Navigating Tuckman’s Stages: Leading Your Group from Forming to High Performing

I just wrote this with the help of my father and brother (Chris). It’s rather long so I’m going to post it as a series of blog entries. Tell me what you think! – Gil Crosby

Tuckman’s model of group development has endured for decades as a simple way to understand group dynamics. His catchy and often quoted sequence is Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform. He later added Adjourn. One reason for the popularity of his model is that it is easy to remember, i.e., it rhymes. Unfortunately, the word he chose for that very reason to describe conflict, “storm,” is misunderstood by many to mean that an ugly fighting phase is necessary for a healthy group to develop. Another problem is that the model offers no guidelines on how to create a healthy (by which we mean high performing) group. Our approach, tested over decades of work with intact groups (i.e., boss and subordinates) and project teams, offers proven methods for actively guiding your group to high performance.

Like any good theory, Tuckman’s model clarifies what we already know: it is predictable that in the beginning of any new group there will be a period akin to a honeymoon stage, where members are focused on fitting in (forming), that eventually this need will be superseded by the surfacing of differences (the dramatic sounding storming), that how differences are managed will evolve into norms (do we admit and explore differences? Do we fight about differences? Do we pretend as best we can that we don’t have any differences?), and that these norms will impact group performance. In this light, Tuckman’s stages are a useful predictor of group dynamics. Unfortunately, they have been misunderstood by many as if they are to be simply endured. Most are unaware that research on Tuckman in 1975 by Johnson and Johnson noted, “Virtually all the studies that Tuckman reviewed, however, involved group leaders who were passive and nondirective and who made no attempt to intervene in group process.” We advocate a much more active approach. While Tuckman’s sequence raises awareness of the process that is unfolding, it’s important to go beyond passive awareness. An effective leader must guide the group towards constructive ends rather than leaving group development to chance. Whether or not they are the formal leader, if even one group member knows the following methods, that group has a much stronger chance of achieving high performance.

Based on our experience with 100s of groups over the past 60 years, we propose that the active leadership stages of an effective group are:

Stage One – Inclusive Forming/Dispersed Participation
Stage Two – Constructive Storming/Managing Differences
Stage Three – Active Norming/Organizing the Work
Stage Four – High Performing/Self Renewing Activities

It’s important to note that even with a passive approach to Tuckman, the stages don’t unfold in an entirely linear manner nor in any set amount of time (for example, one is establishing norms from the very beginning, and conflict can and will emerge at any time). Rather these are general guidelines and activities with an end goal of high performance.

To set the context of how this works, imagine yourself in a meeting. The meeting could be formal (a project team with members from every department) or informal (on the floor with 2 or 3 others). You may be a member or the person in charge. Regardless of your role or the circumstances of the meeting, Tuckman’s stages are unfolding!

To be continued…

About crosbyod

Crosby & Associates OD is a catalyst for high performance & morale. Our methods are a unique blend grounded in research and decades of experience. In the spirit of Kurt Lewin, the founder of OD, as we partner with you in the present we transfer our methods to you so you are independent in the future. Learn more at
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1 Response to Navigating Tuckman’s Stages: Leading Your Group from Forming to High Performing

  1. Pingback: Tuckman Revisited (Again) | Crosby & Associates Leadership and Organization Development Blog

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