Theories of Communication

Tuckman describes working with a team of social psychologists, on behalf of the U. S. navy. The team studied small group behaviour, from several perspectives. In doing so, Tuckman reviewed 50 articles on group development and noticed that there were two features common to these small groups: the interpersonal or group structure, and the task activity. From this he identified that groups evolved into teams via four common stages. Firstly an orientation, testing phase which often led to a period characterized by a degree of conflict. This then generally resolved itself, leading to a more socially cohesive phase.

Finally, groups settled to a functional phase, during which they focused on role-relatedness. To summarize these four phases, Tuckman coined the oft-quoted terms: “forming”, “storming”, “norming” and “performing”. Tuckman’s teamwork theory is best illustrated on a graph which shows the link between group relationships (the horizontal axis) and task focus (the vertical axis). The optimal or “performing” position is reached when relationships have developed within the group and it has started delivering with a clear focus on the task.

However, Tuckman’s ideas clearly indicate that it takes time to reach the “performing” stage, and it’s normal for these teams to go through ups and downs as they develop relationships. Particularly in the early period, which is perhaps why Tuckman called it the “storming” phase! The 4 Phases of Tuckman’s Teamwork Theory Forming: The initial stage of team development during which individuals have not yet gelled together. Everybody is busy finding their place in the team, sizing each other up, and asking themselves why they are here!

Find out more in our articles: Team Building Techniques and Teamwork Tips. The first offers advice on starting a new team while the second will help you take over an existing team (perhaps a far more common situation). Storming: People begin to see themselves as part of a team. However at this stage they may challenge each other, and the team leader, about such things as what the team is doing, and how things should be done. As the stage title suggests, conflict and confrontation typify this stage, as differences surface.

This may result in some loss of performance or focus on the task, as the diagram illustrates. Norming: This is the phase where team members start to come together, developing processes, establishing ground rules, clarifying who does what, and how things will be done. This phase is characterized by a growing sense of “togetherness”. Find out more about both the Storming and Norming phases in our article: Team Building Concepts. Performing: This is the final stage where increased focus on both the task, and on team relationships, combine to provide synergy.

Performance is delivered through people working effectively together. We have written two articles to further develop this stage. Team Building in the Workplace will help you build a performing team. Characteristics of Effective Teamwork will help you and your team sustain that performance. The value of Tuckman’s model is that it helps us understand that teams evolve. It also helps us to consider how they may encounter different problems at different stages of their development. One limitation of the model may be that it makes team building appear too linear and sequential.

Although it’s a useful analytical tool, we must remember that some teams may “loop” around in their development. For example, not all teams evolve smoothly through Tuckman’s stages but may yo-yo between norming and storming until they either begin to function, or are disbanded! Regardless of limitations, all well-conceived models can be useful in helping us to understand and better manage our circumstances. Robert Freed Bales Bales’s main work focused on a fundamental topic in social psychology, namely the nature of interpersonal interaction in small groups.

His first book, Interaction Process Analysis: A Method for the Study of Small Groups, was published in 1950, the culmination of a series of early studies on interactions in therapeutic group settings for alcohol addicts. Bales’s orientation was much influenced by the concepts of field theory, especially as developed in psychology by Kurt Lewin. The behavior of individuals in group settings could be understood as a joint product of the influence of others and the characteristics of the individuals themselves, factors conceptualized as forces operating in a social field.

By studying many such groups, Bales hoped to discover recurring patterns that might be used predictively in the composition and functioning of groups formed for problem solving or other managerial purposes. This work reflected his conception of social psychology as the scientific study of social interaction, in which the group and its activity, rather than the individual, are the primary units of analysis. At the same time, he paid close attention to the role of individual personality in social interaction and was a lifelong student of personality theory.

In all of his efforts, he sought to integrate the psychological and sociological sources of social psychology. Bales was a pioneer in the development of systematic methods of group observation and measurement of interaction processes, including several technological innovations designed to facilitate observation itself and the rating of observed behavior in progress. His approach was set forth in technical detail in what he termed the SYMLOG system (an acronym for SYstematic MultiLevel Observation of Groups).

SYMLOG became the focus of a consulting group devoted to the practical application of the method in managerial settings to assessment and training for team effectiveness, individual leadership potential, and related matters. His goal in all of his work, as expressed by himself in his last book, Social Interaction Systems: Theory and Measurement (1999), was the development of “a theory of personality and group dynamics integrated with a set of practical methods for measuring and changing behavior and values in a democratic way. “