Communication is a recurring theme throughout project management. Project managers need to maintain communication with a variety of stakeholders and the project team members. Thus, an effective project manager needs to be skilled with interpersonal communication and team-building methods to help the project team remain motivated and committed to the project goals throughout the life of the project.
The Tuckman Model
Teams are convened in different ways and for different purposes. Of course, a project requires a temporary team to conduct the work of the project as detailed in the scope of the project. Teams of all sorts will develop and grow through similar stages in order to become highly functional and to deliver high performance.
The Tuckman model (1965) of team development remains consistent and accurate to describe five stages of a team’s development.
While each stage is distinct and sequential, a team may need to go through these stages many times if the composition of team members changes. Different teams may also spend varying amounts of time in each stage, depending on the personalities and skills of the different team members and the project leader.
Forming is a period of exploration in which members are cautious and unsure as to what to expect from the group. A primary outcome of the forming stage is that team members recognize their new role is to serve as a team member rather than an individual contributor. Acceptable behavior for team members is explored, and norms and roles that can be supported are sought. First impressions are important during the forming stage, as these opinions can determine the long-term relationships among the team members. Forming activities result in inclusion, and ultimately, the desire to be part of the project team.
During the forming stage, team members will rely heavily on the formal leadership of the project since s/he can ease confusion and anxiety about the purpose of the team and the expected work requirements for the project. Productivity of the team is typically not very high during the forming stage since the primary purpose is for the team members to build trust in one another and the ability to accomplish the goals of the project.
The storming stage within Tuckman’s model of team development is often characterized by conflict and strained relationships between team members. Issues revolve around power, leadership, and decision-making. While these issues cannot be avoided, it is critical for the project manager to encourage a constructive and open environment so that the team members can come to resolution on ground rules regarding how the individual team members will work together and what is required to accomplish the work of the project.
Project leadership may also be challenged during the storming stage. Some team members may disengage due to the intensity of the interactions, however, if a team does not work its way through this stage, they will never become a fully functioning team nor will they be able to successfully deliver the product of the project within the given constraints. An effective project leader may decide to change the team membership if the project team cannot resolve issues during the storming stage. If this happens, the team will may cycle back to the forming stage. Productivity to accomplish the work of the project is naturally low during this stage as well.
In the norming stage, a relative calmness and cohesiveness develops within group member relationships. Team members discover commonalities, appreciate their differences, and understand how these factors can help them perform the tasks of the project. Team members may renegotiate their roles and responsibilities in order to accomplishing the common goals and objectives of the project. Individuals are committed to working as a team and demonstrate trust in one another’s capabilities and initiative to deliver the product of the project. Healthy, interpersonal relationships develop, leadership issues are resolved, and the team is more interdependent. Productivity increases dramatically at this stage compared to the earlier phases of team development.
The high performing stage of team development can only be reached by working through the other three stages in sequence. At this point, the team members have become a fully functioning team. Team members are able to clearly define tasks for the project, build effective relationships, manage conflicts, and work toward accomplishing the goals and objectives of the project.
Performing is often viewed as the most harmonious of all the stages in the Tuckman model of team development. An effective and high-performing team solves problems, makes decisions, and takes action. Communication is open and supportive, and project team members work closely together. Leadership is participative and shared with the team as the stakeholders work to implement the tasks and activities necessary to complete the project work. Different viewpoints are shared without reprisal and conflict is seen as a catalyst for creativity.
As the work of the project winds down, the project leader must continue to motivate the workers. Team members will move into the adjourning phase of team development in which individuals separate from the group and return to work as individual contributors. Individual team members and the project leader will recognize that the work of the project is nearing completion. Team members will begin to plan for their next assignments, with the assistance of the project manager and functional managers. Commitment to the project declines and productivity decreases as the project is closed.
The Tuckman model describes the stages of team development for a project team. Team development follows the phases of forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning in a successful organization. The project manager has responsibility to ensure that the team members work through each stage of team development in order to establish a cohesive and productive project team that can successfully deliver the project goals and objectives.
Ed Muzio. (2010). Tuckman’s Model: Fight Right! [Video]. Retrieved from the YouTube Web site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNgzjYb02JM.
Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384–399.