Bruce Tuckman first introduced the Form, Storm, Norm, Perform model of Team Growth in 1965. He maintained these stages were not only predictable, but necessary and inevitable in order for a team (and I would say an organization) to achieve peak performance. Over the years, I’ve used this model in a variety of settings and continue to be amazed at its far-reaching applications. The following is a brief explanation of each stage:
Stage 1. Form
Individual behavior is typically driven by a desire to be accepted by others and avoid controversy or conflict. Individuals gather information and make initial impressions about each other. The form stage is important as team members have a chance to get to know each other, exchange personal information and establish relationships.
Stage 2. Storm
Most teams will eventually encounter conflict where personal agendas are revealed and interpersonal hostility is generated. If successfully managed, this period of storming leads to a new and more realistic setting of objectives, procedures and norms. The stormstage 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 the appreciation of differences should be encouraged.
Stage 3. Norm
At this stage, team norms, common practices, policies and procedures start to emerge. How decisions are made, the degree of openness, trust and confidence is established. Team commitment builds during this key transitional stage.
Stage 4. Perform
Only when the three previous stages have been successfully completed will the team be able to achieve true peak performance. Even the most high-performing teams can and do revert back to earlier stages in certain circumstances (new leadership, introduction and/or exodus of team members, crisis situations, frequent change).
One of my favorite movies is Hoosiersstarring Gene Hackman as Norman Dale who arrives in the rural southwest Indiana town of Hickory to become a high school teacher and head basketball coach. This movie is not only a classic; it’s a wonderful illustration of Form, Storm, Norm & Perform. For example:
Form: At his first practice, Coach Norman Dale immediately dismisses the interim coach. And minutes into addressing the players, he dismisses two players for not paying attention when he speaks. He then begins drilling the remaining five players with the fundamentals and the need for conditioning. True to the Form stage, Coach Dale is direct, establishes the ground rules and let’s the team know who’s in control.
Storm: Locals from the town of Hickory intrude on a team practice and demand to know what the Coach is doing. Norman Dale remains steadfast when one of his star players disobeys him and shoots without passing, benching him and playing with only four players after another fouls out. The coach alienates the community with a slow, defensive style. By the middle of the season, an emergency town meeting is called to vote on whether Coach Dale should be dismissed. Intuitively and courageously, Coach Dales realizes he can’t take his team to the next level without going through the Storm stage.
Norm:Ultimately, the town of Hickory unanimously decides Coach Dale stays as coach. Players start to listen to Coach Dale, understanding, appreciating and trusting him and his coaching abilities.
Perform: Hickory becomes an unstoppable team and shocks the state by reaching the championship game and taking home the 1952 Indiana state championship.
I’m reminded of this year’s University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball team as recent illustration of Form, Storm, Norm, Perform. The Wildcats Formed, Stormed and stayed in Storm perhaps longer than most had wanted or envisioned. In fact, they may have skipped Norm all together going straight to Perform during the SEC Tournament and throughout the NCAA tournament, darn near winning the National Title!
Closer to home, what can be said about our Legislative Sessions? Do they go through the predictable stages of Form, Storm, Norm & Perform? Should they? Could they? Maybe here’s what it could look like:
Form(First 15 days of a 60 day Session): Legislative Session starts after a long winter break with welcomed orientations, leadership elections, committee assignments, new members/staffs arriving, etc.….
Storm (Second Quarter): Heated, but civil debates about issues facing the Commonwealth occur and legislation introduced that solves problems and moves our state forward. And like Reagan and Tip O’Neil after their Storming, we too respect each other, have a coke upon adjournment and remain friends!
Norm (Third Quarter): Compromise takes hold. Working together to iron out differences becomes the norm. We’re starting to catch our stride!
Perform(Last 15 days): Legislation passes through both Houses in a timely and respectful manner. The Conference Committee process runs smoothly. Partnerships have emerged. Kentucky moves forward in a big way. Session ends on a high note!
Perhaps the greatest value of this model is simply knowing where we are, where we need to go and the potential we have in achieving true peak performance for the Commonwealth.