5th Edition PMBOK Guide–Chapter 9: Tuckman’s Team Development Model

The process 9.3 Develop Project Team has as one of the key tool & techniques Team-Building Activities, which includes the formal kickoff meeting to launch the project.

One of the models that can help a project manager take a number of disparate individuals and to mold them into working together as a team is Tuckman’s Team Development Model, a model developed by psychologist Bruce Tuckman back in 1965 to describe the stages that a team goes through in working on a project.   (NOTE:   The original model had the first 4 stages only, and the 5th stage was added later in 1977.)

1.  Forming

The team meets and learns about the project and their formal roles and responsibilities.   A project manager needs to set the correct tone at the beginning, preferably at the kickoff meeting.   Which reminds me of a story I told once in our project manager’s Toastmasters Club back in Orange County, CA.   There was a guy who was having coffee with his neighbor who worked in a florist shop.    The florist looked something was bothering him, so the project manager asked him what the problem was.

Florist:  “Our shop is facing heat from some of our customers because some delivery orders got mixed up.”

PM:   “Oh, what happened?”

Florist:  “The regular delivery guy didn’t show up, someone we got somebody to fill in for him who didn’t know the customers as well.   He delivered one set of flowers for a project manager having a meeting to launch a project.   Everybody was dismayed when they entered the room, because the floral arrangement had a sign saying “Our deepest sympathys”–that one was supposed to go to a funeral home!”

PM:  “Gosh, I can see why the project manager was upset!”

Florist:  “Well, that’s not the worst of it.   Meanwhile, the funeral home got a floral arrangement that said, “Have a great kickoff!”

You definitely want to start the kickoff meeting with the sense that people should be receiving a card which says “Congratulations”, rather than “Our Deepest Sympathys”!

2.  Storming

Now that the members know each other and what their roles and responsibilities are supposed to be, the team begins to address the project work itself.    When there are two different approaches that could be used to reach an objective, there will be person A who wants to take approach #1 and person B who wants to take approach #2.   How does this situation get resolved?   Conflict resolution is, in fact, the subject of another post, but the point to remember here is that a project manager needs to be able to do an “ego bypass” operation so that the objectives merits of each approach are being debated, rather than it being a contest of wills between two personalities.   The team needs to start seeing that the team effort is not a zero-sum game of “if I lose, someone else wins.”   What will it take in terms of sacrifice of one’s time, efforts, and in addition to one’s cherished opinions, which will cause the team to win?    If members are able to make that paradigmatic shift from the “I” to the “we” perspective, then they are on their way to the next phase.

3.  Norming

Team members begin to work together and adjust their work habits and behaviors to support the team, and thereby start to trust each other.   In this stage the “we” perspective has been established.

4.  Performing

Now that the “we” perspective has been established, and the group is working well together, meaning that the team is as its peak efficiency, meaning that 100% of its energy is focused on doing the work and striving against problems, rather than each other.

5.  Adjourning

The team completes the work and moves on from the project.    This stage was added by Tuckman in 1977, and it takes particular significance in a project management setting, as it is important to encapsulate the experience of the team on the project in the lessons learned which can be documented and passed on to the organization so that the next project does not have to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to solving problems.

Just like with the initiation of the project in the kick off, the formal closing of the project should also set the right tone, hopefully a congratulatory one if the project was successful.

In conclusion, there are three important points to remember about these 5 stages of the Tuckman Team Development Model:

a.   Sequential

The main point of Tuckman’s team development model is that the stages must be done in sequence.   The group cannot work together (performing) if it does not see itself as a group (norming) and spends its time fighting each other rather than the problems the group faces (storming).

b.  Stages are earned

As opposed to stages of physical development over which a person has little direct control, the development of a team can be arrested at any stage if the requirements of that stage are not fulfilled.   It is not a given that the team will go on to the next stage; that must be earned by the ability of the team to master those team-building skills that go with each stage.

c.  Stages are reversible

If there is some sort of crisis or other shock to the project team that comes from outside the team (either from within the organization or outside of it), then the team may regress to an earlier stage.    If the team has dealt smoothly with all of the problems that they have encountered so far on the project, the project manager cannot be complacent.   There may be some sort of unanticipated risk or shock that occurs (fire at a supplier or other interruptions to the supply chain, for example) that creates a new problem to be solved of greater magnitude than faced before by the team.   With higher stakes, higher emotions may flare up and differing opinions may threaten to take an organization from the performing  stage right back to the storming stage.

A project manager who is aware of these stages can help move the team through them in an effective manner.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: