In consulting, our team is often in the position of collaborating with new teams. In general, this is one of the most fun aspects of our work, as we enjoy the servant leadership aspect of what we do. There are definitely some drawbacks to constantly forming new teams, however, and if team members are not prepared, they can be surprised and often frustrated.
The Tuckman Model, coined by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in his 1965 article entitled “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups” describes “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing,” as a typical path that most teams follow as they work together. As would be expected, the “Storming” part of team interaction is not always sunshine and rainbows.
However, rather than eschew or deny the natural progression of the Tuckman Model, it is quite helpful to embrace it. Merely knowing that it is NORMAL to storm at some point helps to give perspective and provide assurances that we are just like everyone else. Teams are not surprised when it happens and can avoid frustration as they work through the Storming phase. It also offers a light at the end of the tunnel, knowing that the Norming phase is coming soon!
Typically, there is a period of excitement preceding the Storming phase. Tuckman calls this the Forming stage. “Forming” a team is often an exciting time, where people are happy to get to know each other, and everything is fun and new.
If team members are not aware of the natural progression of team formation, however, the bliss that accompanies Forming often causes even more frustration as things become challenging. When reality sets in, often accompanied by ambiguity and feelings of being overwhelmed, Storming ensues. The speed of this transition seems to depend on the frequency of interactions. If your team interacts less frequently, it often will take longer to hit Storming.”
Once the team has found its strides and clarified its operational norms, teams are productive and work together to deliver results. Tuckman calls this phase Norming. It is important to note that even in Norming, there may still be some hiccups around knowing who is most proficient at what, and who to ask for certain types of help. However, if your team ever gets into Performing, it feels like a well-oiled machine. Team members are comfortable with each other, confident in their skills and that of their teammates, and trusting to grow out of their comfort zones to learn new things and be challenged to grow.
The take away here, however, is to be aware that teams do go through these phases. It is normal, and that in and of itself can bring confidence that you WILL get through it!