The Tuckman Model of Team Development

Trust and quality of relationship among members of a group are conditions that make a practical difference.[1] And research confirms something reported to us anecdotally, i.e., that leaders are at times motivated to generate division rather than qualities of cohesion and cooperation that produce team bonds.  They do so for fear of losing their power. This is an expression, even if dysfunctional[2], of security needs that can affect all of us when entering a group. So, there are many reasons to focus on team development and notice the patterns of interaction and the underlying dynamics that grow out of them. 

It would be much easier if all the dynamics (individual, interpersonal, and group-as-a whole) involved in forming and becoming effective were obvious and clear. But, alas, we human beings are too complex for that. Therefore, we must learn from careful, professional, observation-based theory construction what happens at a less conscious level, and with this knowledge anticipate and notice signs of progress and the predictable “growth pains” involved in the development process.[3]  

Among the established models of team development, the Tuckman Model[4] remains the most familiar, intuitive, and popular in group dynamics and team development circles. The most common use of this model follows a sequence of four stages known as forming, storming, norming, and performing. They apply to senior leadership teams as much as they do to any other kinds of work group or teams in the workplace.[5] These stages are briefly described below: 

Tuckman Model resized.jpg


The first stage of the model is characterized by a search for clarity of task, roles, and ground rules. We might regard it essentially as seeking to answer the question “what is our purpose, and how do I/we fit in this group?” At this early stage Individuals may show more dependence and deference to the leader as the task is being defined.  Members then start to explore boundaries that sharpen the task focus and define roles. They begin getting to know one another, exploring their relationships, and experimenting with a wider range of interpersonal dynamics and task behaviors that include greater assertiveness in expressing their point of view and seeking to find a differentiated role in the group.  


The second stage represents a time of intragroup conflict. In this phase the initial and nominal basis of unity (task) is tested and polarization around interpersonal issues occurs. On the one hand, members may yearn for the security of clearly defined roles and relationships. On the other hand, they may be jockeying for position and may resist moving into unknown areas of interpersonal relations, fearing a loss of security. In this stage, members may have an emotional response to the task, especially when goals are associated with self-understanding and self-change. Emotional responses may be less visible in groups working toward impersonal and intellectual tasks, but resistance may still be present. 


During the third phase, the group develops cohesion. Members come to know and accept each other’s idiosyncrasies. They express personal opinions more freely and constructively. This results in a disarming effect on defenses that were prominent in the storming phase. The group has learned that even acute episodes of conflict can be resolved and yield important learning if handled in a timely manner. Roles and norms are clearer. Members develop shared mental models. They discover their most effective ways to work together. They feel like a unit and strive to maintain unity. Task conflicts are resolved by giving balanced attention to both cognitive and affective themes to insure genuine alignment. 


In the final stage of the model, the group develops what Tuckman called ‘functional role relatedness’, which implies a capacity for well-coordinated, interdependent action. They begin to function socially, emotionally, and cognitively as a ‘problem-solving instrument’. There is a noticeable ease that emerges among members as they demonstrate the ability to adapt and play roles that enhance task activities. Structure is supportive of task performance. Roles become flexible and group energy is channeled into the task. Research on team development and performance indicates that teams that stay together over time do develop a performance advantage. There is also an argument to be made for periodic infusions of “new blood”, which may require recycling earlier stages but may also provide fresh perspective. 

[1] For example, Drescher et al (2014) found support for positive changes in trust mediating the relationship between positive changes in shared leadership and positive changes in performance. See also Zhu & Lee (2017).  

[2] Patrick Lencioni’s popular book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, explicitly addresses the underlying dynamics that help or hinder the cause of effective group bonds that promote trust, authenticity, and performance.

[3] See Rutan et al (2007) for a comprehensive review of the dynamics of group interaction and development.

[4] See Bonebright (2010) for a good summary of the Tuckman Model and its continuing popularity since being introduced in 1965.

References Cited  

Bonebright, D.A. (2010). 40 years of Storming: A Historical Review of Tuckman's Model of Small Group Development. Human Resource Development International, 13 (1), 111-120.

Drescher, M. A., Korsgaard, M. A., Welpe, I. M., Picot, A., & Wigand, R. T. (2014). The dynamics of shared leadership: Building trust and enhancing performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(5), 771-783.

Rutan, J. S., Stone, W. N., & Shay, J. J. (2007). Psychodynamic group psychotherapy. 4th ed. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.

Zhu, X., & Lee, K. S. (2017). Global virtual team performance, shared leadership, and trust: Proposing a conceptual framework. The Business & Management Review, 8(4), 31-38.