At risk of being burnt alive for heresy by the Coaching Inquisition, I have to publish this post. I said to myself “if see a reference to Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing again I will blow up”. So, here it is. Enjoy!
Perhaps, one of the most widespread model of group development is Tuckman’s model.
It’s being used as reference material in trainings and certifications of all kinds. And, I understand that, because it is catchy, easy and sounds familiar. But, has anyone ever wondered where is this model coming from?
Today I bring you five reasons why you should stop using this model.
- This model was developed based on the analysis Bruce Tuckman did of several literature reviews and psychoanalytical studies of therapy groups. Basically reading, not real observation or experimentation whatsoever
- Just in case you didn’t notice when reading previous point. This theory is based on Therapy Groups. WTF? Really? Yes, that kind of group where people introduce themselves by “Hello, my name is John and I’m an alcoholic”. That kind of group
- This was year 1965. Do you have an idea how the world was in 1965? Do you think organizations in 1965 had anything in common with organizations in 2016?
- From Systems Theory we know that a Closed System like a T-group is not exactly the same as an Open System like a team in an organization which self-regulates by feedback loops with its environment
- In 1988, organizational psychologist Connie Gersick published a qualitative study of eight naturally occurring teams working on short-term projects. Her results did not support the established view of group development. Instead, Gersick proposed a model of “punctuated equilibrium”
Despite many challenges to the idea that groups develop across time, the concept remains so ingrained in the culture that managers, team leaders, coaches and consultants routinely are taught to consider the phases of group development in their interactions with workplace teams.
Do you really think that a complex system like a team develops over time in a linear and deterministic 4-phase way? Really? I don’t think so, too easy and simple.
Exactly the same that happens with right-brain/left-brain theory, which is being used in trainings everywhere, even at universities. The problem here is not so much if the theory is right or wrong, but how it is being adopted as a standard and used in management, leadership and coaching training without even knowing where it is coming from, that it was proven false in 1988 by Gersick and that the scientific research community don’t have a clue about how groups develop over time.
- Confirmation Bias – “I see what I believe”
- Availability Bias – “I see what is closer and easier to find although statistically meaningless”
- Familiarity Bias – “If it is easy and sounds familiar it must be true”
And, are there any other group development models? Yes, many. In the figure below we can see some of them. Which is the right one? Research community has no clue.
So, what should we do? Do we really need a model for group development? No, what we have to do is set the foundations for great team performance and let every team develop in its own way.
We know those conditions that allow teams to develop: shared purpose, psychological safety, working agreements and shared accountability. So, don’t be fooled by a theory developed in 1965 by reading psychoanalytical studies of therapy groups.
Next time you see Tuckman’s model think about it: “Forming – Storming – Norming … Bullshitting”. Putting some science in your life won’t hurt, seriously.
- George Smith (2001) – “Group Development: A Review of the Literature and a Commentary on Future Research Directions”, Group Facilitation, Number 3, Spring 2001, International Association of Facilitators ISSN 1534-5653
- J. Richard Hackman (2002) – “Leading Teams: Setting the stage for great performances”, Harvard Business Press