Bruce Tuckman is best known for a short article, ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’, first published in 1965.
Never heard of him? Well, I expect you have heard of his theory – he wrote about Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing!
Now I love Dr Tuckman’s theory, so I was even happier when he added a fifth stage (Adjourning) in the 1970s to cover the end-game in his explanation of how groups develop.
Dr Tuckman is now professor of Educational Psychology at the Ohio State University, where he is also Founding Director of the Walter E. Dennis Learning Center. He has focused on motivation and he has gone on to look at how interventions such as goal setting, planning, and incentives affect behaviour. He has also written a novel The Long Road to Boston (1988).
The first four-stage model evolved out of his observations of group behaviour in a variety of settings and his encounter with the literature; including psychoanalytic studies of therapy or T-groups.
After completing his doctorate, Dr Tuckman worked with the industrial psychology lab at Princeton and went on to research small-group and organizational behaviour. He was part of a small group of social psychologists in a think tank studying small group behaviour to help the US Navy prepare for modern vessels and stations with small crews.
He thought that if people could better understand how groups develop, it would be possible to improve group effectiveness and functioning.
This is how Dr Tuckman described the stages in his original article:
“Groups initially concern themselves with orientation accomplished primarily through testing. Such testing serves to identify the boundaries of both interpersonal and task behaviors. Coincident with testing in the interpersonal realm is the establishment of dependency relationships with leaders, other group members, or pre‑existing standards. It may be said that orientation, testing and dependence constitute the group process of forming.
The second point in the sequence is characterized by conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues, with concomitant emotional responding in the task sphere. These behaviors serve as resistance to group influence and task requirements and may be labeled as storming.
Resistance is overcome in the third stage in which in-group feeling and cohesiveness develop, new standards evolve, and new roles are adopted. In the task realm, intimate, personal opinions are expressed. Thus, we have the stage of norming.
Finally, the group attains the fourth and final stage in which interpersonal structure becomes the tool of task activities. Roles become flexible and functional, and group energy is channeled into the task. Structural issues have been resolved, and structure can now become supportive of task performance. This stage can be labeled as performing.” (Tuckman 1965 – page 78 in the 2001 reprint)
In 1977 Dr Tuckman proposed an update of the model (in collaboration with Mary Ann Jensen). Later he commented: We reviewed 22 studies that had appeared since the original publication of the model and which we located by means of the Social Sciences Citation Index. These articles, one of which dubbed the stages the ‘Tuckman hypothesis’ tended to support the existence of the four stages but also suggested a fifth stage for which a perfect rhyme could not be found. We called it ‘adjourning’. (Tuckman 1984)
Adjourning involves dissolution. It entails the termination of roles, the completion of tasks and reduction of dependency (Forsyth 1990: 77). This stage can be seen as ‘mourning’ – there has been a loss and this is often felt by former participants. This can be stressful – particularly where the dissolution is unplanned. In project management, for example, managing this end game requires particular skills in the project manager if the work of the team is going to be fully valued.
There have been many debates around the Tuckman theory and the need for a model of group development. But I fully believe the claim that small groups tend to follow a fairly predictable path. That has certainly been my experience but I’d be very interested to hear the views of others.
Wendy Smith is a career and life coach with depth of experience in career coaching, business coaching and personal development. She helps clients find a new career direction, start-up new businesses and achieve a better work/life balance. You can contact Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other useful articles
- Team Work; forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning with Dr Tuckman
- Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming,Performing and Adjourning. Part 1 – Managing the Forming Stage
- Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Part 2 – Managing the Storming Stage
- Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning Part 3 – Managing the Norming Stage
- Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Part 4 – Managing the Performing Stage
- Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Part 5 – Managing the Adjourning Stage