members have agreed on goals, as well as a strategic plan of action. Some team members may have modified their own ideas in order to allow the team to function. During this stage, a vast majority of team members take responsibility for their actions and work toward team success.


The Performing stage is reserved for the highest performing teams. These teams are able to function as a cohesive unit. In addition, they find ways to accomplish initiatives smoothly and effectively with minimal conflict. Team members have been given autonomy and minimum supervision is required. Leaders during the performing stage are almost always participative.


It should be noted that Tuckman also stated that even high-performing teams will revert to earlier stages under certain circumstances. Many teams go through these four cycles many times as they deal with a myriad of changes in the workplace. For example, a simple change in leadership may cause the team to revert to the storming stage as team members suddenly challenge existing norms and team dynamics.


Tuckman provides a straight-forward organizational model for leaders to consider. In order to add some additional tools and insights, I present the Modified Tuckman Model for your consideration.


In my opinion, some thinking that should accompany the Forming stage is to strategize about the alignment of the organization. This is where leaders seek to align their organizational talent with the many needs of the business, the ebb and flow of the marketplace, and the potential that exists within the business.


During the Storming stage leaders may want to utilize constructs such as working agreements in order to add clarity to workplace expectations. In addition, they may utilize the working agreements in order to reduce or eliminate workplace conflicts. Lastly, leaders may want to engage their group in workplace team building activities that will build a better sense of team and increase morale. Many leaders in this stage embrace the mantra of company building through team building


The Norming stage calls for leaders to function as a coach. As such, leaders need to exhibit a mixture of informal, daily coaching, as well as more formalized, structured coaching sessions.


As Tuckman stated, during the Performance stage the leader is participative. In my opinion, this calls for leaders to be very rewards-oriented as they catch their team members doing something right. In addition, the leader can function as a cheerleader by encouraging the team to continue to deliver high-level results. Also during this stage, leaders should drive coaching initiatives that challenge team members to grow and learn new and more advanced skills.


Bottom Line: While every organization possesses a unique culture and mission, the stages that each organization experiences during its group development are surprisingly similar. In order to guide an organization effectively, a leader must have their fingers on the pulse of what stage of group development their team is experiencing. Moreover, an agile leader anticipates the effects of change on group development and prepares accordingly. As such, think strategically my friends and alter your leadership style to best fit the situation in which you find yourself, and to best fit the pressing needs of your team.


Until next time, be well.     


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