Forming, Storming and Debunking Teamphases for Teamcoaches

I started leading a team of 14 dedicated board members of ICF Germany as president in November 2020 we had our wonderful and inspiring initial meeting. Since we are all coaches and well steeped in the coaching-lore of our times we discussed how to form our team, and hence I stumbled once more across dear old fairy tale from the past. A large part of the “coachosphere” and many leaders who have been through leadership development training take the following model as a fact.

Teams go through 4 (or 5 if using the amended model) phases:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • and Performing
  • (and Adjourning).

This model was proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965 in his article “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups” in Psychological Bulletin, Volume 63, Number 6, Pages 384-99. If you google it, you will find a copy in the wayback machine. What emerges when you read the article is that the model is based entirely on a literature review of articles dealing mainly with therapy groups. The author writes: “Fifty articles dealing with stages of group development over time are separated by group setting, as follows: therapy-group studies, T-group studies, and natural- and laboratory-group studies” (p. 383). And (as with many other models in the coach-lore) from there it slowly made its way into the dominant story about teams. I am personally not entirely sure that this follows. A team with a common goal is different from a therapy group, especially when you look at what 1960ies therapy groups might have looked like (no research on my part, just stories I heard from my therapy friends). Tuckman’s model was not based on the observation of teams. Nope, sorry, if this is your favorite model… you might have to reconsider 🙂

Is it REALLY helpful to assume that EVERY team will go through a “storming and norming” phase before they can go to performing? My life experience is different — teams are very different depending on the environment, on the people, the leadership, etc. In my own style of team coaching or leadership, I follow a simple process (not a model) and adapt it to the situation at hand (note that it does not define what is going to happen when). So far it is working for me (and I am decidedly NOT saying that it is universal or will work for you — but you might give it a try).

  • align on what you want to achieve and include your environment: “Who will notice if we are successful in 1 year? What will they be noticing?”
  • Prioritize (e.g. effort / impact)
  • Create some options for action
  • Let people pick what they would like to do in the next sensible time (e.g. a week a month)
  • Create some overview (good job for the leader to take, maybe use a tool like Trello or Asana)
  • Track and talk regularly about what people are doing and how to push away things that are blocking

The main thing is not to think that “O, we are in a storming phase, let’s ignore the others concern, it’s just natural… ” but to listen, take people seriously when there are personal or factual roadblocks. Assume good intentions and be open for feedback, failure, fun. Learn as you go along. Life is doesn’t rhyme – models do!

If you want to learn more about team coaching — we offer regular 20 or 30 hour teamcoaching classes:

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