Chapter 4 – Project Team

4.5. In-depth Look: Tuckman’s Model – Five Stages of Team Development

In-depth Look

The Five Stages of Team Development, also known as Tuckman’s Theory, was developed and created by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965. Tuckman stated that the teams must cover five stages of development which are: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning (Tuckman’s Theory, 2021). An important point he considered is that the team must go over these five stages to achieve its full potential, and according to this theory, the first approach is when the group members first meet, and the last moment happens when the team finishes the project (Tuckman’s Theory, 2021).

Originally the model, Bruce Tuckman (1965) only included four stages of team development, these were Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. However, in the late 1970s, he included a fifth stage which is adjourning. This last stage is known as mourning or termination (Business, n.d). This model explains how the team develops maturity and ability, establishes relationships among the members, and the changes of the leader when it comes to the leadership styles. The leadership style changes among the distinct stages. It begins with a directing style, then to coaching and participation and in the finishing stage, the delegation stage (Bruce Tuckman’s 1965, n.d.). Tuckman’s model is an explanation and understanding of how a team develops. As well, it helps to train people in group work enabling them to accomplish their full potential (Bruce Tuckman’s 1965, n.d.).

Overview of the model

Tuckman’s research was related to psychotherapy and the mental health context. Taking into consideration this review, he separated the articles into three categories:

  1. the ones that described therapy groups,
  2. those that described human relations training or T-groups in which an intervention was designed to raise the interpersonal sensitivity and support other people to socialize fruitfully
  3. those that mixed articles related to the nature of the group existence with those groups solely created to make research on topics about group phenomena (Bonebright, 2010).

In 1965, Bruce W. Tuckman released a literature publication that was reviewed-based named Development Sequence in Small Groups. The focal point of the article was on two dimensions of group development: interpersonal relationships, and task activity. Tuckman conjectured a model composed of four stages in which each stage is required to be successful to achieve the effectiveness of the group functioning (Bonebright, 2010).


To understand Tuckman’s theory first is important to define basic concepts. The definition of a team is a key element of this theory and according to the authors, McShane, Tasa and Steen (2018) which “are groups of two or more people who interact and influence each other and are mutually accountable for achieving common goals associated with organizational objectives and perceive themselves as a social entity within an organization.”

One important element for teams is task interdependence which is the extent to which team members must share materials, information, or expertise to perform their jobs (McShane et al., 2018, p. 222). Teams develop feelings, but what are they? According to the Cambridge, Dictionary feeling as a noun is a fact of feeling something physically (Cambridge, n.d.). After developing a feeling, something occurs, and it is called behaviours which are important in having effective relationships with team members that are a key element for each stage of Tuckman’s theory. According to the New South Wales (NSW) Government behaviour is how someone acts (What is behaviour, 2020). It is what a person does to make something happen, to make something change or to keep things the same. Behaviour is a response to things that are happening and can be on two levels, internally – thoughts and feelings and/or externally – the environment, including other people. Observing behaviour is the easy part. It is understanding why someone does what they do that is much more complicated (What is behaviour, 2020).

In the storming and adjourning stage conflicts might occur and they are something very common within teams. It is important to understand that conflict among team members may undermine team cohesion and performance (McShane et al., 2018, p. 307). But what is team cohesion? It refers to the degree of attraction people feel toward the team and their motivation to remain members. It is a characteristic of the team, including the extent to which its members are attracted to the team, are committed to the team’s goals or tasks, and feel a collective sense of team pride (McShane et al., 2018, p. 227).

Team roles are important to be defined and this occurs during the forming stage, defining the roles is important to work efficiently, but we need to understand the meaning of a role first and it is a set of behaviours that people are expected to perform because they hold certain positions in a team and organization (McShane et al., 2018, p. 225).

Processes and Steps

After analyzing several groups and studying the development of humans in groups, their behaviour and interaction referred to the task activity, Tuckman defines four summarize stages knowing that this can be subject to further change due to them being a statement of data (Tuckman & Jensen, 2010), these stages are:

  • Forming is a period of testing and orientation in which members learn about each other and evaluate the benefits and costs of continued membership. People tend to be polite, will defer to authority, and try to find out what is expected of them and how they will fit into the team (McShane et al., 2018, p. 232). During this stage, several things occur, such as developing feelings like the excitement of being part of the team, and the behaviour of the team is a reflection of their excitement about the new team and the uncertainty or anxiety they might be feeling about their place on the team; lastly, team focus their energy in task development by creating clear goals, structure, direction and roles to begin creating trust within the team members  (Stein, n.d).
  • Storming is a stage that is marked by interpersonal conflict as members become more proactive and compete for various team roles. Members try to establish norms of appropriate behaviour and performance standards (McShane et al., 2018, p. 233). During this stage, the team focuses on developing ideas; they develop feelings of frustration or anger with members or processes and members try to see how others handle conflict. This stage could be considered the less polite one due to frustration and disagreements. The team develops tasks to redefine the goals and conflict management (Stein, as cited in McShane et al., 2018).
  • Norming stage is where the team develops its first real sense of cohesion as roles are established and a consensus forms around group objectives and a common or complementary team-based mental model (McShane et al., 2018, p. 233).  During this stage, the team develops an increased sense of comfort by expressing their ideas and feelings and constructive criticism for the team’s success, members are more conscious of the effort and achieve group harmony and they develop their language. The team focuses their energy on their goals and productivity (Stein, n.d).
  • Performing is where the team members have learned to efficiently coordinate and resolve conflicts. In high-performance teams, members are highly cooperative, have a high level of trust in each other, are committed to group objectives, and identify with the team (McShane et al., 2018, p. 233). During this stage, the team experiences a feeling of satisfaction and shares insights into personal and group processes, they feel attached to the team and feel confident they behave with a doing attitude and are more fluid among members they accomplish the tasks and celebrate the progress (Stein, as cited in McShane et al., 2018).

These four stages are the result of previous stages that Tuckman proposed as a model of development for various group settings over time, labelled (1) testing and dependence, (2) intragroup conflict, (3) development of group cohesion, and (4) functional role relatedness. The stages of task activity were labelled (1) orientation to task, (2) emotional response to task demands, (3) open exchange of relevant interpretations, and (4) emergence of solutions (Tuckman & Jensen, 2010).

After 12 years and some criticisms of the Tuckman model, he ran some reviews to examine published research on small-group development that would constitute an empirical test of Tuckman’s (1965) hypothesis that groups go through the previously mentioned four stages. As a result of these studies, a fifth stage, “adjourning,” was added to the hypothesis (Tuckman & Jensen, 2010).

Adjourning is the final stage that occurs when the team is about to disband. Team members shift their attention away from task orientation to a relationship focus (McShane et al., 2018, p. 233). During this last stage, the team feelings might be concerns and anxiety because of the uncertainty or future. At the same time feelings of satisfaction and mixed feelings. Morale might rise or fall in the ending stage. During this stage some members lose focus and reduce productivity and they focus the tasks in three sections – completion of deliverables, evaluation and closing ( Stein, as cited in McShane et al., 2018).

Tuckman’s Linear Model of group development.
Figure 4-3: “Tuckman’s Model of Group Development” by eCampusOntario, CC BY-SA 4.0

Strengths of the 5 Stages of Development

Bruce Tuckman’s theory of the five stages of development has been widely used in all aspects of educational and business paradigms. Each stage emphasizes commonly experienced behaviours that are consistently present in the group and team dynamics (Stein, as cited in McShane et al., 2018).  In most professional circumstances there will be instances where employees will need to work together to complete a common goal or task. These situations can often be the cause of frustration, anxiety, and burnout for one or all members involved in the group (Mastering 5 Stages, n.d.). This is where Tuckman’s theory shows its strengths. Members of a flustered and frustrated group can look at the 5 stages and use the behaviours that they’re exhibiting or general feelings of the group to track their progress within the five stages. Tuckman’s use of identifying words such as coping, anticipation, dissatisfaction, and optimism gives members groups the tools to recognize their stage of development. They can begin working toward fixing any current issues or decide if they are ready to move on to the next stage of development (Roy, 2019). Along with the identifying factors in the five stages of development, Tuckman also offers group methods to reduce strain or tensions that have built up over time, highlighting the importance of strong group communication and following cohesion (Kobiruzzaman, 2019).

Weaknesses of the 5 Stages of Development

While it is a highly applicable theory of professional team development, Tuckman’s five stages of development have been criticized, recently, by scholars of Human Resource development. For instance, software delivery professional Doc Norton has stated that Tuckman’s theory does not work as well in practice as it does in theory. Norton quoted a 2007 study conducted by Monterey Naval Post-Graduate School in which researchers found that only two percent of teams who used Tuckman’s five stages of development completed all five stages upon completing the group goal (as cited in Knight, 2007). The issue, as reported by Norton, is that groups do not often follow the stages precisely and may be showing behaviours or doing tasks that can be associated with other stages (Alvares, 2019).

For instance, a group may be completing the task associated with the Norming stage of their group development and are ready to move into Performing. However, many members of the group may be feeling behaviours associated with the Storming stage.  Teams need to recognize that no group will be perfect in their implementation of the five stages of development and 98 percent will not even complete all five stages (Knight, 2007). Another disadvantage to Tuckman’s theory is that it doesn’t offer any instant solutions to internal group issues, though it does go into varying detail about problems that may occur. It only guides teams through best-case scenarios (Kobiruzzaman, 2019). A final critique of Tuckman’s theory of the 5 stages of development is that there is no real solution for the communication strain that occurs during the Storming phase. This may leave groups vulnerable to never escaping the frustrating tension throughout the course of the team task (Kobiruzzaman, 2019).

Applying Tuckerman’s Stages of Development to Project Management and HRM

A fundamental component of both Human Resources Management and Project Management is the development of high-performing teams. Building teams that are cohesive, goal-focused, and possess both specialized and complementary skills to fall under the domain of both professions (Abudi, 2020; SHRM, n.d.). For Human Resources, examples may include the onboarding process, wherein the Human Resources professional guides new employees through the Forming process, introducing them to their coworkers and acquainting them with organizational norms and professional roles. Also, Human Resources supports employees through team conflicts and mediates between management and workers which is an essential part of the Storming stage (Developing and Sustaining, n.d.). In the Norming stage, Human Resources professionals work to offer continual support to employees, facilitate discussions, and provide needed training (Developing and Sustaining, n.d.). During the Performing stage, all team members are working at an optimal level. Here, the Human Resources professional may be involved by measuring performance metrics, looking at employee engagement metrics, analyzing reward strategies, and engaging in “stay interviews.” The Human Resources team is also involved in the Adjourning stage, ensuring all team closures are done ethically and are legally compliant, as well as evaluating individual and team performance (James, 2022).

Implications of Tuckman’s Model for Project Management Teams

The implication of Tuckman’s group development is essential for establishing a cohesive and productive project management team. Each stage relates to a project phase and establishes roles and mutual goals. Below, the theory is applied to the lifecycle of a project and the role of the project manager.

  • Stage 1: Forming is when the project management team meets, gets acquainted, and receives information about the project at hand. They go through the project charter and their roles within the team. The team leader must be clear in providing direction and establishing team norms during this stage (Abudi, 2015; Abudi, 2020).
  • Stage 2: Storming is unavoidable and often sees team members competing for recognition or conflicting over ideas and processes related to the project. This may be especially true for project management teams who are new to working with each other. Guidance and coaching from the team leader are essential for the team to progress through this stage. The project team leader must have strong conflict resolution and people management skills to successfully navigate this difficult stage. It is more likely for teams with professionally immature members to struggle with storming (Abudi, 2015; Abudi, 2020).
  • Stage 3: Norming is a time when the project management team works more cohesively towards their common goals. The leader can step back and allow each member to contribute per their specialization. The team members trust in one another more and become more productive as a team. The project manager’s role in this stage is to step in as needed, but to be overall less involved in the day-to-day tasks of the project (Abudi, 2015; Abudi, 2020).
  • Stage 4: Performing involves the team at its highest functioning and most motivated. The team has become very self-sufficient and relies less on the project manager for day-to-day guidance. However, the project manager still acts as the liaison between the team and the stakeholders, ensuring high-level decisions are being made and implemented (Abudi, 2015; Abudi, 2020).
  • Stage 5: Adjourning sees the completion of the project and the team relationships must move on to other avenues. Many team members, especially those in high-functioning teams, may feel lost and miss their team members. The project manager needs to ensure the team’s success is celebrated, as well as establish best practices for future projects based on the key learnings from the completed project (Abudi, 2015; Abudi 2020).

Class of 2022:  Marshall Howman, Daniela Martinez Munoz, Allison Smith, Tania Marisol Toribio Olivares, Amalrani Jose, Anuradha Kamal, Cache Paul Sakaria, Elisha Balogun