The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

Revisiting Stages of Team Development

February 20, 2014

Laurie Giner, ECC Future Leader

It was 1965 when Bruce Tuckman coined the four stages of team development. He called the stages Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. You may or may not have discovered these stages. They apply to both business and social activities. I try to refresh myself whenever I know about scheduled group activity.

In my opinion, the most interesting and challenging stage is Storming.

Teams enter into a time when members challenge each other for numerous reasons and Tuckman described it this way, ” The storming stage is necessary to the growth of the team. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict.”

When a leader is assigned to a group, the skill of the leader is critical for progress, to guide a team through the Storming phase and into the Norming phase adhering to group rules and policies that are established in the forming stage.

Then in 1977 Tuckman added a fifth stage he called “Adjourning.” This is where the group completes and documents their activities, and the team breaks up.

Fast forward to 37 years later, and my curiosity spiked as to whether a sixth stage might someday be added to the lexicon. So, I asked one of my leadership guidance classes to work in groups to think of a potential sixth stage.

One group came up with a “Feedback” stage between Performing and Adjourning. In this stage, the team would document the lessons learned and make them available for future teams. We touched on feedback with last year’s FL speaker Bill Hawkins, who provided insight to his “feed forward” approach if you recall.

This is similar to what the military calls the “After Action Review” (AAR) which is a debrief after every mission to determine what went well and what could be improved in the future. We learned about the Stealth Process to Debrief from “Murph” last year as well. His technique has been credited with saving numerous lives, dollars, and time by consolidating the learning from missions that did not go as well as hoped and to those that went very well, as always anticipated.

After some deductive reasoning, it was felt that the feedback function is really part of the adjourning process, and thus, not seen as a sixth stage in team development.

But another group felt that a “Trusting” phase ought to be inserted between Norming and Performing. This is an important addition as there is a big leap between establishing the rules for a team and actually performing at a high level.

This is where the team needs to knit into itself, the element of trust as the foundation of performing up to expectations. It is when mutual respect seasons into a bond where people recognize that the rules set up in Norming are not just words; they actually form the basis for all actions.

The “Trusting” phase offers team members the place to learn how to walk the talk on stated actions, and they would learn how to call each other out if there was boundary breaking.

Didn’t the Denise and Rob Elston “team” discuss the Trust topic during last year’s FL Wednesday session? As I recall their emphasis was loud and clear as they portrayed the importance of trust in all relationships, both personal and professional using true to life accounts in a comedic manner!

Another word that could be used here is “Testing.” This is the time when people realize that the good intentions set up in the first three stages are more than nice things to say. Alas, some people do not like the word “testing” let alone “being tested”. But essentially speaking, that is how the basic steps to trust develop, don’t you think?

And if I remembered correctly, the Elston’s acted out how their “testing one another” early on culminated in a highly trusting relation that has stood the test of time.

An enduring performance of a team seems dependent on everyone meeting the stated expectations of the group.

Could a “Trusting” phase be a great addition to the Tuckman stages of team development? After all, trust is the strong root that any relationship needs, so that one can walk across those undulating bridges that occur in life. Could it be that without trust, a lot of good intentions are had, yet the team will fall short during times of challenge or stress that is normal to any process? Cultivating trust provides a team with the ability to withstand changes of the real world and still be able to accomplish a mission flawlessly.

Tuckerman, always maintained that the Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing model phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for a team to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results.

Isn’t that what we are all about?