Developmental Sequence in Small Groups

Bruce W. Tuckman

Editor's Note

As group facilitators we are often concerned about the development of the groups with which we work. Frequently we make reference to "the stages of group development" and the stages most frequently cited are forming, storming, norming and performing. These stages were proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965 based on his examination of empirical research studies. In this classic article, Developmental Sequence in Small Groups, we find a rich description of these stages under a variety of settings as well as their applicability to both group structure and task activity.

In a subsequent 1977 article, Stages of Small Group Development Revisited, Tuckman and coauthor Mary Ann Jensen noted that subsequent empirical studies suggested a termination stage which they named adjourning. While Table 1 below summarizes the stages with a description of their associated group structures and task activities, the original article provides a much more complete understanding of their context, meaning, and limitations. Although other articles in this special issue suggest the limitations of "stage models" such as this, the memorability and popularity of Tuckman's model make this article required reading for every group facilitator.

Table 1: Stages of Group Development

Group Structure
The pattern of interpersonal
relationships; the way members act
and relate to one another.

Task Activity
The content of interaction as related
to the task at hand.

orientation, testing and dependence
Testing and dependence Orientation to the task
resistance to group influence and task requirements
Intragroup conflict Emotional response to task demands
openness to other group members
Ingroup feeling and cohesiveness develop; new standards evolve and new roles are adopted Open exchange of relevant interpretations; intimate, personal opinions are expressed
constructive action
Roles become flexible and functional; structural issues have been resolved; structure can support task performance Interpersonal structure becomes the tool of task activities; group energy is channeled into the task; solutions can emerge
Anxiety about separation and termination; sadness; feelings toward leader and group members Self evaluation

Author's Note

My first professional job was as part of a small group of social psychologists in a think tank setting studying small group behavior as the US Navy prepared for a future of small crew vessels and stations. Nine of us at the Naval Medical Research Institute were busy studying small groups from all perspectives and under all conditions. I was fortunate to have an experienced and talented boss by the name of Irwin Altman, who had been collecting every article he could find on group development. He turned his collection over to me and suggested that I look it over and see if I could make anything out of it.

The collection contained 50 articles, many of which were psychoanalytic studies of therapy or Tgroups. The task of organizing and integrating them was challenging. After separating out two realms of group functioning, namely, the interpersonal or group structure realm and the task activity realm, I began to look for a developmental sequence that would fit the findings of a majority of the studies. I hit on four stages going from (1) orientation/testing/dependence, to (2) conflict, to (3) group cohesion, to (4) functional role relatedness. For these I coined the terms: forming, storming, norming, and performing terms that would come to be used to describe developing groups for the next 20 years and which probably account for the paper's popularity.

There still remained the task of getting the paper published and that was no mean feat. Lloyd Humphreys, then editor of the Psychological Bulletin, turned it down, offering me constructive editorial criticism, but concluding that the reviewed studies themselves were not of sufficient quality to merit publication. I was persistent, though, and rewrote the manuscript per his recommendations and sent it back to him, despite his initial outright rejection. I pointed out that I was not trying to justify the collected articles but to draw inferences from them. Humphreys did a complete about face and accepted my argument and my manuscript and, in short order, it appeared in print.
I ordered, thanks to the navy, 450 reprints and used them all to fill requests within the first three or four years after the article appeared. Requests came from all over the world and from a wide range of disciplines and I have saved some of the more exotic ones. Almost yearly, I receive a request from someone to use parts of the article or at least the terms forming, storming, norming, and performing in print. Again, quotability may be the key to success.
In 1977, I published, by invitation, an update of the model in a journal called Group & Organization Studies in collaboration with Mary Ann Jensen.' We reviewed 22 studies that had appeared since the original publication of the model and which we located by means of the Social Sciences Citation Index. These articles, one of which dubbed the stages °hickman's hypothesis,2 tended to support the existence of the four stages, but also suggested a fifth stage for which a perfect rhyme could not be found. We called it `adjourning.'

Fifty articles dealing with stages of group development over time are separated by group setting, as follows: therapy group studies, T group studies, and natural and laboratory group studies. The stages identified in these articles are separated into those descriptive of social or interpersonal group activities and those descriptive of group task activities. Finally, 4 general stages of development are proposed, and the review consists of fitting thestages identified in the literature to those proposed. In the social realm, these stages in the developmental sequence are testing dependence, conflict, cohesion, and functional roles. In the task realm, they are orientation, emotionality, relevant opinion exchange, and the emergence of solutions. There is a good fit between observed stages and the proposed model. Further study of temporal change as a dependent variable via the manipulation of specific independent variables is suggested.
The purpose of this article is to review the literature dealing with the developmental sequence in small groups, to evaluate this literature as a body, to extrapolate general concepts about group development and to suggest fruitful areas for further research.

I Tuckman, B. W. & Jensen, M. A. Stages of small group development revisited. Group Org. Studies 2:419 27, 1977.
2 Runkel, P. J., Lawrence M., Oldfield S., Rider M. & Clark C. Stages of group development an empirical test of Tuckman's hypothesis. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 7:180 93, 1971.

Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal Number 3, Spring 2001