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High Performing Teams: 50 years of Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing


forming-storming-ladders High Performing Teams: 50 years of Forming, Storming, Norming, PerformingDoes the Forming- Storming- Norming- Performing model sound familiar to you? If it does, it’s probably because it will have been a leading theory of team development for an impressive half a century this year. It was in 1965 that Bruce W. Tuckman first published a review in which he identified four common stages which teams tend to move through on the path to high performance. Now it’s 2015… we did the maths, we got excited and we thought we’d tell you.

Ok, 50 years is a long time. But surely such an old model can’t be of much use today?

Actually, it really is. 1965 must have been a good year. Much like the Beatles album Help and our awareness that smoking is bad for you, Tuckman’s model has stood the test of time.

Because the names of the stages rhyme, right? Forming, Storming… very clever.

Well, that might help, but it’s certainly not just the mnemonic nature of Tuckman’s labels that has made the model stick. The ideas still stand up to academic scrutiny and provide a great fit for the way we work in 2015.

What do you mean, how we work?

Since 1965 we’ve shifted more and more to working in teams and less hierarchical structures, which is what Tuckman’s theory describes best.

Why has that happened?

Teamwork has a great track record. In an ideal situation a team outperforms what would be the sum of its members’ individual accomplishments, caused by a process known as synergy. For that reason it’s often cheaper to run companies that way. It also turns out that people get more satisfaction when they work together interdependently. It makes people happier!

Uh, I’m not so sure about that. It’s pretty painful at times…

Ok, yes- sometimes managers go a bit overboard with the enthusiasm for teamwork. Hearing “come on guys, there’s no I in team!” can be really irritating if you’re in the middle of the Storming stage.  Just designating a group of individuals as a team doesn’t make them function as one.

What does?

Time, in some cases. As Tuckman says, some teams will become high performing on their own. But many won’t ever make it past the Storming stage.

That sounds exhausting. Is that all the advice you can offer?

Of course not! We have to warn you that we’re slightly biased, but we prefer the option where you don’t leave it to chance. Be proactive and get some professionals involved. People like us, who build teams for a living.

Is this where you tell me all about the fantastic things you can do?

If you like… how convenient that you should prompt us! We use Tuckman’s model in our High Performing Teams workshop along with other development and leadership theories. We bring all of those to life through interactive exercises, but the really “fantastic” (thanks) part of our workshop is the team build itself: Hells Bells. It’s uncopiable.

You mean inimitable.

Uncopiable is a word! (We just Googled to check) Anyway, the reason we know that it is both of those things is that competitors have admitted to us that they have tried to copy it and have given up. It’s a real mastermind creation. It was designed by Neil, our Creative Director (and resident mastermind), and it’s one of our bestsellers. Hells Bells is a one-of-a-kind training tool which facilitates the process of developing high performing teams, and it’s always fascinating to watch all of Tuckman’s stages play out during it.

Well you would say that, wouldn’t you.

We would, but the Head of Learning and Development of a major UK bank seemed pretty pleased too last week: ”Hells Bells was a slick combination of mental and physical problem solving tasks combined to create the ultimate team exercise and a real sense of achievement on completion.” (We’re especially proud of the “ultimate”)

But what’s most important to us is that the intervention is actually useful to our clients. The Senior Programme Designer of the same bank said: “People were very impressed with the session and thought it was valuable for us and very relevant.”

The best way to learn is through experiences, and Hells Bells provides the perfect platform for Tuckman’s model.  As a delegate told us recently: “During Hells Bells it clicked- I realised how the theory relates to my position at work.”

So Tuckman did a pretty good job with the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing model?

He certainly did! Oh, and he added a fifth stage over a decade later, called “Adjourning”, which is where the group achieves closure and disbands. So, after saying congratulations to Tuckman and to every team which reaches high performance, it’s goodbye from us for now!

 neil1 High Performing Teams: 50 years of Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing




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