Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes to make a group of people into a functioning, effective team? Wonder no more!
The Tuckman Ladder Model is a tried-and-true model for understanding how teams progress and develop. It’s been used by teams at companies like Google and Facebook, and it can help you figure out where your team fits in its development—and how you can keep climbing.
What is the Tuckman Ladder Model?
Tuckman’s Ladder Model is a tool for understanding the five stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. The Tuckman Ladder Model describes the predictable stages that teams move through and explains how you can use them to improve your functioning as a group.
Bruce Tuckman, an American psychologist and educator, first referenced the four stages of team development in his book, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups”, which he co-authored with Mary Ann Jensen in 1965.
In one of his studies in 1977, Tuckman added a fifth stage to the model: adjourning (aka mourning). Let’s take a look at each of these stages, so you can become familiar with it.
5 Stages of Team Development, According to Tuckman
The Tuckman Ladder gives project managers a great framework to both prepare for and manage team dynamics throughout the project life cycle. It’s based on the assumption that teams develop over time, passing through five predictable stages: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.
The model was formed with two key observations:
First, teams go through a life cycle consisting of four distinct stages (forming, storming, norming, performing).
Second, team development doesn’t stop at the “performing” stage; rather it is a continuous process throughout the project life cycle.
Although every team is different and will progress at its own pace (some move more quickly than others), these stages work as an effective guide for project managers during each phase of their project.
Understanding these five stages can help you as a manager to anticipate where your team members may be on the ladder, which will allow you to more effectively manage them as individuals as well as a collective unit.
1. Forming (uncertainty, nervousness, curiosity, and enthusiasm)
In the forming stage, team members are just becoming acquainted with each other and learning about their roles in the group and their individual tasks. Everything is very uncertain at this point. If you’re in the forming stage as a project manager, here’s how to introduce yourself to the new team.
We all know that the first day of school is always a challenge. You’re not sure what to wear, where to go, or who you’ll sit by at lunch. The same goes for your team members in the forming phase. No one knows what they’re supposed to do, how they should act, or even who each other are yet. They might look around and wonder if they chose the right project or if their teammates are up to snuff.
This stage is similar to sixth grade because each individual has been assigned a role (your locker combination), but no one can remember it yet (that math test). What’s worse is that everyone on your team feels like an outcast because nobody knows each other (except for those two guys who have known each other since kindergarten). That’s why it’s important that you encourage them to get acquainted with their teammates and learn about their strengths and weaknesses (and whether or not they’re good enough for this project).
The forming phase also involves taking a look at the core aspects of your project: goals, tasks, customers, deadlines, etc. It could make sense for everyone on your team to familiarize themselves with these fundamentals before moving forward into storming (and you don’t want them feeling like Mrs. Johnson just told them how much homework they’d have on day 1).
During this stage, the project manager will want to set clear objectives, establish a rapport with the team members, and make sure that everyone is comfortable.
2. Storming (frustration, conflict, and competition)
The storming stage is often the most uncomfortable. This occurs when teams begin to realize that they aren’t working as well as they should be, and that individual personalities will affect team productivity. You see a shift from thinking of themselves as individuals who are only responsible for their part of the project, to recognizing that they are part of a group, and each member is responsible for the final product.
In this stage, you may still experience conflict but the energy is positive and constructive. The team has begun to trust each other and can handle conflict in ways that enable them to still move forward toward their project goals.
3. Norming (cooperation, supportiveness, and problem solving)
By this time, things have really gelled up and the team is now cohesive. The team members feel comfortable in the environment and get along well with each other. The team is now more productive and focused on achieving its goals.
The team is now more self-managing as the group has established shared leadership. It doesn’t need a formal leader to direct its course but rather finds a way to divide tasks and responsibilities amongst themselves.
4. Performing (creativity, innovation, and delivery)
Performing — This is the stage where you are delivering. The team has come together properly and everyone feels that they are being treated fairly, there is a high level of trust and creativity. There is a unity in purpose and effort and the team understands the goals. Conflict will be dealt with constructively and the team will be able to work around difficulties to find solutions.
In the performing stage of the Tuckman model, your team is at its most productive. You have a strong foundation of trust and understanding, built during the forming and storming stages. Your team has learned to communicate effectively during the norming phase. You have a clear goal in mind, and your team members are all working toward that goal with enthusiasm.
Your job as project manager is to keep things running smoothly! Your team is already doing an excellent job on its own, so you don’t need to provide much direction now. But you should still hold regular meetings and check-ins—it’s important to keep everyone on track and make sure no one is feeling stuck or left out.
The performing stage can last for years, but if anyone leaves or joins then you will more than likely have to build another Team Development Ladder before you can get back to this stage.
5. Adjourning (reflection, accomplishment, and disbanding)
The Adjourning stage is the last stage in the Tuckman Ladder, and is marked by the team’s preparation to disband. This means that all tasks have been completed or are in their final stages of completion. During this time, team members may also begin to feel sad about the end of their work together and think about how much they will miss one another. Interpersonal relationships now normalize, as the project is no longer taking all of the team’s focus.
During the Adjourning stage, team members begin to focus on their own goals, rather than the team’s goals. They might start thinking about how working with a particular group helped them develop certain skills or whether or not they want to continue working with those people in a new project.
While it’s normal for teams to experience a range of emotions during this stage, not everyone will go through every emotion listed above. Some people might experience only a few of these emotions, while others may not feel any emotion at all as they transition into other projects or assignments.
As a project manager, you’re responsible for helping your team members deal with these emotions in a healthy way. You want to encourage them to celebrate their success and all they accomplished together (that’s why we have parties!), but you also want to make sure that everybody feels like they have some kind of support network in place for when things get difficult for them during this transition period.
If you’re going through the adjourning stage with your team, make an effort to be as transparent as possible about what to expect. Be clear about the next steps for each individual on your team: Where will their next projects take them, what skills will they be learning, how will they develop professionally? If people are moving on from your team in any way, make sure that you have a detailed plan for how you’ll approach transitioning them out of their current role.
You may also want to plan an event or activity to give everyone on your team a good chance to say goodbye and celebrate their work together. This can help people feel as though there’s some closure to the project—and it can be really fun! There are tons of ways to celebrate your accomplishments, so let your creative juices flow!
Why knowing the Tuckman ladder is oh so important
Understanding how teams develop can be useful in a number of ways for both team members and higher ups.
The Tuckman ladder for teams
In the workplace, it can help you identify problems within your team and work to correct them. It can also help you with how to join an existing team or make a new team of your own. Tuckman’s model is widely used in both academic and professional spheres for these reasons. In addition to helping people understand team dynamics, it can also help individual employees understand themselves better—which is one of the reasons the model is so popular in business management training programs.
For example, the stage of “forming” may be more difficult for people who are introverted (as they may find it harder to get to know others); while at work, they may prefer to quietly go about their tasks rather than jump into discussion with others. In order to be as efficient as possible, introverts will have to adjust to working in groups, while extroverts will have to learn that silence isn’t always a sign that someone doesn’t want to contribute. That being said, even though this model gives us a framework for understanding how teams come together and evolve over time, it’s important not to forget that every group—and every individual in the group—is unique.
The Tuckman ladder model for management
In addition, the Tuckman ladder model is important because it helps us understand why some teams succeed and others fail. For example, if a team does not go through the four stages of group development (forming, storming, norming, and performing), then it will not be able to reach its full potential. In fact, each stage requires different information and support from management in order for the team to mature fully. Without knowing these stages, managers can easily make mistakes that derail teams and prevent them from ever reaching their full potential.
The model is useful for many other reasons. One of the main reasons why it has such staying power is because it helps us understand how people interact with each other in teams. It’s easy to get frustrated with teammates when they’re not acting the way you think they should be acting—but if you know that they’re going through the storming stage, you can be more understanding and forgiving of their behavior.
The Tuckman Ladder Model is a handy tool for understanding the development of teams and how they work together. It can give you information about how to help your team figure out solutions or brainstorm, and it can help you understand what to do next if you’re facing issues as a team. So don’t think of this model as something that only big companies like Google and Facebook use—it’s applicable to all kinds of teams, at all levels of experience, so seek it out and see if it works for your group.
Teams will struggle, but they still have the potential to accomplish great things—even to reinvent human society. Use the Tuckman Ladder Model as a way of understanding where your team is right now. Then, when it’s time for your team to move forward, focus on fostering effective collaboration and communication among your teammates.