Can you expect a new team to perform well when it first comes together?

Posted by Roxanne Chugg

Forming a high performing team takes time and effort, and members often go through recognisable stages as they change from being people who are individuals and in some instances strangers to united groups with common purpose, goals and aspirations. Bruce Tuckman's Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model describes these stages. When you understand it, you can help your new team become effective more quickly.

These stages can apply to your sporting team, your kids’ soccer team, your team at work…..

About the Model

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase "forming, storming, norming, and performing" in his 1965 article, "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups." He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance. Later, he added a fifth stage, "adjourning" (which is sometimes known as "mourning").

Let’s take a look at the stages:

Forming

In this stage, most team members are positive and polite. Some are anxious, as they haven't fully understood what work the team will do. Others are excited about the task ahead.  Some may be apathetic or cynical even.
As a leader, you play a dominant role at this stage, because team members' roles and responsibilities aren't clear.

This stage can last for some time, as people start to work together, and as they make an effort to get to know each other

You can help the team move through this stage by:

  • Directing the team
  • Establishing clear objectives
  • Establishing ground rules

Storming

Next, the team moves into the storming phase, where people start to push against the boundaries established in the forming stage. This is the stage where many teams fail.

Storming often starts where there is a conflict between team members' natural working styles. People may lack self awareness about their own personal work style.  People may work in different ways for all sorts of reasons, but if differing working styles cause unforeseen problems, they may become frustrated.

Storming can also happen in other situations. For example, team members may challenge your authority, or jockey for position as their roles are clarified. Or, if you haven't defined clearly how the team will work, people may feel overwhelmed by their workload, or they could be uncomfortable with the approach you're using.

Some may question the worth of the team's goal, and they may resist taking on tasks.

Team members who stick with the task at hand may experience stress, particularly as they don't have the support of established processes, or strong relationships with their colleagues.

You can support the team through this stage by:

  • Establish processes and structures.
  • Build trust and good relationships between team members.
  • Resolve conflicts swiftly if they occur. Provide support, especially to those team members who are less secure.
  • Remain positive and firm in the face of challenges to your leadership, or to the team's goal.
  • Explain the "forming, storming, norming, and performing" idea, so that people understand why problems are occurring, and so that they see that things will get better in the future. Coach team members in assertiveness and conflict resolution skills, where this is necessary.
  • Use psychometric indicators to help people learn about different work styles, their strengths and the impact their behaviour has on others to develop their self awareness.

Norming

Gradually, the team moves into the norming stage. This is when people start to resolve their differences, appreciate colleagues' strengths, respect each other and develop their self awareness.

Now that your team members know one-another better, they may socialise together, they may chat about non work related things and they are able to ask each other for help and provide constructive feedback. People develop a stronger commitment to the team goal, and you start to see good progress towards it.

There is often a prolonged overlap between storming and norming, because, as new tasks come up, the team may lapse back into behaviour from the storming stage.  If a new team member joins at this point the team can also regress back to previous stages.

To support your team during this stage consider:

  • Step back and help team members take responsibility for progress towards the goal. (This is a good time to arrange a team-building event of some type.)

Performing

The team reaches the performing stage when hard work leads, without friction, to the achievement of the team's goal. The structures and processes that you have set up support this well.

As leader, you can delegate much of your work, and you can concentrate on developing team members.

It feels easy to be part of the team at this stage, and people who join or leave won't disrupt performance.

To support your team during this stage consider:

  • Delegate tasks and projects as much as you can. Once the team is achieving well, you should aim to have as light a touch as possible. You will now be able to start focusing on other goals and areas of work.
  • Take the time to celebrate the team's achievements – remember success breeds success!