By: Dr. Colleen M. Hacker
Originally Published in: Achieving Excellence
Provided by: Human Kinetics
One of the main points from this chapter is that groups and teams are formed through intentional actions; they don't just happen by chance. The most effective and high-functioning teams are made of a collection of individuals that have all decided to think and behave in ways that help them form strong bonds and perform at a high level. What you need to be aware of about teams are the predictable stages, cycles, or shifts that each will likely experience. There are critical challenges and similar issues that might arise and knowing what stage or shift your team is in can help you prepare for these moments and respond with clarity and effectiveness.
As groups prepare to complete a task, whether that is ensuring that the restaurant is ready to open on time, the patient is woken up every two hours to take their medicine, or an athletic team is readying for a new season, they are likely to move through four stages, according to Tuckman (1965): forming, storming, norming, and performing.
Stage One: Forming
In the forming stage, team members are getting to know one another and often assess each other's strengths and weaknesses. People are trying to figure out if they belong in the group and to identify their role. It's important to remember that in this first stage, individuals are strangers to one another and have been selected to be on the team or nominated for this particular task. It might seem like the team is functioning well because there is a lack of conflict, but that reality is deceptive because in the norming stage, people are typically sticking to safe topics to be polite or collegial and to avoid rather than work through issues. Early on in this initial stage, it is important to establish expectations and criteria for success.
Stage Two: Storming
Once individuals have established group membership and roles have been identified, they enter the storming stage, which is marked by conflict. People resist their roles and the leader's expectations; they do not want to be subsumed by the team. Individuals still see themselves as separate from the group, and they may feel anger or hostility when their wants or needs are not met. Some members actively push back either in the open in words or actions or behind the scenes with a small group of like-minded teammates.
Stage Three: Norming
If groups can stay together through this stage, the norming stage is where cooperation and unity emerge, and conflicts are reduced (Weinberg and Gould 2019). Here, norms are established for the group. What are the expectations and how is this team or group different from others? Tony Gustaysson, coach of the Australian women's national soccer team, tweeted, "This team has passion and belief and what lives in this team is this never-say-die attitude [which] means we connect with our heart." This exemplifies the team's standard of excellence and defines how the team thinks, behaves, and performs. As norms are embraced, rather than competing for status, people start to feel like they are part of the team and recognize that, if they accept their roles and work together, they can accomplish their goals.
Stage Four: Performing
In the performing stage, team members actively and explicitly work together to solve problems and test new ideas (Weinberg and Gould 2019). This stage is defined by well-established and accepted roles and more stable relationships among individuals within the team. Individuals defer to the team's needs, and the group ensures that everyone is recognized for their unique efforts. This remark by soccer player Mia Hamm, two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Cup champion, illustrates how an individual might feel when their team is in the performing stage: "I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion...Goals have never defined me as a player.
What has defined me is my impact on the team. If that means passing or playing defense to win, I'll do it."
Although Tuckman's four stages are considered a linear approach to group development, meaning that each group will progress through the stages in a known and predictable order, they are not guaranteed. Some groups may never enter the performing stage, for example, and may stay in the storming stage for the entire season or the entire year. Teams may move very quickly into the norming stage, while other teams, for a variety of reasons, never make it out of the forming stage, and their group may dissolve sooner than expected. See the sidebar on page 277 for a few strategies that might help ensure that your group resolves the common issues in each stage swiftly and effectively.
All groups go through these stages. It is true for families, sport teams, and organizations. It is expected. It is normal. It is predictable. There are also relational shifts that occur within each group or team throughout the development process. These shifts do not occur linearly, but rather, members of the group shift back and forth between them like a pendulum. Specifically, feelings of unity and cohesion ebb and flow, as do conflicts. For example, when a new group is formed for a project at work, feelings of unity might be high initially, but as the group begins to work together and individuals compete for rank, responsibility, or recognition, cohesion might decrease. Then, as those issues are resolved, unity and commitment to the group rise until individuals begin to feel like their effort or work is going unnoticed or is underappreciated. The point is that members of the group and the leaders must remain vigilant to the dynamic interactions within the group or team. The image of a pendulum swinging back and forth as the environment changes (e.g., a string of failures or losses, a change in roles or positions) might be helpful. Each member of the group must remain attentive to how their coworkers and teammates respond to changing demands and intervene when needed to ensure collective progress and achievement.