Monday, November 12, 2018

Tuckman Model strategies to achieve and sustain High Performing Teams

If there ever was a model that highlights why companies have few high performing teams, it is the Tuckman Model.  This model describes the path that most teams take from forming, to storming, to norming, and then performing.  When companies strive to achieve high-performing teams, they often fail to realize that the moment you reorganize, this takes any team that has been changed, back to forming.  In fact, if a company reorganizes enough, their teams rarely achieves the benefits of performing. 

What are some strategies in keeping teams in “performing”?  At a high level, it is to minimize reorganizations.  While some reorgs may be reasonable as part of an overall corporate strategy, others tend to be frivolous.  Realize that a reorg will take a performing team back to forming that means a significantly negative impact to velocity and productivity, leading to reduced delivery. If you have to reorganize occasionally, attempt to minimize the impact to high performing teams.   
At a more detailed level, what strategies aligned with each of the stage of the Tuckman Model can help you get to performing effectively or more quickly.  Let’s walk through the strategies at each stage. 

Forming is when the group of people are first introduced to each other. The cohort tends to be polite as they are trying to get to know each other.  Some people will be excited while others will be anxious (and sometimes both).  Forming may take time, as this is when people are getting to know each other and the work. People are trying to get to know each other and what they are there to do.

Strategies for moving through “forming” effectively and more quickly:
- Introduce a series of icebreakers.  Icebreakers provide a way for teams to get to know each other and start building psychological safety amongst each other.  When applied periodically, it can help groups more quickly get to know each other.  Consider the Constellation icebreaker as a start.
- Initiate team chartering.  In order to move from being a group of random individuals to a team of motivated people, it’s important to know what to strive for.  Team chartering is an explicit practice that helps the team understand their consequential purpose, the direction in which the team is moving, and objective of the work ahead.

Storming is when the group of people starts to play against each other and vie for position. Egos often are involved as each person is attempting to establish themselves with group. Some will want to be perceived as leaders, others may want to take a back seat.  Conflict will arise between people’s natural working styles.  This is also the time that niceness starts to wear off and where people start challenging each other. 

Strategies for moving through “storming” effectively and more quickly:
- Continue the path to psychological safety. Start establishing safety norms in meetings that encourage an equitable balance of speaking up and letting others speak.  Normalize conflict by discussing how you want to act when conflict occurs. Hold icebreakers that focus on sharing vulnerabilities.
- Conduct sessions that identify working styles such as Myers Briggs, Jung, DISC, Color, and more.  Each member of the team should take the test and examine how they themselves operate. Then share their results with other team members and understand how to best operate amongst each other.  
- Groom the work together.  This builds a common understanding of the work in a collaborative manner and keeps the team hyper-focused on the work ahead.

Norming is where team practices become clear and everyone is attempting to follow them.  Team roles are clear and accepted amongst the team. Team members have resolved their differences, begin to self organize around the work, respect how each other operates, and understand where to collaborate to get the work done. Team members begin to socialize, really get to know each other, and begin asking each other for feedback.

Strategies for moving through “norming” effectively and more quickly:
- Begin formal feedback loops amongst team members.  Get educated in how to give and receive feedback. Team members practice giving and receiving feedback.
- Apply regular retrospectives so the team can identify areas of improvement.  This is a whole team activity where everyone should be participating.  Reflection of the work should lead to improvement actions that are added to the team backlog of work and collaboratively completed. 
- Establish team measures on how the team inspects, adapts, and improves.  This may include team velocity, employee satisfaction, and delivery metrics. The team may experiment with increments of improvement to ensure they are moving in the right direction. 

Performing is when the team has a shared vision of their work, knows exactly what they are doing, and works independently with little assistance from their managers.  The team continually achieves its goals and seeks to go beyond their goals. Team members attend to their relationships and look after each other. Differences are resolved in a positive manner.

Strategies for achieving and sustain “performing” effectively:
- Initiate Peer hiring where team members own and interview new team members.  Team members determine fit and complementary skills such as problem-solving, technical, and interpersonal skills.
- Team members agree to and apply intrinsic motivators to encourage high performance.  This may include autonomy, mastery, and purpose, from Dan Pink’s list of motivational elements. When team members are paid fairly, these three elements and drive people to do their best work.

It is important to know that when a team moves through the Tuckman model, they may find themselves in several of the stages at the same time.  For example, while a team may be “norming” on team practices, they may still be “storming” on how to work together.  Understanding this model can help you appreciate where your team is today and what you can do to more effectively get to the next stage, ultimately learning to high performing.  More importantly, it can help an organization be more careful on their frequency of reorganizations as this can bring many of their teams from performing back to forming.  


  1. Great read, thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Thanks for sharing
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