Tuckman Five, 50 Years Later

Those that have interacted with me for more than five minutes probably know that I spent most of my formative years studying organizational behavior. McClelland, McGregor, and Blanchard were common place in lectures and discussion on the many facets of leadership and group dynamics. While I enjoy the occasional book by Lencioni or Ted Talk ala Amy Cuddy, I continue to be fascinated by the timelessness of behavioral theories crafted by our managerial forefathers.

One such theorist is Dr. Bruce Wayne Tuckman. Known for his research in social groups, Dr. Tuckman identified the stages of group development in 1965 (adding a fifth stage in 1977). The “Tuckman Five” is the cornerstone of most studies on group dynamics and perhaps the most observable for those of us that have worked in teams (read, everyone).

By far, my favorite stage of the “Tuckman Five” is “Norming”. This is the stage where the awkwardness of “Forming” and discord of “Storming” begin to payoff. The clouds part, the planets align, and what was once a ragtag bunch become a team.

From the “Norming” stage emerge group norms, or the rules that govern behaviors within the group. These informal understandings give everyone on the team guidelines for how to act in a given social situation. At eimagine, we completed an exercise as a Scrum Team where we put pen to paper and attempted to capture the informal understandings associated with our daily stand up meeting. The resulting list was as follows:

  1. Put your heart into the team
  2. Celebrate victories
  3. No “overhead throws” → Keep it above the line
  4. Short and sweet; 15 minutes is our goal
  5. Be on time
  6. No cell phones
  7. Minimize side conversations
  8. No judgement

While the list above isn’t entirely unique to our team, it does speak to the group norms of our scrum team: transparency, encouragement, and respect. With Dr. Tuckman’s passing this year, it’s an important reminder that the foundational elements of a group were as true for teams in 1965 as they are in 2016.

What are your favorite theories associated with group dynamics? Share your thoughts below!


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