Team development phases: Tuckman’s 5-phase model

In our article on Team Development, we have already come across Bruce Tuckman’s phase model and presented it briefly and concisely. Now let’s delve a little deeper into what’s going on in each phase and how the team can best maneuver through them.

Tuckman’s Team Development Model: the Process of Team Building

Tuckman’s Team Development Model illustrates the phases through which all possible types of teams go until they become a committed and functioning group. Sticking to Tuckman’s team development phases during this development helps in knowing what to expect from the group.

Especially the conflict phase is something that the team has to accept as such and see as normal. A look at the team development takes away the deterrence that might arise when team formation seems to be getting out of hand.

In addition, Tuckman’s model provides helpful information on how to react in the respective phases in order to let them pass constructively. So let’s take a closer look at all of that in this article.

5 Phases of Team Development

When Bruce Tuckman created his model of team development phases, he distinguished a total of 4 phases: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Later, an optional phase, the adjourning or farewell phase, crystallized through his research. We will take a closer look at what characterizes all these phases, what happens within them and how to best act as a team leader.

Team development phases model CLEVIS

First, however, we want to talk about an additional (pre)phase that Tuckman apparently does not yet consider part of the actual team process. Before the forming phase, you could add a conception phase. A few key factors of the team are defined here – the goal of the team, the skills and qualifications required for this, etc. It is also decided here which people come into the team at all.

Side note:

It is actually significant that, according to Tuckman, the team development phases only begin once the team has already been formally assembled. This highlights the importance of the phases following assembly. This is where the real work takes place. It is in them that the team emerges as such, instead of a thrown-together working group.

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Pro-Tip for Team Composition

In order to guarantee more motivation right from the start, it makes sense to advertise the formation of the team among the potential members. An internal company advertisement, for example, ensures that only employees who are interested in the task and finding a solution are brought into the team. If the members themselves do not decide whether or not to join the team, this could already lead to aversion and frustration in the first phase.

Forming: the Orientation Phase

The team members meet, get to know each other and collect first impressions. Dealing with each other is still restrained, formal and characterized by polite distance. Circumstances, relationships and positions that may later have to be dissolved for the benefit of the team can already become clear in this development phase of the team.

It is important here to be aware of the “packages” with which the participants come to the round. Everyone has different expectations, concerns, and possibly fears that should be treated with caution.

Tips for Team Leaders in the Forming Phase:

In this phase, the team is still very much dependent on and fixated on the management. Especially in the first few moments, concrete instructions are necessary in order to get to know each other well and to let everything fall into place. Observation, guidance, direction and a regulated, official framework are the order of the day here. At the same time, a welcoming, pleasant and relaxed atmosphere should be created. The team leader must also establish itself as a contact person and person of trust from the outset, who can be used in the subsequent phase.

Storming: the Confrontation Phase

The Storming phase is one of the most critical of the team development phases. This is where the first conflicts in the team arise. Dissatisfaction with the distribution of roles, resistance to the influence of the group, emotional response to certain demands, etc. surface and become visible. This is accompanied by a high level of frustration, disappointment and anger.

In the worst case, this can also lead to disrespectful and hurtful behavior when assertive characters try to ignore others and assert their individual interests.

Team development phases model CLEVIS

This phase is particularly characterized by standstill. The task set can only be worked on to a very small extent, since the team and its development are in the foreground here. Disputes and friction points become visible and must be cleared out of the way so that the team can grow.

As unpleasant as the Storming Phase sounds, it is necessary in order to be able to iron out all friction points from the outset for later phases. Under certain circumstances, it can start very early on, especially if the participants already knew each other and any “legacy burdens” are taken into the team development.

Tips for Team Leaders in the Storming Phase:

A particularly de-escalating effect is required here. Above all, the team management should remain calm, operate as a mediator and never take sides. What is needed here are constructive mediators who take concerns and objections into account. They encourage team members to seek dialogue and not shy away from open conflicts. It is essential that everyone is heard here, that nobody gets left behind and that a suitable solution is found for everyone in constructive conversations. More imposing members should not automatically be given the upper hand. Softer voices should be emphasized and supported.

Norming: the Organization Phase

The Norming Phase can be seen as a direct consequence of the conflict phase, although it can also occur without it. Structures, standards, orderly and open manners and routine processes are consolidated here. Conflicts could be overcome and a team spirit emerges.

The standardization phase is the prerequisite for the performance phase to start.

Slowly, the community takes precedence over individual achievement and the feeling of togetherness is strengthened. Successes are increasingly perceived as team achievements without paying close attention to whose merits were greater. If arguments still arise, those involved have the necessary experience to solve the problem in constructive discussions.

Tips for Team Leaders in the Norming Phase:

Here the management style of the team leader can slowly change from directive to participatory. They withdraw from their leadership role and become something like a facilitator who only accompanies the final steps of the team towards self-organization. Here it is only checked that nothing can be consolidated that was previously classified as to be discarded. In addition, the role of referee remains here: in compliance with the agreed rules of the game.

Performing: the Performance Phase

Now the phase has finally been reached in which the development of the team is no longer the focus of teamwork. The entire energy of the team can now be concentrated on completing the task that was actually set. The structure is established in such a way that it can support the achievement of goals and the people involved are also fully coordinated. The atmosphere is good and both small and big successes are celebrated together.

The team management is now completely in the background, the positions are all at eye level and the degree of self-organization of the team has reached its peak. From now on, no more instructions should come from outside or from the team management, as this would endanger the independence of the team.

Tips for Team Leaders in the Performing Phase:

The previous team leader gives up the “leading” function entirely and becomes a role that continues to monitor the dynamics and intervene as a mediator if necessary. They remain the contact person for problems and emerging conflicts and does ongoing team development work. The team management also remains the mouthpiece to the outside world. They represent the team to management and has their back. Time, material and financial resources are provided by the team representative in order to ensure that the team can work unhindered.

The 5th Phase: “Adjourning”, or Resolution Phase

Some time after formulating the team development phases, Tuckman, together with Mary Ann C. Jensen, revised his model and added the fifth phase: the Adjourning Phase. It occurs when the (temporary) team’s goal is met, or when the team’s performance deteriorates to the point where regrouping becomes advisable. This can happen after a long period of existence, especially when it comes to teams whose innovative strength should be high. At some point, the creative minds may become dull and get lost in routine, making it difficult for them to reach their goal.

Then the team will be disbanded. This too should be regulated. Due to the high level of personal connection between the individual people in the team, it is advisable, for emotional reasons alone, to round off the conclusion with evaluations, feedback and documentation. Extensive documentation can also be provided to assist future teams.

In order to complete the interpersonal relationships that have been established, a fitting farewell and a joint celebration of the goals achieved can be organised.

It is also important to consider: what comes next? The (professional) whereabouts of the employees should be clarified at an early stage so that the participants do not find it so difficult to complete and this can still be carried out with motivation. This is where the team management comes into play again, which helps the colleagues with further orientation and plans the conclusion accordingly.

FAQs to team development

What are the phases of team development?

From various theories, an arrangement of a total of 5 phases for team development emerges. According to Bruce Tuckman’s model, the phases are named as followed: Forming or orientation phase, Storming or confrontation phase, Norming or organisation phase, Performing or performance phase and finally Adjouring or resolution phase.

Why is team development important?

Together more can be achieved. Team development pursues the goal of forming a team in order to guarantee the best possible cooperation. In addition, the team members get to know themselves better, but also each other. They can also understand and, if necessary, improve their reaction to others in the context of the project.

What is the phase model?

Bruce Tuckman developed a phase model for team development in the 1960s, which is still applied today. The phases of this model, which were originally developed for the formation of new teams, can also be applied in other contexts, whereby the duration of these phases varies from team to team.

A team in harmony is the basis for a successful company. In order that your team also works well together, and the team members trust and support each other, appropriate team development measures are needed. Always adapt these to the individual team members, the company values and the development goals. Only then will the team development really be crowned with success.