The Leader’s Role in Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development

Leader's Role in Tuckman's Stages of Group DevelopmentLast week we examined Tuckman’s highly influential Stages of Group Development, which include Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Each stage marks a progression within the group – the way group members interact and function as a whole. Below you’ll find basic explanations of the stages (for more detailed descriptions, check out this post):

  • Forming: The group is coming together for the first time and members are being polite, while also sizing each other up. There’s little unity and potentially limited buy-in to the group’s goals.
  • Storming: Members reveal their true opinions and conflict arises between members and leadership.
  • Norming: People begin to solidify behind team goals and build trust between each other. Agreements are made around work styles and responsibilities.
  • Performing: The team is well oiled at this point. Members work well together and there is enough trust to provide individuals more autonomy. Constructive criticism is embraced as beneficial and goals are achieved.

While Tuckman’s model focuses on what is happening within a team, it’s important to discuss what a leader’s role is during these stages. One-size-fits-all leadership is not effective in guiding groups through these phases effectively. Below we’ll examine the four ideal roles for leaders to take on during these distinct stages.

Forming = The Director

During this stage the group is getting its bearings and to do this effectively, there needs to be someone who is clearly in charge. The leader must be directive, creating structured meetings to hone in on the group’s objectives and keep everybody on target. The leader is very much a commanding officer at this point, telling team members exactly what to do and setting expectations for the work to be done.

During this process, the leader should be asking herself questions about where the group fits into the organization as a whole and what the true objectives of the group should be. Moreover, she should ask herself how to make the team’s mission compelling enough to produce group member buy-in. Moreover, she should be using this time to begin noting team member strengths and preferences with regards to skillsets and communication styles.

Storming = The Coach

Being a hectic stage with heightened emotions, this period requires a leader to control the chaos while providing a empathetic ear to team members. Listening to people’s input at this point is key—even if suggestions aren’t incorporated into the group’s plans, being heard goes a long way toward building good will. As a coach, it’s also important to instruct group members on the best way to function as a team, while being encouraging and supportive.

While a team is in the Storming process, a leader should make sure that there is a clear understanding of purpose amongst group members. Additionally, she should assure that all the proper skillsets are represented to reach the team’s goal. Likewise, she should make sure team members feel there is a space for them to air out their feelings and concerns. She should also be thinking about the best way to get people to work together while gathering more insight from the team on how they can best achieve their goals. Retaining authority until the group is in better alignment and ready for some autonomy is key.

Norming = The Collaborator

In this phase, where the group is starting to solidify and make progress, it’s time for the leader to let off the reins a bit and focus on delegating responsibilities. With work becoming more streamlined, some team members are ready for more complicated assignments. A leader at this stage will focus more on building team members’ confidence while challenging the team’s thinking to avoid complacency and “group think.” In-team autonomy grows at this stage as members become more self assured in their roles and abilities. A collaborative leader will involve her team in more leadership level issues such as problem-solving, conflict resolution, and high-level decisions.

During this stage, a collaborative leader should ask herself how the norming process is going. Are there established and agreed upon methods for communication? Is there a feedback system in place to keep the team on track, focused, and enthusiastic? Are people feeling aligned and purposeful? Addressing these questions will help a leader usher her team into the next phase of group development.

Performing = The Visionary

At this stage, the team is high-functioning and its members are well aligned with a large amount of autonomy. This allows another change in management style, from inward focus to outward. The team requires a visionary who is looking to outside trends, market drivers, competition, etc. Additionally, a leader in this phase needs to cultivate leadership talent within the team to plan for the future. There is a focus on continual improvement and growth to keep the team’s performance up and to make sure everyone is primed for success.

During this ultimate stage a leader should be asking herself questions about team effectiveness and member satisfaction. There should be an emphasis on idea generation as well as flexibility in anticipation of future events that may change a team’s methods or goals. A team identity should be emerging at this stage and a leader should be asking herself how the identity aligns with their vision for the future. Finally, there should be regular analysis of feedback data and performance indicators to continuously refine the team’s approach and keep things optimized.

In Conclusion

While guiding a team through its development stages isn’t an easy task, by adapting one’s leadership style it is possible to expedite the process. Furthermore, you will be able to get more out of your team while keeping morale and effectiveness up. Finally, you will develop a team adaptable enough to weather any uncertainties the future brings with the flexibility and internal drive that allows the group to thrive.

Doug Ramsay

Doug handles the marketing and web presence for Adventure Associates. If he's not geeking-out with the latest, greatest web marketing tools, then you'll find him swirling and sipping his way through wine country.

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