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Tuckman's Theory of Team Development for Project Teams

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 5/20/2011

Development of small teams are of vital importance for the success of any project. Read on for an overview of Tuckman's theory of team development, a popular theoretical model on how teams develop over time.

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    Bruce Wayne Tuckman first espoused his theory of team development in a 1965 article "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups," and revised it in 1977. He explains a five stage process of team development, naming the five stages of team building as forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. This model provides a good theoretical basis to build and develop project teams, and to analyze the behavior of teams.

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    Tuckman's Theory Team Development Forming the first stage in Tuckman's theory, team development occurs during the project initiation phase.

    During this phase, the project team members, uncertain of the other team members and uninformed about the team objectives, rarely interact with one another or assert themselves, and confine themselves to orientation.

    The main methods adopted for orientation include testing, to establish the boundaries of interpersonal and task behaviors, and establishment of dependency relationships with leaders and other group members, incorporating any pre-existing standards

    The success of the team depends on the ability of the project manager to guide and direct team members, to bring the team together and ensure that team members trust one another to develop a working relationship. Team building exercises can help with this stage too.

    Image Credit: Mocklinghoff

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    Storming, the second phase in team development, is a period of flux and uncertainty that follows the orientation. Individual team members express their ideas and perspectives on how to approach the team objectives, team norms, roles and responsibilities, and other rules. They try, very often fiercely, to implement their ideas on others. Left unchecked, this may escalate into conflicts detrimental for the team and project implementation.

    The onus lies on the project manager to guide the project team through this turbulent transition phase. The project manager needs to show tolerance for each team member and consider their inputs, but also needs to assert his authority to show assertive team members their place, and allow meek team members to contribute their piece. They might need to adopt a directive style of decision-making, if the situation warrants it.

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    The norming stage in team development is a crucial phase that starts when the differences among the team members resolves, and the team members adjust and reconcile with one another to reach a consensus. In this phase, the rules and governing values of the team, the expected behavior from team members, the work methods, and the roles and responsibility of each team member, all crystallize, and the team develops an identity.

    With such a consensus and team identity now emerging, the project manager loosens his or her grip and allows more autonomy, often shifting to a participative style of leadership - group size can affect leadership and the style chosen to lead too. The project manager may empower individuals, or small sub groups within the team, to take small decisions. Success depends on a conscious effort from the team members, to resolve problems and achieve group harmony.

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    Tuckman's Theory Team Development The performing stage of team development, occurs when the team actually starts to work towards achieving the laid down objectives. The group energy, channels away from the storming and norming activities, to implementation of the project, and the roles of team members become flexible and functional.

    Teams that resolve the storming and norming process, function as a unit to get tasks done effectively, without conflict or external supervision. Success depends on the interpersonal structure that allows flexible roles for team members.

    The project manager acts as a facilitator in the performing stage, delegating tasks and overseeing their implementation - the use of top delegation skills becomes especially important. Team members usually remain competent to do the tasks by themselves, and seek assistance more on personal and interpersonal development rather than for the tasks on hand.

    Image Credit: Bridge

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    The fifth stage of Tuckman's theory on team development is the adjourning stage (also known as deforming and mourning), was a 1977 addition to the theory. Project members celebrate the accomplishment of project goals, and the team disassemble.

    At this stage, most team members feel uncertain of their future, so a project manager needs to improve project team motivation. The project manager would do well to either bring in new products, and recommence the forming stage with the necessary changes to the team structure and profile, or proceed to dismember the team in a systematic pattern.

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    Tuckman's theory on team development provides a definite guidance and framework for team development, but the process holds true more for small groups than big groups. Moreover, practical considerations dilute much of Tuckman’s theory. Group theory by Tuckman very often differ from group processes in the real world. Real life groups develop in many different ways, and the growth may be cyclical rather than linear, as Tuckman describes them. Again, group development stages very often blur, and it can remain unclear when a team moves from one stage to another, and the processes overlap.

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    1. "Bruce w. tuckman - forming, storming norming and performing in groups." Retrieved 11 January 2011.
    2. 12Manage. “Stage sof Team Development (Tuckman)." Retrieved 11 January 2011.
    3. "Tuckman forming storming norming performing model." Retrieved 11 January 2011.