The Five Stage Model of Group Formation

First proposed by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965, the Five Stage Model highlights the common patterns that groups tend to follow as they progress. From the initial stage of forming, where group members come together and get acquainted, to the final stage of adjourning, where the group disbands, each stage offers its own challenges and opportunities.

The five stage group-development model suggests that all groups go through distinct stages in their overall development. These five stages are:

  • the forming stage
  • the storming stage
  • the norming stage
  • the performing stage
  • the adjourning stage

Forming stage

This is the first stage of group formation. At this stage, there is a degree of uncertainty about the group, individual relationships may be new, and standard and accepted approaches and behaviors are generally unclear

As an example, a good way of thinking about this stage is when students first form their group for a group project in university or college. They may not know each other very well or at all, they have limited understanding of how the group will work together, what each other’s strengths are, the best way to interact with each other, and so on.

At the initial group formation, there may be some members who are reluctant to join the group or see themselves as being more individual. Throughout this stage of group development, there should be a realignment of attitude over time so that individuals start to see themselves as part of the overall group.

During this stage, members are often polite and cautious as they get to know each other. They seek acceptance and a sense of belonging, while also trying to understand the purpose and goals of the group. This stage is characterized by excitement and anticipation, as individuals are curious about what the group can achieve together.

Communication is usually superficial and focused on getting to know one another. Group members may share personal information and discuss their backgrounds, skills, and experiences. Roles and responsibilities within the group are not yet clearly defined, and there may be a lack of direction. The leader or facilitator plays a crucial role in providing structure and guidance during this stage.

The forming stage sets the foundation for the group’s future interactions. It is essential for group members to establish trust and rapport, as this will contribute to a positive and productive group dynamic.

This stage can be relatively short or extended, depending on the complexity of the group’s task and the individual personalities involved. Once the group moves beyond this stage, they enter the next phase of group development.

Storming stage

The second stage of group development is the storming stage. As suggested by the word “storm”, there is some potential conflict involved between the individual members. This conflict usually occurs because individual views and approaches need to be aligned with overall group thinking.

As individuals become more comfortable with each other, they start to express their opinions, preferences, and ideas more openly. This increased level of interaction can lead to differences of opinion, disagreements, and power struggles within the group.

These conflicts can be constructive if managed effectively, as they can lead to a more robust exchange of ideas and the emergence of innovative solutions. However, if conflicts are not addressed, they can escalate and negatively impact the group’s cohesion and productivity.

Occasionally there are very dominant individuals who want to make all the decisions, but in a relatively equal group this is unlikely to be agreed by all its members. Sometimes there is conflict on over who should be the group leader (if there is one) or how the group should proceed and whose plan should be implemented.

It is common to see the storming stage of group development portrayed in reality TV shows where contestants are required to form groups for an activity or task. Typically, you will see some of these contestants continuing to “battle for control”. To move past this stage, there must be an acceptance to make decisions on behalf of the team, rather than being focused on individual decisions.

It is important for group members to understand that conflict is a natural part of the group development process and can be resolved through effective communication and collaboration.

Norming stage

The norming stage occurs when the group finally settles into some sort of agree pattern of behavior and decisions. This is after the conflict has been resolved from the storming stage (perhaps not to everyone satisfaction), but sufficiently enough for the group to go forward on a consistent basis with an agreed plan and approach to their operations.

The group begins to establish norms, values, and shared expectations. As conflicts are resolved or managed, group members start to develop a sense of trust and cohesion. They begin to recognize and appreciate each other’s strengths and contributions, leading to a more harmonious and productive group dynamic.

During this stage, group members actively seek agreement and consensus. They work towards developing common goals, rules, and procedures that guide their interactions and decision-making processes.

Roles and responsibilities within the group become more defined, and individuals start to understand how they can contribute to the group’s success.

Norms and values are established through open communication and collaboration. Group members may engage in team-building activities, brainstorming sessions, or problem-solving exercises to foster a sense of unity and cooperation.

Leaders play a crucial role in facilitating the norming stage. They need to encourage participation, ensure everyone’s voice is heard, and promote a positive and inclusive team culture. By emphasizing the importance of teamwork and shared goals, leaders can guide the group towards higher levels of performance and collaboration.

Performing stage

The performing stage of group-development is when the group is focused on getting the job done. At this stage, the team’s focus passes to the actual activities and tasks required. The individuals of the group are keen to move forward and complete the objective.

Please note, that the word “performing” does not necessarily relate to high-performance, it simply relates to the completion of the task.

In the performing stage, group members work together seamlessly, leveraging their individual strengths and expertise to accomplish tasks. They demonstrate a high level of collaboration, synergy, and problem-solving ability. The group becomes self-managing, with minimal intervention from leaders or facilitators.

The group’s productivity and creativity are at their highest. Group members are motivated to excel and take ownership of their work. They are focused on achieving results and are willing to go above and beyond to ensure the group’s success.

Leaders in the performing stage play a supportive role, providing resources and removing any obstacles that may hinder the group’s progress. They trust the group members to make decisions and provide guidance when needed. The leader’s role is to ensure that the group maintains its high performance and remains aligned with its goals.

Adjourning stage

The final stage of group development relates to temporary teams and groups, where there is an end to the group and the individuals stop being a group.

Depending upon the group dynamics and the success of team, there will be mixed reactions and emotions in regards to the finalization of the group.

For example, some members may be quite upset that the project has come to an end, whereas others would be pleased that the project has finalized. This would be due to a combination of personal interactions along the way, as well as the overall enjoyment/satisfaction of the project and its ultimate success/failure.

During this stage, it is important to take the time to reflect on the group’s journey and the lessons learned. Group members can share their experiences, discuss what worked well, and identify areas for improvement. This reflection process contributes to individual and collective growth, allowing group members to apply their newfound knowledge and skills in future endeavors.

The adjourning stage is also an opportunity to celebrate the group’s achievements. Recognizing and appreciating the efforts and contributions of each member fosters a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. It creates a positive ending to the group’s journey and sets the stage for future collaborations.

Leaders in the adjourning stage can facilitate the reflection and celebration process. They can organize group discussions, provide feedback, and express gratitude for the group’s dedication and hard work. By acknowledging the group’s accomplishments and the personal growth of its members, leaders can inspire and motivate individuals for future endeavors.

Group performance should improve over time

The research into this five stage group model research generally suggests that group performance will increase over time as the group moves through its different stages. This occurs because a more established team will have a better alignment of skills, a clearer agreement of goals and approaches, and the synergy of the overall team and the individual’s skills and capabilities.

As you can probably imagine, each of these stages may take considerable time to progress. This time factor will relate to the importance of the task, the personality of the individuals involved, as well as the individuals’ experience in dealing with these sorts of groups.

For example, an experienced manager who has been assigned to multiple project teams previously would have a good sense of how teams evolve, as opposed to somebody relatively new to organizational teams.

The expectation of conflict

There needs to be an expectation that groups will move through this form of process. For example, the second stage – the storming stage – is sometimes viewed as unusual or negative.

With the result that on occasions the “conflicting” team members being counseled. However, this storming stage should be viewed as a natural progression of a group development and is an important stage to help clarify roles, plans and the working process.

Inefficient group development

Depending upon the time period involved – such as a weekend management retreat – there may not be time enough for groups to evolve through the five stages. As a consequence, it is possible that quickly formed groups end up operating both in the storming stage and in the performing stage.

In this case, there is no set agreement about the approach or plan, with the individuals in the group implementing the task (that is, the performing stage) but essentially executing their own plan or ideas (working somewhat independently).

The role of the organization with the five-stage group development model

Given the five stages of group development, the organization’s management has a role to play in ensuring that groups develop effectively and achieve their required outcomes.

As part of this, there should be an expectation of conflict in the early stages (that is, the storming stage). And rather than this stage being seen as abnormal, the organization should view it as a normal progression of group  development that will lead to a clarification of approaches.

Likewise it is helpful to provide sufficient time for the group to progress through these various time group development phases. To aid this process, some organizations allow “bonding time” (that is, “getting to know” time). Although some organizations may see this as an inefficient use of time, it should generally help improve group performance (particularly for new teams of  employees less familiar with working in groups).

The use of experienced people along with inexperienced employees (relative to group work) would also be helpful. This is because experienced employees (having been on various groups/committees before) would have a good sense of how groups progress over time, whereas relatively group members may perceive conflict and the progression of group development as a sign of concern and problems.

The only time that organization should be more directly involved in group issues is where it is apparent that two or more individuals within the group are refusing to align to group decisions and continually pursue individual ideas and tasks. That is, the group is unable to navigate past the storming stage due to particular individuals – the solution here is generally a new team composition (that is, adding/removing on or more team members).

Connecting the Stages to the Benefits and Challenges

Building trust and rapport

Understanding the forming stage allows individuals to focus on building trust, rapport, and a sense of belonging. By establishing strong relationships from the start, groups can foster a positive and productive team dynamic.

Managing conflicts

The storming stage highlights the conflicts and challenges that may arise within a group. By recognizing and addressing conflicts constructively, groups can harness the power of diverse perspectives and find innovative solutions.

Establishing norms and values

The norming stage is crucial for establishing shared norms, values, and expectations. By defining clear guidelines and procedures, groups can streamline their decision-making processes and ensure everyone is aligned with the group’s goals.

Achieving high performance

The performing stage is where groups reach their peak performance. By understanding this stage, leaders can create an environment that fosters collaboration, creativity, and motivation, leading to higher levels of productivity and achievement.

Reflecting and learning:

The adjourning stage provides an opportunity for reflection and learning. By reflecting on the group’s journey and celebrating achievements, individuals can apply their experiences to future endeavors and continue to grow both individually and collectively.

Criticisms of the Five Stage Model of Group Formation

Here are some common criticisms of the model:

Linear progression: The model suggests a linear progression from one stage to another. However, in reality, groups may move back and forth between stages or skip certain stages altogether.

Individual differences: The model assumes that all group members go through the stages at the same pace. However, individual differences in personalities, experiences, and motivations can influence the group’s development.

External factors: The model does not account for external factors that may impact group dynamics, such as organizational culture, resources, or external pressures.

Contextual variations: The model was primarily developed based on observations of small task-oriented groups. It may not fully capture the complexities of larger groups or groups with different goals and contexts.


  • The Five Stage Model of Group Formation offers a valuable framework for understanding the development and dynamics of groups.
  • From the initial stage of forming to the final stage of adjourning, each stage presents its own challenges and opportunities.
  • By understanding these stages, individuals and leaders can anticipate and address potential obstacles, foster trust and collaboration, and achieve higher levels of performance.
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