Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

Written by: Cait Pickens

Primary Source: Computing Education

I was recently introduced to Tuckman’s stages of group development, and I’m having one of those how-have-I-never-seen-this-before-? moments. As far as models go, Tuckman’s does not seem particularly revolutionary. What it is, however, is universal. All different types of groups – sports team, research labs, small project teams in elementary school – go through this set of phases. Perhaps most interesting is Tuckman’s hypothesis that all four phases are necessary steps for teams that are going to grow, face challenges, tackle problems, create solutions, and deliver work.

So, what are the stages?

  1. Forming: The group is just coming together. Individual roles are not clear and aims/objectives may not be set (or may be conflicting).
  2. Storming: Different ideas compete for consideration. The team must address what problems they plan to solve, solidify all aims and objectives, create patterns for individual and group interactions, and adopt a leadership model. At this point, the group will start to see that individuals bring different perspectives to the task. They may begin to confront one another, and these issues must be resolved in order for the group to move forward.
  3. Norming: The group manages to define a single common goal and objective. They have a mutual plan of attack. Often, compromising on ideas is necessary for the team to function. Here, all members take responsibility for the team and begin to feel an identify as a team.
  4. Performing: The team is motivated and knowledgeable. They move through appropriate conflict smoothly and without external supervision. Team members are competent and autonomous. Work is getting done.

It is important to note that after forming, a group can cycle through the stages of development as conflicts arise, new leadership appears, or tasks and goals change. Thus groups stay in a fluid state, transitioning from one stage to the next as appropriate:

Another interesting facet of Tuckman’s development model is its implications for leaders. Managers, coaches, captains, and the like all have certain responsibilities in each stage of the development process. Some aspects, like the forming stage, require a very hands-on, guiding approach with a lot of initiative. Other stages, like storming, require the supervisor to take a step back and allow individuals to resolve their differences a bit more organically.

Now, all of this may seem very obvious when we talk about group development in the abstract. What I challenge you to do is to take this model and apply it to your own life. Think of a very effective, productive team that you have been a member of; can you describe it? What qualities made the team a positive experience? In contrast, think of a dysfunctional group that you have been a member of at one time or another. What qualities made that group ineffective? Which stages were your two different groups in?

And for the teachers out there, try and keep these stages in mind as you divide students into small groups for projects. It is important to ensure that the groups in forming and storming stages especially have the resources they need to move into the subsequent stages of development. What is your role as a teacher or facilitator to help this process along?

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Cait Pickens
Cait Sydney Pickens is a graduate student at Michigan State University and a Noogler. Her research is in computer science education, and is advised by Bill Punch. In her (free?) time she does a lot of work with an organization called Software Carpentry that teaches computing tools and skills to scientists.
Cait Pickens

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