Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing in Teams

Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing in Teams

A lot of managers and business owners don’t like the thought of teams storming. They feel uncomfortable when staff get upset and vocal about issues they don’t like. Everyone knows that there will often be individuals that have an axe to grind, or seem only to focus on negatives. Some people call them ‘half glass empty’ people, others simply call them a pain in the neck. For some managers when the team dynamics are positive and productive with everyone pulling in the right direction, experiencing this negativity can raise the temptation to stamp it out.

But sometimes these highly critical ‘storming’ people are just what the business team needs. They can be vitally important, even if they’re outspoken complaints frustrate managers. Memories of Don Corleone’s line from the film the Godfather spring to mind: ‘Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.’ Instead of engaging Mafia Management tactics, consider seeing through the lens of Bruce Tuckman’s ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing’ model. Storming specifically focuses on the benefits of conflict in the life cycle of an organisation. If nothing else, it may give you reason for not chopping off horses heads and leaving them in people’s beds, as a way to move your organisations needs forward.

Forming Storming Norming Performing

Tuckman would argue that each business team goes through 4 stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing.

Stage 1- Forming: Team members need a lot of direction and guidance from the leader. The leader sets the direction, and everyone else is encouraged to follow. As a result there is little clarity on individuals roles and responsibilities. The leader needs to answer lots of questions about the team’s objectives, purpose and external relationships. Internal processes are often ignored and members test the capacity and tolerance of both the systems and the leader. The leadership and direction style is one of ‘Telling’ others what to do.

Stage 2- Storming. Team dynamics shift dramatically during this stage. No longer can the leader, lead through ‘Telling’ people what to do. It’s much harder to make decisions due to disagreements as team members compete against each other and power struggles creep in, with people jostling for position. People question the leader, and will challenge the thoughts and decisions he wishes to make. A sense of purpose grows, but there are plenty of uncertainties with people breaking down into cliques and smaller groups. People begin to find other people’s traits irritating, that previously in the ‘Forming’ stage they would have had grace for. A wise leader will not feel insecure about the criticism that he is facing longing for the sunny stage 1 when everyone did what you said. Instead they know the value of well-timed conversations that help to clarify the inaccurate perceptions that others will have of each other. Instead of getting bogged down in personal problems, the leader needs to focus his team on its goals, which will avoid unnecessary levels of distraction from emotional and relational issues, that may well pass. As a result, compromises may be required to enable progress. The leader leads with a ‘Selling’ approach.

Stage 3- Norming. The team has a much stronger sense of identity, and is able to make decisions by consensus and agreement. The team has a clearer understanding of its roles and responsibilities and is happy to be facilitated by the leader.  The group is able to work well together to make big decisions, and delegate smaller decisions to individuals or smaller teams within the group. As a result of this, commitment, unity and personal interaction is strong within the team and the team develops and discusses its working style and processes. There is a general sense of respect for the leader and often as a result of this support, some of the leadership is then shared by more of the team.

Stage 4- Performing

The team has a clear sense of direction, a shared vision and knows why it’s doing what it’s doing. Instead of being dependent on the team leader, there is far more interdependence and autonomy within the team, as the leader has confidence in the group and doesn’t feel the need to interfere. Motivated team members want to over-achieve with their goals. People aren’t threatened by disagreements, but instead having recognised each others strengths and differences in opinion, learn to resolve them positively within the team. Although the team is good at pulling together in the direction of the goal, it has a wider capacity to look after each other as well, and as a result there is a lot of camaraderie within the group. This team thrives off good delegation, as individuals don’t wish to be instructed or assisted but instead work towards larger projects and tasks together as initially outlined by the leader. There may be some assistance requested by the leader but this would normally be relating to personal and interpersonal development. As a result the leader is able to delegate and oversee the team, without being drawn into the details.

Clearly you can’t get to the stage of a ‘performing team’ without going through the ‘team storming’ stage. But many leaders do pull back at that stage, and pull rank in order not to lose control. They certainly don’t want to delegate, because they live with the mantra of ‘if you want a job doing, do it yourself.’ Instead they provide a list of tasks that team members have to fulfil. This ends up feeding people back into loathed dependency and resentment towards the leader. Go through the pain barrier, because teams work well out on the other side.

How do you handle team conflict and how you grow a team. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please add them in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing in Teams

  1. The principles you describe were recently brought to my attentiion through a book I was given to read. Last year I became a member of a leadership team and was encouraged to know the Chairman (who had bought each of us a copy of ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’) was giving us permission to express our opinions and that he was aware of and prepared to go through the ‘storming’ stage! At times I’ve perceived his struggle not to take the sometimes heated dialogue as attacks on him personally. However, the atmosphere around the table feels generally positive and constructive and relationships are much more open.

    Once in that ‘storming’ scenario, however, it’s my belief the most valuable tool for the leader is to understand the character traits of his team. This is where personality profiling comes into its own so as to avoid “People (beginning) to find other people’s traits irritating”. Get a handle on the difference between a ‘1’ and a ‘7’ and working together becomes a whole lot simpler!

    Hey, I’d even go so far as to say any couple in long term relationships need to identify their personality types to have the best chance of coping with the diffculties we all face on life’s journey!

    • Hilary- thanks for the post and I couldn’t agree with you more!! Your reference to the 1 and 7 is clearly the Enneagram, and I absolutely agree that a leaders good understanding of themselves and their time is so invaluable in group dynamics and group growth. We’re all so wonderfully complex and wired in so many ways. I heard a quote recently about that most people have disagreements not over differing points of view, but over different understanding of the nuances in specific words. They may actually agree over a subject, but they misunderstand what someone is trying to communicate and often get caught there! That’s why I love the Enneagram, because it helps provide filters to get a better handling on what someone else is trying to say! Thanks for joining the dots Hilary- lovely thoughts 😉

    • Great to have your blog here and very grateful for your input and contribution. I love the concept of Empire Avenue making the people behind the news- and I think you’re onto something here. This reminds me of the comments by Pastor Animata in about the focus being on ‘You’ not the big brands. An excellent contribution to the discussion. Also look at Jeremy Waite’s Blog post on this as well…-by-jeremy-waite/. He does represent big brand, being Phones4U head of social media, but is incredibly insightful and understanding both the micro and the macro level. Both very stimulating reads as well 🙂