“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford
Dr Bruce Tuckman carried out research into the theory of group dynamics. In 1965, he published a theory known as ‘Tuckman’s stages of group development’.
According to his theory, there are four phases of group development – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
When teams get together for the first time, this is the process they have to go through. To get a deeper understanding of team dynamics and their role in leadership development and organisational culture, let’s zoom in on each of the four phases.
It takes both sides to build a bridge
In the first phase, forming, you are very much dependent on your leader for guidance and direction. Just think about your own very first day of work.
Hopefully, you went through an onboarding process so to understand a little about the culture of the organisation.
Once you were inducted into the culture, you were quite literally guided by your leader. You depended on your leader to give you clarity about your role and the precise responsibilities that come with it.
At that point in time, you were unclear about what needed to be done. You had no clue as to what you could or couldn’t do.
In this phase, you are just getting introduced to everyone. You are polite and positive in nature. Being your first day at work, you may feel a little anxious. Just like the first day of school, it is completely normal and understandable.
You are still getting to know your team and getting an understanding about their roles and responsibilities. As any new relationship, this can take some time to build.
From what I have seen and heard in my experience, this step often gets left out for some reason. Then, we wonder why our teams don’t swim in their own lane or why they are confused about what exactly they should or not should be doing.
Learn to work together
The second phase, storming, is where we start to get to know each other. We begin to identify each other’s boundaries and characteristics. If anything, this is the time when significant uncertainties and challenges arise.
Storming often starts when there is conflict between team members. This is not a bad thing because this is where awareness begins to develop. We start to discover our working styles and our level of emotional intelligence. We determine what we would put up with or not put up with when it comes to collaboration.
However, this is the phase that you start seeing individuals pushing the boundaries that you initially formed right from the beginning. For the same reason, this is why boundaries are very important to have defined right from the start. Otherwise, in the absence of strong boundaries, other individuals may challenge your authority and push your limits.
If the forming stage or the foundation wasn’t set up correctly in the first place, this is the phase where a team can get stuck. In pursuit of acceptance within the team, you might find yourself overwhelmed, overworked and stressed out. All for the sake of being accepted by your peers.
Just like the foundation of a house, if the structure is not strong, robust and steady, whatever is added to the foundation will fall apart. In other words, this storming phase may be like strong winds flipping cars, trees and houses to the ground.
Teams are relationships
To better understand the first two stages of group development, let’s change the context into one of a romantic relationship.
Remember the very first time you met someone and fell in love with them? The ‘honeymoon’ period, where you were beginning to learn about one another?
This was your forming stage. Or, what I like to call it, your conscious state. You were conscious of what you wore, how you spoke, what you spoke about, how you ate … You were conscious the whole time.
Then when the honeymoon period was over, you went back to being you. Your unconscious self. Your old habits, patterns and behaviours. All of these came to light and made you wonder if all of this was the right thing for you.
Well, this happens in a workplace environment with teams. Teams are relationships, and the dynamics are incredibly similar from one type of relationship to the next.
Within the storming stage, you will start to notice the clique groups in your team. You can start to identify where there are levels of resistance and power struggles within the team. You can start to see who likes whom and who favours whom.
It’s up to you to decide how you carry these observations into the norming and performing stages of group development.