Each group is different but all groups go through similar stages as they develop. Understanding group behavior has improved my effectiveness as both a manager and a leader.
American psychologist, Bruce Tuckman, noted different phases of group development as people work to achieve a goal. As a team moves from organizing to accomplishing a task, it can anticipate five stages.
STAGE 1: Forming
The group meets
As a youngster growing up in five countries, entering new groups was a survival skill. Mom taught me to stick out my right hand and introduce myself confidently (even if I didn’t feel it.)
“Ask questions about the person and you will be fine.” Mom was right.
I learned to be nice to the new people, something that served me well as a public servant.
My strategies became intentional as my foreign service career progressed.
- I spent the first two days walking around to meet and be seen.
- At the first senior team meeting, I shared values and expectations.
- People were checking out my behavior, so I smiled a lot and asked good questions.
- The first time I got feedback I had to remember I had given people permission to give it.
- I wanted to develop trust upfront. Demonstrating that I was listening. “Here’s what I heard you say”… helped.
- As ambassador, I insisted on an orientation program to help newcomers and adult family members join the community.
STAGE 2: Storming
Over the years I found similar themes in the sources of tensions.
- Differing opinions of the goal or how it should be implemented.
- Confusion over roles, responsibilities and tactics.
- Distribution of resources and “doing more with less.”
- Personality clashes and individual performance problems were tackled in private.
STAGE 3: Norming
Rules are set
As I gained more ability to influence norms, I did so only if they were dysfunctional or unethical. Otherwise, I was careful to adapt to what was working.
As a supervisor, I had hands-on responsibility to set norms that produced the efficient services and fit the management culture.
As the number of teams I dealt with increased, I delegated and stayed out of the way unless needed. My job as manager was to bridge our teams’ norms with the expectations and results my bosses sought.
As leader, I set the tone and direction, I modeled the behavior and I held myself and others accountable.
STAGE 4: Performing
Work gets done
I stayed close to the work itself as a supervisor.
I spent more time in meetings as a manager, problem-solving, informing and passing feedback up, down and around the organization.
As a leader, I shifted from minding the internal functions to understanding and translating the external world.
At all levels, we publicly celebrated individual and group performances. Success feels good.
STAGE 5: Adjourning
The group parts
Saying goodbye is an important part of foreign service life. Community and office farewell get-togethers are rituals that help us cope.
After the August 7, 1998 bombing of our embassy in Nairobi, our farewell rituals turned into funerals and memorial services. Another dynamic of group behavior arrived. Read my next article to find out how it played out in our community in Nairobi after August 7, 1998.
For more information on the Tuckman model visit https://infed.org/mobi/bruce-w-tuckman-forming-storming-norming-and-performing-in-groups/
- What teams have you belonged to that functioned effectively? How did they form? What helped when they stormed?
- Who or what contributed to high performance? What was your role?
- What did you learn?