Forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning explained

Unlocking the true potential and high performance of teamwork is not an instantaneous process; it’s a journey that requires time for a newly formed team to seamlessly integrate and operate at its highest level. As team members transition from being strangers to cohesive co-workers, they traverse distinct stages of development. Bruce Tuckman’s renowned model, encapsulating the 5 phases of team development – Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning, serves as a compass in understanding and facilitating this transformative journey. By understanding this model, we gain valuable insights that can accelerate the effectiveness of a new team. Let’s delve into each stage and explore what leaders need to do to navigate these phases that can contribute to the creation of cohesive and successful teams.

Where does the forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning model come from?

The forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning model, often referred to as ‘Tuckman’s stages of group development’, originated from the work of psychologist Bruce Tuckman. In 1965, he introduced the framework in his article “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups,” which outlined the various phases that groups undergo as they evolve. Tuckman initially identified only four stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. Later, in 1977, he added a fifth stage, adjourning, to account for the eventual disbandment or completion of a team’s task. Tuckman’s model has since become a cornerstone in the study of team dynamics, offering valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities teams face as they progress towards optimal collaboration and performance. Now let’s look at all of these stages individually.

Forming – the getting to know each other stage

The forming stage marks the initial phase of team development. During this period, team members are polite, cautious, and somewhat reserved. Individuals are getting to know one another, and their interactions are often characterised by a desire to be accepted and to avoid conflict. This is a time of orientation and exploration, where team members are defining their roles and understanding the purpose and goals of the team.

The team meets and learns about the opportunities and challenges, and then agrees on goals and begins to tackle the tasks. Team members tend to behave quite independently – they may be motivated, but are usually relatively uninformed of the issues and objectives of the team. They are usually on their best behaviour, but very focused on themselves. Mature team members begin to model appropriate behaviour even at this early stage.

Serious issues and feelings are avoided, and people focus on being busy with routines, such as team organisation, who does what, when to meet, etc. individuals are also gathering information and impressions – about each other, and about the scope of their work and how to approach it.

The forming stage of any team is important because, in this stage, the members of the team get to know one another, exchange some personal information, and make new friends. This is also a good opportunity to see how each member of the team works as an individual and how they respond to pressure. This is a comfortable stage to be in, but the avoidance of conflict and threat means that not much actually gets done. Sharing the model of the stages of team development with the team at this stage is extremely helpful.

 

Team characteristics in forming stage:

  • Desire to be accepted and avoid conflict
  • Team members are unclear about goals, purpose and roles & responsibilities
  • People are focussed on getting to know each other and their work
  • Serious issues and feelings are avoided
  • Everyone is on their best behaviour
  • Team members behave quite independently

Tips for leaders of teams in forming stage:

  • Team leaders need to be directive during this phase
  • Encourage open communication to establish a foundation of trust
  • Clearly define team goals
  • Establish individual roles
  • Create a powerful vision & mission
  • Define a reward structure
  • Bring the group together periodically to work on common tasks
  • Foster a positive and inclusive team culture
  • Be the first in recognizing the need to move out of “forming” stage

Storming – the challenging stage

Next every team will enter the storming stage, in which different ideas compete for consideration. As the team begins to engage more deeply with the tasks at hand, differences in opinions, working styles, and expectations may surface. This is the storming stage, where conflicts and challenges become apparent. Team members may compete for influence, question authority, and challenge established norms. While storming can be uncomfortable, it is a natural and necessary part of the team development process as members negotiate their roles and responsibilities.

The team addresses issues such as what problems they are really supposed to solve, how they will function independently and together and what leadership model they will accept. Team members open up to each other and confront each other’s ideas and perspectives. Some team members will focus on minutiae to evade real issues.

The storming stage is necessary for the growth of the team. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict. Tolerance of each team member and their differences should be emphasised. Without tolerance and patience the team will fail. This phase can become destructive to the team and will lower motivation if allowed to get out of control.

In some cases storming can be resolved quickly. In others, the team never leaves this stage. The maturity of some team members usually determines whether the team will ever move out of this stage.

 

Team characteristics in storming stage:

  • People open up and confront each other as ideas collide and issues emerge
  • Establishing positions to other team members
  • Noticing differences in opinions and working styles
  • Team members may be competing for authority
  • Challenging established norms, goals and values
  • Can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members
  •  Decisions don’t come easily within the group

Tips for leaders of teams in storming stage:

  • Help the team work together effectively by providing clarity and guidance to create alignment
  • Leader must ask for and expect results
  • Agree on individuals’ roles and responsibilities
  • Set and take team time together
  • Acknowledge and address conflicts openly and constructively
  • Facilitate team discussions to encourage listening, understanding and collaboration
  • Establish clear processes for conflicts resolution
  • Support team members with encouragement
  • Recognize and publicise team wins
  • Request and accept feedback
  • Build trust by honouring commitments

Norming – the reconciliation stage

Following the storming stage, teams typically move into the norming stage. During this stage, members begin to reconcile their differences, develop a sense of unity, and establish norms and values that guide their collaboration. Roles become clearer, and there is a growing acceptance of individual strengths and weaknesses.

The team begins to function as a team rather than as individuals. The team values and norms are established and “acted on” and team members hold one another accountable. During this stage, all team members take the responsibility for the team’s work and have the ambition to work for the success of the team’s goals. Communication becomes more open and constructive, leading to improved cohesion and a sense of shared purpose.

As the team develops to have one goal and comes to a mutual plan for the team as a whole, some individuals may have to give up their own ideas and agree with others in order to make the team function. Roles and processes are in place and have a positive effect on the team’s working relationships.

 

Team characteristics in the norming stage:

  • Establishing shared goals, norms and values
  • Developing a sense of unity and commitment to achieving common goals
  • Responsibilities are clear – everyone takes responsibility for their team’s performance
  • Accepting individual strengths and weaknesses
  • Reach an agreed process on how to make decisions and solve problems

Tips for the leaders of teams in norming stage:

  • Celebrate achievements and milestones to build a positive team culture
  • Encourage collaboration and the sharing of ideas
  • Develop team rituals or traditions to strengthen bonds

Performing – the high achieving stage

It’s possible for teams to reach the performing stage and the high performing stage represents the pinnacle of team development.

By this point, the team has overcome initial challenges and conflicts, established effective communication channels, and is now capable of achieving high levels of productivity and innovation. Members work seamlessly together, leveraging their individual strengths to achieve collective goals. Continuous improvement is a key focus, and the team operates at its full potential. This is the stage all teams desire to be in and I help them get there through our team coaching and development programmes.

High-performing teams are able to function as a unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. By this time, they are motivated and knowledgeable. The team members are competent, autonomous and able to handle the decision-making process without supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channelled through means acceptable to the team.

It’s important to note that even the most high-performing teams can revert to earlier stages in certain circumstances. Many long-standing teams go through these cycles many times as they react to changing circumstances. For example, a change in leadership may cause the team to revert to storming as the new people challenge the existing norms and dynamics of the team. Individuals may also end up over-performing, leading to burnout, which then has a negative impact on the overall team performance.

 

Team characteristics in the performing stage:

  • Working seamlessly together, as a unit
  • Leveraging individual strengths to achieve collective goals
  •  There is no inappropriate conflict
  • Members are independent and autonomous
  • Achieving high levels of productivity and innovation
  • Decision making is done within the team with no supervision

Tips for leaders of high performing teams:

  • Empower team members to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities
  • Foster a culture of continuous learning and innovation
  • Provide opportunities for professional development and growth
  • Build on people’s strengths
  • Maintain high performance and look out for over-performance and burnout
  • Support individuals and teams to manage their work-life balance
  • Take team time out to rejuvenate and have fun.

Adjourning or mourning – the closure stage

The adjourning stage, also known as the mourning or deforming stage, represents the final phase in Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development. This stage acknowledges the inevitable conclusion of a team’s journey, whether due to the completion of its task or the disbandment of the group. During the adjourning stage, team members reflect on their accomplishments and experiences, expressing feelings of closure, nostalgia, or even sadness as they prepare to part ways. This phase emphasises the importance of recognising and honouring the contributions of each member, as well as providing closure to the team’s collective experience. Effective leadership during this stage involves facilitating discussions about lessons learned, expressing gratitude, and supporting individuals as they transition to new endeavours.

In the western world we are not great at closing things or talking about endings. Teams often just get disbanded and members moved onto other roles without dealing with the emotional sides of change. Lack of closure can have significant consequences on how team members feel about starting something new in the future and what role they might take or not take in a new team. Although team leaders often assume their responsibilities towards the team end at the performing stage, they play a crucial role in supporting members’ feelings of closure, resolution and moving onto a new project.

Ultimately, the adjourning stage serves as a poignant reminder of the transient nature of teams and the importance of celebrating both their successes and their farewells.

Team characteristics in the adjourning stage:

  • Feelings of closure, nostalgia, or even sadness and grief
  • Recognising and honouring the contributions of each member
  • Discussions about lessons learned
  • Expressing gratitude

Tips for leaders of teams in adjourning stage:

  • Facilitate open discussions, provide opportunities to reflect on experiences
  • Acknowledge the value of each members contributions to the team
  • Offer support for transition through resources, guidance, and encouragement
  • Facilitate team rituals to support closure

Understanding and navigating the stages of forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning is crucial for building and sustaining high-performance teams. While each team’s journey is unique, Tuckman’s model serves as a valuable guide for leaders and team members alike. Embracing the challenges and opportunities presented in each stage can contribute to the development of resilient, collaborative, and successful teams capable of achieving remarkable outcomes in today’s competitive business environment.

Is your team struggling? Are they stuck in storming?

Is your team struggling with low trust, displaying unhelpful (or even toxic) behaviours? Lack of communication? Is there competition and blaming? Is their performance rapidly deteriorating, but you can’t quite pinpoint what’s going on? Are they stuck in the storming phase of team development?

When we work with teams, we often end up called in when the team leader (and HR) don’t have the skills, capability or capacity to help the team move forward.

They might be coaches themselves, but they cannot coach their teams due to conflict of interest or they feel they don’t have the right skills or experience to support teams to overcome their challenges. We help teams build trust and healthy relationships, so they can collaborate better and achieve more. Interested? See my coaching packages here.

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