Group development and interaction theory

Within the business setting, the shift from yesterday’s “singular” culture to today’s “team” culture has brought about a new era of learning, development, and innovation. However, this shift has also brought with it a certain amount of dissatisfaction, conflict, and confusion. This paper will focus on the Tuckman Theory, and discuss how Tuckman’s five stages of group development and interaction applies to the work environment and leadership effectiveness. The Tuckman Theory

Tuckman’s theory maintains that groups enter four foreseeable and elementary stages of development, and each of these stages contain both task and maintenance functions. These stages are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Later, in 1977, Bruce Tuckman, in collaboration with Mary Ann Jensen, updated his model with a fifth stage called “adjourning” (Smith, 2005).

To this Tuckman stated: We reviewed 22 studies that had appeared since the original publication of the model and which we located by means of the Social Sciences Citation Index. These articles, one of which dubbed the stages the ‘Tuckman hypothesis’ tended to support the existence of the four stages but also suggested a fifth stage for which a perfect rhyme could not be found. We called it ‘adjourning’ (Tuckman 1984).

The Five Stages of DevelopmentForming. Forming consists of the orientation of team members, the testing of boundaries between team members, and gathering information about the task and how the team should approach it. Team members are also busy deciding on the organization of the team, roles, and schedules.

During this stage, individual team members are assessing his/her acceptance among other team members as well as avoiding any controversy or conflict. While this may be a more social and comfortable stage for team members, not much work is accomplished because of the members’ avoidance of threat or conflict. Storming. When important issues are beginning to be addressed within the team, the patience of some team members may begin to break down and confrontations begin.

The majority of these initial confrontations may relate to the work of the group itself, or to roles and responsibilities within the group. However, most of these minor confrontations will be taken lightly or dealt with promptly. In order to progress to the next stage, group members must move from a “testing and proving” mentality to a problem-solving mentality. Hopefully, everyone will agree that the most important thing is to finish the work and agree to work together to solve their problems. It is important to note that to move on to the next stage group members need the ability to listen to each other (MacLeod, 2002).

Some team members may welcome these minor squabbles in that they can reveal the real issues among the team, while others will wish they were still in the comfortable confines of forming. This is also the stage when team members will look for ways to avoid or mediate conflicts more effectively.

Norming. With conflicts resolved, and the rules of the team established, and the scope of the teams’ responsibilities and tasks clear and agreed-upon, the team can get to the business at hand. Team members are once again comfortable with each other as well as his/her skills, knowledge, and abilities. These feelings will set the stage for a cohesive and effective work environment. Performing. During this phase, the groups’ energies are focused on the accomplishment of the task(s).

“A collective, interdependent organism is the final outcome of the group development process where the whole of the team is greater than the sum of its respective parts” (The Leadership Handout Series, 2006). The roles and responsibilities of team members may change and interact, and this will occur seamlessly as the basic structure of the group is supported by their trust in each other’s skills and abilities. Adjourning.

This final stage addresses the completion of the team tasks and the dissolution of the team. When this stage is planned, it includes the recognition of the complete and satisfactory work of the team and individual team members, along with the goodbyes between fellow team members. This stage can also be a difficult time for some team members as they relinquish their unity from the team. How the Tuckman Theory Applies to Professional Work Dynamics The Tuckman Theory seems to pinpoint distinct phases to what many consider the natural and unavoidable give and take among teams. Within a professional team setting, a team will progress through these phases only to the extent that the team members are willing to develop.

The cohesiveness of a team is dependent upon the ability of each team member to move through each stage at the same time; and this timing is dependent upon the make-up of the team and its leadership. In the workplace, there are many personalities and temperaments that must be accommodated within a team and this can be a difficult task to accomplish as individuals seek personal acknowledgement and recognition. The members of the team must each be willing to concede his/her position on occasion in order for the team to move forward. Likewise, unresolved concerns and issues among the team can lead to dysfunction or at worst, termination of the team. Designating Team Member Roles and Responsibilities

Two stages of the Tuckman theory, forming and storming, provide the forum in which team members can discover and observe the strengths and weaknesses, and the skills and knowledge of fellow team members. During this period, team members may choose to decide upon a team leader as well as individual roles and responsibilities within the team collectively. Alternately, roles and responsibilities may develop naturally, as individuals interact among each other.

A team leader may emerge out of the team simply based on their willingness to do so, or by the willingness of others to be lead by them because of a person’s personality or the team members’ acknowledgement of their unique skills and abilities where the particular team task is concerned. During this time, it is important for team members to be honest with themselves and their teammates concerning their own strengths and weaknesses concerning particular tasks and responsibilities that will be required to complete the assigned project. Moreover, while a team members’ individuality is important to the quality of the group as a whole, that same individuality cannot overwhelm or dominate the rest of the team to the exclusion of the thoughts and opinions of others.

Additionally, at this time the team leader must assert their leadership and coaching abilities to reinforce the roles and responsibilities of each team member as well as the goals of the team. It is during this stage that the coaching skills of the coaching manager should come to the fore. Both individuals and the team as a whole should be coached to enable and support them to ensure agreement as regards what specifically the goals, roles, and rules are with respect to the team and what that means to each and every individual (Mackintosh, 2003).

Although this may seem to be a redundant activity for the leader since these areas undoubtedly were covered while in the forming stage, it is important for leadership to allow team members a final opportunity to get any kinks out of his/her system before the real work begins.

How Participation, Leadership, and Motivational Skills Are Demonstrated Teams developed under the Tuckman theory may appear to be less stringent in formalities and strict lines between specific roles; however, these teams, as any other successful team, do follow a form of hierarchy. In any team, the role of the team leader is to coach, teach, and motivate team members; moreover, team members look to the team leader to possess those qualities and perform those duties.

We found that employees’ perceptions of team leader support were more positive when the leader engaged in four types of effective behavior: (1) monitoring the work effectively (giving timely feedback and reacting to problems in the work with understanding and help); (2) providing socioemotional support (showing support for a team member’s actions or decisions; helping alleviate stressful situations for subordinates; socializing; keeping team members informed about stressful situations; addressing subordinates’ negative feelings; and disclosing personal information); (3) recognizing good work privately and publicly; and (4) consulting subordinates about the work (asking for team members’ ideas and opinions; acting on subordinates’ ideas or wishes) (Amabile, 2004).

Team leaders have the responsibility of encouraging the participation of all team members by enticing them to reach beyond their comfort zone, giving support to team members during difficult stages, and motivating team members by recognition and the acknowledgement of positive outcomes; this type of leadership would be demonstrative of the “4-M Model of Leadership Effectiveness.”

Without this interaction, team members will lack focus and drive. Likewise, when team members are lead by such a leader, meaningful and willing participation among the team comes naturally in the teams’ pursuit of performing to their fullest ability in order to ensure a successful outcome. Alternately, this does not imply that team leaders should micro-manage their team.

Such leadership undermines a positive atmosphere, and negates the skills, abilities, and knowledge of his/her team members. Team members under this autocratic form of leadership lack creativity and productivity. Feelings of autonomy, control, and ownership in the work have all been found (in previous research) to influence people’s creativity—primarily by influencing how deeply they engage their thinking in the problem and how widely they explore the problem (Amabile, 2004).

AssessmentI find the Tuckman theory to be highly representative of the most common form of team development and interaction in today’s workplace. Additionally, teams that form and work under this type of leadership are generally more productive, creative, and responsive to leadership. In my own workplace, while the upper-level college leadership is autocratic in style, mid-level leadership and their subgroups seem to develop and interact more to the theory of Tuckman. These subgroup members and leaders are much more in tune for the need to allow each team member to voice his/her opinions, share opposing views, and use their individual skills, abilities, and knowledge to the benefit of the entire team.

The difference in team member interaction between the upper-level leadership and mid-level subgroup leadership is indicative of their respective styles. The interaction between upper-level leadership and subgroup members is stiff, has very little to say, and appear bored and unmotivated. However, the interaction between mid-level subgroup leadership and subgroup team members is provocative, energizing, and motivated. With this observation in mind, there is no mystery as to why the subgroups accomplish more work among each other and with other subgroups.

ReferencesLagace, M. (2004). Working knowledge for business leaders. How team leaders show support – or not. Retrieved November 5, 2006, from Mackintosh, A. (2003). The Coaching Manager. Stages of team development. Retrieved

November 2, 2006, from MacLeod, C. (2002). Leadership tips. 5 Stages of group development. Retrieved November 1, 2006, from Miami University. (2006). The leadership handout series. Retrieved November 3, 2006, from, M. K. (2005). Bruce W. Tuckman – Forming, storming, norming and performing in groups. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. Retrieved October 31, 2006, from