Building a Team – Easier with a Blueprint

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Building a Team Easier with a Blueprint Sally Campbell

Of the many tools and models I’ve relied upon during my years of assisting groups to learn to work in collaborative ways, the Tuckman Model is right up there as one of the most useful. It’s actually a summary of team-building studies created by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. Here in simplified form are the 5 phases of the model. Groups don’t necessarily flow through them in a linear way, but in my experience no group reaches a level of performing without struggling through the storming phase. (It can really help to be able to say: “Oh, we’re in our storming phase!”) And it’s not just pertinent to groups, committees, and boards. As a mediator often working in the difficult arena of separation & divorce, I found that couples splitting up were, for the most part, stuck in the storming phase; they had never learned how to address the inevitable conflict that arises when two souls meet in an intimate relationship and decide to stay together over time. Learning how to navigate storming often gives people the tools and the glue they need to build a long-term partnership.

It also helps to recognize that moving through one phase to another doesn’t mean there won’t be a revisiting of a previous phase later on. Being able to name which phase the group or the couple is immersed in at any given time helps to normalize a dynamic relationship, build team and lessen tension. These are the stages of the Tuckman Model:

FORMING

  • This is the “getting acquainted”, orientation stage.
  • People are on polite behaviour with formalities observed.
  • They are trying to find out if they can commit to the group, its goals and objectives, or to this person they’re interested in.
  • The questions are: can they be accepted by the group or by this person? And might they want to make that commitment themselves?
  • Fear, safety and trust are the key issues they are working on.
  • This is a time of foundation setting, a lovely, lively and hopeful time of beginnings, as well as uncertainty.

STORMING

  • This is when differences start to become apparent.
  • Agenda issues emerge: What is this group trying to achieve and how? Do I belong in this group? What is this person like and what are priorities for this person?
  • Will I be able to advance my own goals and objectives with this group/person?
  • There is a critical need to clarify differing viewpoints and build understanding during this phase.
  • It is important to recognize and normalize differences. The idea that difference is more than ok, it’s actually valuable, is useful during this phase.
  • Safety and trust are key issues. Do I feel safe enough to speak honestly with this group/person? Can I trust them to be the same way with me?
  • Critical point: a competitive environment indicates storming, even though it all may be very polite. Some groups/couples never work through this phase and they

neither function very well nor build capacity. When a crisis hits, they have no foundation to fall back upon and the relationship collapses.

  • The primary goal of this phase is the need to engage with & manage conflict.
  • Exploring separate and shared values, what they mean to the group, to the other, and expressing your own values, builds trust and necessary common ground.

NORMING

  • The group begins to develop and form a team identity. Two people begin to identify as a couple. “We” language starts to emerge.
  • Power and resources are more easily shared.
  • Delegation of tasks is possible. A shared way of operating starts to unfold.
  • Rapport and trust levels build. Tensions lessen.
  • Individual differences are respected, valued and encouraged.
  • An atmosphere of cooperation and involvement develops, and people can feel it.

PERFORMING

  • At this stage the group reaches its peak, achieves its goals.
  • Team identity is strong.
  • There is more informality, less need for structure.
  • There is more delegation because of trust.
  • There is high productivity.
  • At this time, there’s a need to sustain momentum, pay attention to process, and not take this level of performing for granted.

ADJOURNING

  • The group completes its task, mandate, term.
  • This is a time for evaluation of process and accomplishments. For couples, it could be a time of looking back, revisiting their journey together, recommitting after a difficult passage, marking the end of a period in their joint lives. Only extremely rarely are both members of a couple emotionally ready to engage in “adjourning” at the time of a separation. It may come years later though, sometimes decades later.
  • This phase, added in 1977 with Mary Ann Jensen, involves acknowledgement and recognition. Rituals, ceremonies, appreciations – gatherings to mark the group’s successes, next phases, completion of its work, possible legacy, are important and often neglected. It’s called mourning in some texts, and reminds us that endings shape beginnings.
  • This is a time of closure; ritual/ceremony/making meaning of the time together and the work done help complete that task.

“These phases are necessary and inevitable in order for a team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results.” Bruce Tuckman.

(Next week: Enhancing Group Work, Part 2)

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