On March 19, 2015

Group development stages – the Tuckman ladder

Tuckman ladder is the theory of group development. It was formed by american professor Bruce Tuckman in 60s XX century and since then it has become the most common and popular one. Tuckman ladder has found a special meaning for the project managers who constantly deal with  project teams,  and to manage them properly, they need to understand the process of team creation and development.

How project manager can take advantage of this theory ?

FORMING

The first stage is called forming. Let’s imagine a group of people who has just been assigned to work together on the project. At the beginning people do not know each other, so they are not really sure what to expect. They exchange some personal information, make new acquaintance and try to find their proper position in the group. Main area of interest is the future – what are the goals, what specific tasks are assigned to me, how we will work together. Team members focus on gathering as much information as possible about the rules and organization. They want to be accepted by the group, so controversial or conflict situations are rather avoided.

How project manager can benefit on this stage? He should make a use of the common motivation and openness to  set ground rules  for the team. Ground rules establish clear expectations regarding acceptable behavior. Early commitment to clear guidelines decreases misunderstandings and increases productivity. Discussing ground rules in areas such as code of conduct, communication, working together, or meeting etiquette allows team members to discover values that are important to one another. All team members should agree on the ground rules and share responsibility for enforcing them.

Additionally, forming stage is a good moment for the project manager to conduct team members’ observations. As people at this stage work rather individually than collaboratively, it’s a good time to see how each one of them is working as an individual. In future, this information could be valuable for assignments of specific tasks.

STORMING

After some time spent together, people start to feel more confident. They know who is who, what are their roles, and what to expect from others. Thus, they start to express their opinions more openly, without the fear of losing the acceptance of the group. They also express dissatisfaction and try to challenge other persons, even if it can result in conflict situations. If fact, it’s quite probable that conflicts will appear. This can be very unpleasant and stressful. The duration of this stage depends on the project manager and the general team members’ ability to resolve conflict. Some teams never go to the next stage and always remain in this destructive relations. As the performance of the team is rather low at this stage, it’s really a high priority matter to get out of it as quickly as possible.

Is it possible for the project manager to take advantage on the storming among team members? Yes! This is the opportunity to demonstrate his professionalism through the team assistance, support in conflict resolution, patience and understanding. This will encourage the trust to the project manager among team members and helps build his informal authority.

Additionally, disagreements can make team members stronger, when they will realize that it was their conscious action to resolve the problem. They will feel more confident to exchange honest opinions with other team members, because they will no longer fear about provoking a conflict and being judged. All that project manager should do is to show team members that they – as a team – are capable of conflict resolution and they can still trust each other.

NORMING

The moment when people start to realize that, no matter on their opinions and inconveniences, they are still a team and have to work together, that’s the moment of stepping into norming stage. This is really important stage. People decided to abandon personal animosities and focus on the goal. THE COMMON GOAL.

At this stage the project manager should instill team members the belief that they made a good decision. This is a perfect moment for recognition or rewards, as they can serve as a confirmation of choosing the better way and encourage people to work effectively and collaboratively.

PERFORMING

Not all teams will have a chance to reach this level. Performing stage is the stage of highest performance. The team is focused on the goal, team members are motivated and able to make decisions and resolve eventual disagreements without supervision. This is the best situation for the project as the high team performance is correlated with high project performance.

However, some events in the project environment may cause falling down to early stages, even to storming stage. This may happen as a result of adding new people to the team,  scope changes or some external factors. Thus, the project manager should be constantly participating in the team, and protect the team by eliminating external obstacles.

ADJOURNING

A couple of years after the publication of this theory of group development ladder, the author has added fifth stage, which concerns breaking up the team after the work is performed. It makes sense especially for projects, where the endeavour is temporary, and team members should be released after they complete their assigned activities.

This is an important stage for the project manager, as it gives him the lessons learned for the future projects. He should also take care of leaving the good impression among team members by recognizing their contribution to the project and arranging  smooth transitions to other projects or operational work. In such case people will be more likely to cooperate with him in future projects.

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