In 1965, Bruce Tuckman developed a theory of team cycles of behavior. Judith Glaser, in her 2014 book, Conversational Intelligence, builds upon Tuckman’s work. I am happy to share these concepts with anyone who is a business owner, team leader, major supervisor, or one who visits his/her family once a year and wonders why on the third day of the visit, everyone is fighting!!
The first stage of any group or team is the Forming stage. This is also affectionately called the “honeymoon phase,” where everyone is on his/her best behavior and the “masks” each member wears is firmly in place. This stage happens whenever a new group is formed, and even when familiar members, like family, come together after an absence. If a member leaves or a new person comes into the fold, this is the stage to which the entire group reverts.
Each member comes into the group with a bit of trust and a bit of uncertainty. Any serious issues or emotions are avoided at all costs because this is also the informational gathering period. Everyone is attempting to figure out the political, business, and social relationships.
The second stage is Storming and it is just what it sounds like. And EVERY group/team goes through it, so do not think it can be avoided. It is actually a good thing as the air can be cleared, issues can be raised, and resistance named and dealt with; however, some groups stay in this stage, to their peril. During this phase of the team cycle, there are low levels of trust. Competition for placement, resources, perceived power and status are verbally articulated; resistance to change is evident overtly and covertly and what I call the “ugly behavior” raises its ugly head. As the leader, it is good to know that this stage will occur and it is where good communication, attention to your team’s resistance, the ability to engage the team in the process of any change, and modeling the positive energy needed will be critical to moving the group forward to the next phase or stage, which is:
Norming. This stage is the collaborative moment where everyone is working nicely with each other and the work life of the organization appears to be in sync. However, it is important to be aware that, as a leader, you need to check in with the team and ensure that they are going beyond the established expectations—that each member is contributing creatively, being challenged, and is still excited about their place.
This collaboration and good energy leads the team into the last phase, which is Performing. This stage is where the team is working at its peak, where trust in each other and the work is complicit in the team’s ability to achieve amazing results. We all want our teams to be performing forever, but keep in mind, that anytime a change occurs, the group will go back to forming and then storming.
How can a leader move the team into norming and performing more quickly? Being aware of the stages is so very helpful because then you can pick up on the cues and behavior. Continue to communicate as much as possible with the team, providing information on details and also the bigger picture. Encourage dialogue with your team, name and discuss any resistance that may be occurring. Focus on the work plan and energize the group. These strategies will go a long way in keeping your team on track.