Tuckman’s Five Stages of Team Development. Still Relevant?

Bruce Tuckman Explains How Groups Mature into Self-Managing Teams

It was in 1965 that Bruce Tuckman first published his model of team development. Now, in 2022, it remains one of the most popular ways to model the formation and gradual development of teams.

1965 was a long time ago though and many people are asking the question ‘is it still relevant today?’

A lot has changed since 1965. The Internet. Remote working. Social Media. Gen Z. Multicultural and diverse workplaces. Do we still interact in the same ways and proceed through the five stages of development in a linear fashion? Let’s consider that.

Firstly, let’s have a quick reminder of the model.

Stage 1: Forming

This is the messy first stage when teams first come together. Objectives often lack clarity and group members are learning what makes their colleagues tick. It’s a period of orientation. Team members are highly dependent on the leader and seek instruction.

The leader directs.

Stage 2: Storming

Still things remain a little unclear but cliques and factions start to form which, in turn, start to forge paths forward. There is often disagreement though about how best to do things and this leads to difficulty in making decisions. Certain team members may try to exert their influence and jockey for position and this can lead to conflict.

The leader coaches.

Stage 3: Norming

Finally we start to notice agreement and consensus. The group has formed clear norms and values and has figured out their regular systems and processes. ‘This is how we do it’ becomes the dominant way of thinking. Team members have developed a sense of unity and respect for one another and there is a clear working style and team culture.

The leader facilitates.

Stage 4: Performing

There is now a strategic awareness within the team and they are fully aligned. The team has a shared vision with each team member having greater autonomy to make decisions on behalf of the team. Conflict and disagreements remain, as they always will, but each individual is now armed with effective conflict resolution skills. As a result, the team is now self-managing.

The leader oversees and delegates.

Stage 5: Adjourning

This final stage was added in 1975 to describe the point at which the team disbands. This might be at the completion of a long term project or when the team leader moves on. In fact, when any team member in a self-managing team leaves, the whole five-stage process begins again as the norms that had developed are suddenly changed.

How Can It Help?

Essentially, the model helps explain how teams develop maturity and become self-managing. A self-managing team is surely the goal of any leader who understands that leadership is more about coaching and mentoring than micromanagement. David Brent from the British sitcom ‘The Office’ probably doesn’t subscribe to this model.

As a leader, we can use the model to help us understand the current position of our team and adjust our behavior to encourage growth. It makes sense to a lot of people and it’s not a surprise that this is the first model that any management coach will teach their students.

Is It Still Valid?

Most people, when they are introduced to Tuckman’s model, seem to grasp its concepts very quickly. We’ve all been a part of a new team and have likely been through these very same stages ourselves. It’s not complex and it’s not jargon-heavy. It’s approachable. Any manager, regardless of age or experience, can appreciate it. This makes it an excellent tool.

We now have four generations (sometimes five if there are a few people not looking forward to retirement) working side by side in the workplace. This creates challenges as each generation has its own values and preferences. Ultimately though, while our culture and lives in general may have changed dramatically since 1965, the evolution of the human mind has not. Behaviours can still be predicted. Groups continue to form and storm before begining to norm and perform.

So, the answer to the original question of ‘is it still relevant?’ is most certainly yes. Tuckman’s Team Development model remains as valid now as it ever was.


DovileMi, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons