There is a phenomenon known in organizations as forming-storming-norming-performing-adjourning that speaks of the the life of the behavior of an organization experiencing change or major transition. It beckons us to understand the strife caused and experienced when big shifts occur and how to best maximize the true potential of a team.
It’s officially known as the Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing – Adjourning model of group development and was first proposed by a man by the name of Bruce Tuckman in 1965, who maintained that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results.
I have been fascinated by this process since I worked with high school kids in leadership development many moons ago. I’ve come to interpret the model a little more loosely over the years and see how, in ways, it gets played out beyond work groups or teams in a professional environment.
I have seen over the years how this process shows up in relationships, among children, and even individual responses to change or challenging situations.
And while there is no I in team, I have also seen how it plays out in my own life.
In the first stage of forming, we are driven by a desire to be accepted, avoid conflict and behaviors reflect this: we stay focused on busy-work, making impressions of what’s to come and how to survive in this environment. Then, we start storming, where individuality starts getting expressed and the variety of personalities and problem-solving styles begin to emerge; a truly necessary phase. Eventually, the bumps are smoothed out and the group begins what is called norming, where a mutual goal is the common objective and consensus is embraced to move towards the end result. Nearing the final stage, the successful team is able to function as a unit and reach the performing stage and get things done beyond what they envisioned, without prompting, supervision or too much conflict. Adjourning involves completing the task and breaking up the team.
Yes, I have seen this play out in my work settings over and over; it’s almost inevitable in a work environment with multiple players.
What’s interesting to me is that I have sensed incarnations of these stages, in their own way, in other settings too. For example, among kids in play and friendships time again: imagine the initial excitement which morphs into conflict that smooths over into working it out and results, ultimately, thankfully, in some kind of fun.
I have seen this when arriving at a destination for the first time: the excitement, the newness, everything seems shiny and perfect, only to start to settle in and realize the water pressure isn’t what you would like, and then you realize that the service or accommodations are not exactly to your satisfaction, but ultimately, you adjust, overlook the idiosyncratic imperfections and sink into enjoying this temporary home. And further, return home with some beautiful memories.
But what really struck me, is that I am seeing this right now, in my own life. I have not been secretive about the fact that change has been a very close and constant companion of late; and granted while I, in some ways, beckoned this change, it is no less challenging, daunting, thrilling and cloudy at the same time. Each day brings a new layer of awareness, of emotion, and realization of what this change really means to me. It plays out in my friendships. My job. My parenting. My finances. My dreams.
The change is not new, and yet so very new. We are talking infancy stages of new. I am forming; and yes, I am driven by a desire to be accepted and to avoid any more conflict. I have been focused on the tasks set before my hands, and the therapeutic value that nothing can provide better than that of emptying a box, painting a cabinet and organizing a new closet.
Oh yes, I am forming. Or is it re – forming?
I am keenly aware of each and every friendship and relationship; whether old and established to new and yes, forming. I would also say that because I’m in the midst of change, I have friendships in each of these four stages. Change is kind of like making popcorn – as each kernel springs to life, they all have to shift to make room for the new one!
As a mother, in the throes of transition, I am forming; every day, but driven to be both the same exact and yet a better mom than I was pre-change while navigating life with new parameters, with new schedules, with new realities.
My bank account and I are definitely still forming; making daily agreements with each other and my dreams reveal truths I didn’t know were there.
While I can’t see past my own nose on some days, I am confident that this forming bit will find some resolution at some point; life has a way of working out. To-do lists have a way of getting done. Emotions have a way of smoothing out. Bumps have a way of flattening. Yes, the forming will get done and when it does, let the storming begin. My inner ‘team’ – with many voices [inner critic, creative, practical, playful, sensitive] will no doubt emerge and have competing ideas for how how to do this I suspect. (And hopefully, it’s a team that will work in harmony.) As will some confusion over which problems I am really supposed to solve, how will I function in a truly independent manner and what ‘leadership model’ I will choose for myself, or what perhaps will choose me.
What will be tempting? To focus on little things that are not really that important to distract me from the bigger, harder, crazier decisions.
Storming is necessary. It has to happen. It will happen. According to Tuckman’s model, storming can be “contentious, unpleasant and even painful..and without tolerance and patience, the efforts will fail”. Uh-oh…I am not sure where my umbrella is, but, I do have that sexy new coral trench coat that I purchased on my recent time travels. I have the shelter of amazing friends and siblings. I have patience and resilience.
Let the storms roll in.