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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


Dr. Bruce Tuckman put forth a 4 stage model of group (or team) development in 1965 that is brilliant in its simplicity and its usefulness. Dr. Tuckman (clearly a Dr. Seuss wannabe) gave these stages clever names so that they would be easy to remember. So exercise caution. If you don’t know these stages already and you read this document, you won’t be able to forget them for the rest of your life. Is this a risk you’re willing to take? Okay then, let’s go for it!

For our purposes, let’s call these stages the stages of “team development” rather than the more generic “group development,” since the team concept is more interesting and useful to those of us who move in business circles. The stages are:

  • Forming

  • Storming

  • Norming

  • Performing

Forming The members of a team are just coming together and getting to know each other. People tend to be polite and to avoid controversial subjects in order to maintain civility and harmony in the team. This is the “honeymoon phase” of the team’s development.

Storming As the team begins to tackle actual work goals, disagreement and conflict inevitably arise among the members about the best course of action to pursue in achieving these goals. The team must find a way to resolve these conflicts constructively in order to move to the next phase of team development.

Norming If the team can effectively negotiate the storming stage, then it can begin to agree on its norms, or the “normal” way it will function. Questions need to be answered such as “Why are we here—what are our goals? How are we going to make decisions and govern ourselves? Who is going to play what role? How will we know if we are successful? What criteria will we use to decide if we will add new members to our team?”

Performing Finally! Once the team successfully establishes its norms it can be very productive. The team’s energy is fully focused on achieving its goals without significant distraction.

While the stages of team development do not necessarily occur exactly sequentially, teams do tend to follow this general progression. The most common place for teams to get “stuck” and ultimately not achieve their full potential is the Storming stage. The scenario that occurs most often is when conflicts are “swept under the rug” and not resolved because team members have been punished in some fashion in the past for being candid about their views (e.g., “That’s a dumb idea.” or “You’re being very disloyal by questioning the way we’ve always done things.”). Therefore, they stop sharing valuable information and input in order to avoid future negative experiences.

Another “stuck” scenario that occurs less often is when every team conflict resembles a full out bar room brawl. Team members express a lot of anger (sometimes complete with yelling) but reach no resolution of the conflict. Resentments build and views polarize even further rather than the team moving toward resolution, increased productivity, and success.


Technique #1: Ensure that your team is skilled in resolving conflicts effectively.

Technique #2: Define your team norms clearly and openly; e.g., mission, vision, values, strategy, roles, performance metrics, etc.

Technique #3: A skilled process consultant can dramatically accelerate a team’s progression through the stages of development leading to high achievement; consider this option if it makes sense for your situation.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved

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