Group Conflict: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing:

I have often worked with groups in conflict with themselves, and it is not a pretty sight. Groups have an often lethal tendency to become dysfunctional and fail to meet their objectives, not to mention experience a lot of hostility between group members.

I really like the model Bruce Tuckman proposed in 1965 which consists of the four stages model called Tuckman’s Stages  for a group’s evolution. Tuckman’s model states that the ideal group decision-making process  occurs in four stages, which I have elaborated/modified a bit:

  • Forming: The group starts to form and decide what it is going to do, and everyone is pretending to get on or get along with others
  • Storming: The group will then tend to let down the politeness barrier and tries to get down to the issues, even if tempers flare up and there is a lot of conflict. At this stage there is no real agreement on how the group should work towards its goal: it lacks any what I would call process discipline and is mired in the content of the issue
  • Norming: The group many then start to get used to each other, develop some trust, and some agreed processes to get things done and achieve agreements, so that some productivity begins to emerge
  • Performing: The group coalesces around a common goal and works in a highly efficient and cooperative manner with fluid use of good process that started to emerge in the Norming stage

Tuckman later added a fifth stage for the dissolution of a group called adjourning. (Adjourning may also be referred to as mourning, i.e. mourning the adjournment of the group).

In my experience, you can see each of these stages in the evolution of a group, but of course some groups get stuck in a given stage, or attempt to jump a stage only to find that more work needs to be done and so they fall back to an earlier stage. This is very typical in business where the Storming stage is suppressed by hierarchy or by ‘we gotta meet the deadline’. Deadlines and goals are important, but in my experience, bringing the conflict to the surface in the storming phase is often essential for any sort of quality output. Heaven forbid: some conflict is necessary and creative.

If you want a somewhat darker view on group dysfunction try Wilfred Bion’s work which is very interesting but rarely looked at in the Pollyanna world of management consulting and Organization Development. He worked with groups of psychiatric hospital patients who used group process to stay mad. Now that’s an idea about management? Dilbert where are you?

Here’s Bruce and his model:

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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2 Responses to Group Conflict: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing:

  1. Erasmo says:

    ‘He worked with groups of psychiatric hospital patients who used group process to stay mad.
    Could you elaborate on that, or give me a link that elaborates on that? Thank you.

  2. @Erasmo. As I recall his book ‘Experiences in Groups’ covers this, but I don’t have a copy to hand and it is years since I read it. The Wikipedia piece cited in my posting is also helpful in giving context to the idea, especially that the process he advocated helped patients find truth rather than cure. I also find Sheldon Kopp in ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him’ has similar ideas and one of the later chapters is about a group of patients in a prison who help one of their number get saner by refusing to accept his rationalizations of his behavior. Hope this helps.

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