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The Historical Development of Business Teams in North America – Part Two

By May 1, 2014Team Development


This excerpt is taken from “Champions: How to Build High Performing Teams” 

Theories of Group Development: Their History and Development

In part one we discussed the earliest attempts to scientifically understand worker interaction in the workplace starting with the research at Hawthorne by Elton Mayo.

We also detailed the philosophical implications of his findings.

In this segment we will review the rather remarkable work of Kurt Lewin and then detail the extraordinary contribution made by Bruce Tuckman and his theories on the stages of team development which are so commonly used by business leaders that they have become akin to being the McDonald’s, Apple and Yankees in wrapped up into one for the leading contemporary philosophy for team concept and team development.

In many ways Tuckman is the founding father of the modern day team concept that many companies use.



Historical Overview of Teams

In the early seventies, Hill and Grunner (1973) reported that more than 100 theories of group development existed.

Since then, other theories have emerged as well as attempts at contrasting and synthesizing them.

As a result, a number of typologies of group change theories have been proposed.


Andrew Van de Ven and Marshall Scott Poole (1995) noted four distinct “motors” for generating change.

According to this framework, the following four types of group development models exist:

1. Life cycle models:

Describe the process of change as the unfolding of a prescribed and linear sequence of stages following a program that is prefigured at the beginning of the cycle (decided within the group or imposed on it).

2. Teleological models:

Describe change as a purposeful movement toward one or more goals, with adjustments based on feedback from the environment.

3. Dialectical models:

Describe change as emerging from conflict between opposing entities and eventual synthesis leading to the next cycle of conflict.

4. Evolutionary models:

Describe change as emerging from a repeated cycle of variation, selection and retention and generally apply to change in a population rather than change within an entity over time.

Below are descriptions of the central elements of some of the most common models of group development.

Kurt Lewin’s Individual Change Process

The first systematic study of group development was carried out by Kurt Lewin who introduced the term “group dynamics”.

Kurt Zadek Lewin (September 9, 1890 – February 12, 1947) was a German American psychologist known as one of the modern pioneers of social, organizational and applied  psychology.

Lewin is often recognized as the “founder of social psychology” and was one of the first to study group dynamics and organizational development.

While working at MIT in 1946, Lewin received a phone call from the Director of the Connecticut State Inter-Racial Commission requesting help to find an effective way to combat religious and racial prejudices.

He set up a workshop to conduct a “change” experiment, which laid the foundations for what is now known as sensitivity training.

In 1947, this led to the establishment of the National Training Laboratories at Bethel Maine.

Following WWII Lewin was involved in the psychological rehabilitation of former occupants of displaced persons camps with Dr. Jacob Fine at Harvard Medical School.

When Eric Trist and A.T.M. Wilson wrote to Lewin proposing a journal in partnership with their newly founded Tavistock Institute and his group at MIT, Lewin agreed.

The Tavistock journal was founded with two early papers by Lewin entitled “Frontiers in Group Dynamics”.

Lewin taught for a time at Duke University.

Lewin died in Newtonville, Massachusetts of a heart-attack in 1947.

He was buried in his home town.

Several prominent psychologists were mentored by Kurt Lewin.

Among these was Leon Festinger (1919–1989), who became known for his cognitive dissonance theory (1956), environmental psychologist Roger Barker, Bluma Zeigarnik and Morton Deutsch the founder of modern conflict resolution theory and practice.



Force Field Analysis

Force Field analysis provides a framework for looking at the factors (forces) that influence a situation, originally social situations.

It looks at forces that are either driving movement toward a goal (helping forces) or blocking movement toward a goal (hindering forces).

The principle, developed by Kurt Lewin, is a significant contribution to the fields of social science, psychology, social psychology, organizational development process management, and change management.

His early model of individual change, which has served as the basis of many models of group development, described change as a three-stage process: unfreezing, change, and freezing.


1. Unfreezing:

This phase involves overcoming inertia and dismantling the existing “mind set”.

Defense mechanisms have to be bypassed.


2. Change:

In the second stage change occurs.

This is typically a period of confusion and transition.

One is aware that the old ways are being challenged but does not have a clear picture to replace them with yet.


3. Freezing:

In the third stage the new mindset is crystallizing and one’s comfort level is returning to previous levels.

Lewin’s scientific research laid the foundation for those who would follow; one of those was Bruce Tuckman.

Tuckman’s Stages Model

Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing Group Stages

The next major team model was first proposed by Bruce Wayne Tuckman (born 1938), an American Psychologist, who conducted research into the theory of group dynamics.

Tuckman reviewed about fifty studies of group development in the mid-sixties and synthesized their commonalities in one of the most frequently cited models of group development.

In 1965, he published “Tuckman’s Stages” which described four linear stages (Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing) that a group will go through in its unitary sequence of decision making. His model has become the basis for many subsequent models.

He is currently a professor of Educational Psychology at the Ohio State University, where he is also Founding Director of the Walter E. Dennis Learning Center.




1. Forming:

The first stage Group members learn about each other and the task at hand. Indicators of this stage might include: unclear objectives, uninvolvement, uncommitted members, confusion, low morale, hidden feelings, poor listening and the like.


2. Storming:

As group members continue to work, they will engage each other in arguments about the structure of the group which often are significantly emotional and illustrate a struggle for status in the group.

These activities mark the storming phase: lack of cohesion, subjectivity, hidden agendas, conflicts, confrontation, volatility, resentment, anger, inconsistency and failure.


3. Norming:

Group members establish implicit or explicit rules about how they will achieve their goal.

They address the types of communication that will or will not help with the task. Indicators include:

Questioning performance, Reviewing/clarify objective, Changing/confirming roles, Opening risky issues, Assertiveness, Listening, Testing new ground, Identifying strengths and weaknesses.


4. Performing:

Groups reach a conclusion and implement the solution to their issue. Indicators include: creativity, initiative, flexibility, open relationships, pride, concern for people, learning, confidence, high morale, and success.


5. Adjourning:

As the group project ends, the group disbands in the adjournment phase. This phase was added when Tuckman and Jensen’s updated their original review of the literature in 1977.



Tuckman’s Model has two Distinct Elements

Each of the five stages in this model involves two aspects: interpersonal relationships and task behaviors.

Such a distinction is similar to previous scholars, especially Bales’ (1950) equilibrium model which states that a group continuously divides its attention between instrumental (task-related) and expressive (socioemotional) needs.

This distinction, task and relationships, is foundational and marks the two major criteria by which nearly all other team models will be defined and developed.

Examples include:

1. Define the situation, develop new skills, develop appropriate roles, carry out the work (Hare, 1976)

2. Orientation, Dissatisfaction, Resolution, Production and Termination (LaCoursiere, 1980)



Tuckman’s Group Development Model: an Explication

Some further explication of Tuckman’s model might be helpful here.

1. Forming


In the first stages of team building, the forming of the team takes place.

The individual’s behavior is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, and avoid controversy or conflict.

Serious issues and feelings are avoided, and people focus on being busy with routines, such as team organization, who does what, when to meet, etc.



Something else is also Going on

But individuals are also gathering information and impressions, about each other, and about the scope of the task and how to approach it.

This is a comfortable stage to be in, but the avoidance of conflict and threat means that not much actually gets done.

The team meets and learns about the opportunities and challenges, and then agrees on goals and begins to tackle the tasks.

Team members tend to behave quite independently. They may be motivated but are usually relatively uninformed of the issues and objectives of the team.


Team Members are Usually on Their Best Behavior but Very Focused on Themselves

Mature team members begin to model appropriate behavior even at this early phase.

Sharing the knowledge of the concept of teams, “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing” is extremely helpful to the team.

Supervisors of the team tend to need to be prescriptive during this phase.

The forming stage of any team is important because, in this stage, the members of the team get to:

1. Know one another

2. Exchange some personal information

3. Make new friends.

This is also a good opportunity to see how each member of the team works as an individual and how they respond to pressure.


 2. Storming


Every group will next enter the storming stage in which different ideas compete for consideration.

The team addresses issues such as what problems they are really supposed to solve, how they will function independently and together and what leadership model they will accept.

Team members open up to each other and confront each other’s ideas and perspectives.

In some cases storming can be resolved quickly. In others, the team never leaves this stage.

The maturity of some team members usually determines whether the team will ever move out of this stage.

Some team members will focus on minutiae to evade real issues.

The storming stage is necessary to the growth of the team.

It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict. Tolerance of each team member and their differences should be emphasized.


Without Tolerance and Patience The Team Will Fail

This phase can become destructive to the team and will lower motivation if allowed to get out of control. Some teams will never develop past this stage.

Supervisors of the team during this phase may be more accessible, but tend to remain prescriptive in their guidance of decision-making and professional behavior.

The team members will therefore resolve their differences and members will be able to participate with one another more comfortably.

The ideal is that they will not feel that they are being judged, and will therefore share their opinions and views.


3. Norming


 The team manages to have one goal and come to a mutual plan for the team at this stage.

Some may have to give up their own ideas and agree with others in order to make the team function.

In this stage, all team members take the responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the team’s goals.


 4. Performing


It is possible for some teams to reach the performing stage.

These high-performing teams are able to function as a unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision.

By this time, they are motivated and knowledgeable.

The team members are now competent, autonomous and able to handle the decision-making process without supervision.

Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channeled through means acceptable to the team.

Supervisors of the team during this phase are almost always participative.

The team will make most of the necessary decisions.

Even the most high-performing teams will revert to earlier stages in certain circumstances.

Many long-standing teams go through these cycles many times as they react to changing circumstances.

For example, a change in leadership may cause the team to revert to storming as the new people challenge the existing norms and dynamics of the team.

One can see the inordinate effect that Lewin generally and Tuckman specifically had upon the concept of business teams.

In part three we will look at the iterations of team building that Tuckman’s work spawned, starting with Hersey and Blanchard up to the current time and then suggest what this historical overview means to you as a team leader.

For more on this topic, we recommend the following



How to Build High Performing Teams

Click Here For Video and Full Description


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