In Blog Articles, Monday Memo


Bruce Tuckman’s well-known “Forming Storming Norming Performing” theory is an elegant and helpful explanation of team development and behaviour. It was first published in 1965 but around 1975 he added a fifth stage, namely Adjourning.

So how might these stages be useful to us? Well, Tuckman’s model explains that as the team develops maturity and ability, relationships establish, and the leader changes leadership style. Accordingly, from any team leader’s perspective it would be useful to understand what stage of maturity the team has reached as this might assist them in providing the leadership style that would bring out the best in their team, both individually and collectively.

It would be useful then for us to try to understand each of these stages in this context – so read the following 5 stages with a view to identifying what stage your team is at, and what style of leadership is required:

  1. Forming: In this stage, the team has a high dependence on the leader for guidance and direction. There is little agreement on team objectives other than those received from the leader. Individual roles and responsibilities are unclear and the leader must be prepared to answer a lot of questions about the team’s purpose, objectives and external relationships. Processes are often ignored and team members test the tolerance of the system and the leader. During this stage, the leader tends to direct and tell.


  1. Storming: Decisions don’t come easily within the group in this stage. Team members vie for position as they attempt to establish themselves in relation to other team members and the leader, who might receive challenges from team members. Clarity of purpose increases but plenty of uncertainties persist. Cliques and factions form and there may be power struggles. The team needs to be focused on its goals to avoid becoming distracted by relationships and emotional issues. During this stage, the leader tends to try to sell his ideas.


  1. Norming: Agreement and consensus largely forms among the team, who respond well to facilitation by the leader. Roles and responsibilities are clear and accepted. Big decisions are made by group agreement. Smaller decisions may be delegated to individuals or small teams within the group. Commitment and unity are strong. The team may engage in fun and social activities. The team discusses and develops its processes and working style. There is general respect for the leader and the team shares some of the leadership. The leader facilitates and enables.


  1. Performing: The team is more strategically aware and knows clearly why it is doing what it is doing. The team has a shared vision and is able to stand on its own feet with no interference or participation from the leader. There is a focus on over-achieving goals, and the team makes most of the decisions against the criteria agreed with the leader. The team has a high degree of autonomy. Disagreements occur but now they are resolved within the team positively, and the team makes necessary changes to processes and structure. The team is able to work towards achieving their goal, and also to attend to relationship, style and process along the way. Team members look after each other. The team requires delegated tasks and projects from the leader. The team does not need to be instructed or assisted. Team members might ask for assistance from the leader with personal and interpersonal development. The leader’s style is one of delegating and overseeing.


  1. Adjourning: Here the team breaks up, hopefully when the task is successfully completed, its purpose fulfilled; everyone can move on to new things. At the same time, recognition of and sensitivity to people’s vulnerabilities is needed, particularly if members of the team have been closely bonded and feel a sense of insecurity or threat from this change. A leader would therefore show greater empathy in this phase.

Of course, the five stages are not always that clear particularly for teams transitioning from one stage to the next; all the more reason for leaders to be increasingly adaptable, agile and situational in their approach.

I hope that the series creates not only greater understanding for my readers, but that it perhaps creates more questions than answers. If I am successful in achieving this for you, please feel free to raise your views or questions with me at

In addition this week, I am offering the first person who responds and qualifies, a free meeting audit consisting of an interview with the team leader, shadow coaching of one team meeting, and a report back with the team leader. These can be done face to face with teams in Johannesburg and Durban, and by way of a video-conferencing facility for other respondents. To respond, and to see if you qualify, please send me an email on in which you highlight the challenges you are facing in your meetings.

 (I am indebted to the work of Peter Hawkins, of Renewal Associates, especially his book, Leadership Team Coaching, as well as the methodology of Integral Coaching Canada, which I have integrated for purposes of this series and in developing my Systemic Leadership Team Coaching process.)

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