Towards ‘forming’ and ‘performing’ teams: What firms should learn from Tuckman’s ‘stages of group development’

New Delhi | Published: November 5, 2018 2:04:46 AM

Team development exercises are conducted to improve effectiveness, sometimes even to improve interpersonal relations.

Today’s firms have much to learn from Tuckman’s ‘stages of group development’

By Vidya Hattangadi

When it comes to team building, a must watch film is ‘The Mighty Ducks’. The protagonist Gordon Bombay is a hotshot lawyer. He cannot get over his childhood memories, when, as the star player in his champion hockey team, he lost the winning goal in a shoot-out, thereby losing the game, and the disappointment of his coach. Once, as a lawyer, when he gets charged for drunk driving, the court orders him to coach a young children’s hockey team that is the worst in the league. Initially, Gordon is very reluctant. He works on team building and eventually gains the reverence of the kids and teaches them how to win, gaining a sponsor on the way and giving the team the name of The Ducks. In the finals, they face Gordon’s old team, coached by Gordon’s old coach, giving Gordon a chance to experience his childhood memories.

In all relationships in our lives, we assume things about others which are all relative. We preordain perceptions of different people that we hold so close to our hearts. It all depends on the way we are brought up, the genes we inherited, the environments we were exposed, because all of this determines how we regard the people that cross our paths. Based on contingencies we face in our lives, we start making personal evaluation of others.

Team building is a collective term for various types of activities used to enhance social relations and define roles within teams; this often involves collaborative tasks. It is distinct from team training, which is designed by business managers. Team building is the crux of organisational development. Team development exercises are conducted to improve effectiveness, sometimes even to improve interpersonal relations. Team working begins with an aim of supporting goals, building effective working relationships, reducing vagueness, and finding solutions to team problems. Team building is one of the broadly used group-development activities in organisations.

Psychologist Bruce Wayne Tuckman (November 24, 1938-March 13, 2016) is famous for his research on group dynamics. In 1965, he published one of his theories called ‘Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development’, which defined four stages: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. In 1977, he added a fifth stage named Adjourning.

Forming: The ‘forming’ is a testing time for the leader. In this stage, most team members assume and presume other members in the team; it is a time to get familiar with team members. Members try to get on well with each other. A team initially is a collection of strangers that tries to get united on the foundation of common goals. In this stage, most team members are positive and graceful. Some members are also anxious, because there is some amount of uncertainty of what needs to be achieved. And some members are excited about the task ahead. The leader plays a dominant role in this stage, because a team member’s roles and responsibilities need to be defined. This stage requires adjustments among the newly-formed team.

Storming: This is a stage where many teams fail. Conflicts begin among team members; they try to push boundaries. Some team members demand change of role; they start accusing one another, create misunderstanding, therefore it’s called ‘storming’ stage. Members get a reality bite and get bogged down by responsibilities. They run into each other’s areas of tasks because of irritation. The initial enthusiasm in the ‘forming’ stage now starts to fade away. Storming happens because each member’s natural working style is different; people may work in different ways for all sorts of reasons, but differing working styles cause unforeseen problems and only cause frustration.

Norming: Steadily, the team moves into the ‘norming’ stage. Each member tries to resolve differences; they start looking at the strengths in others. Also, they see the team leader’s genuine concerns. They start agreeing to the team leader’s authority. In this stage, team members start mingling; they provide constructive feedback to others. In short, members develop a stronger commitment towards the team goal; it is a progressive stage in team building. Normally, a prolonged overlapping takes place between ‘storming’ and ‘norming’ phases, because, as new tasks come up, the team may lapse back into behaviour from the ‘storming’ stage.

Performing: Since the group’s norms and team members’ roles are well-established, in this stage the focus is on achieving the goals. Due to clarity of who is supposed to do what, members perform their duties and tasks—they are motivated and well-informed and, therefore, competent to handle problems. The decision-making process improves and much supervision is not required. Little disputes are expected and allowed as long as they are channelled through members acceptable to the team. Supervisors of the team during this phase are almost always participating. Occasionally, high performance is seen during this phase.

Adjourning: Often, it is seen that after completion of projects, teams are adjourned—teams are formed for a certain period. Sometimes, even permanent teams get disbanded because of organisational restructuring. It is a painful process for some workers because they get accustomed to the routine style of working and develop a sense of belonging to a few team members. Working relationships change, reporting relationships change, and groups get scattered. Adjournment is a natural process of life.

Beyond Tuckman: The quality of leadership in organisations matters. Employees who don’t want to work hard, depend on mean politics to secure their positions; some play politics to get in the limelight and gain undue attention and appreciation from the seniors. Negativity must be eradicated at all stages. Frequent reviews and clarity of work is a continuous process. Troublemaker must be dealt with firmness.

The author is a management thinker and blogger

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