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Leading the Finance Team:

Forming, Storming, Forming, Performing


Bruce Tuckman, a noted psychologist, first came up with the phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing” in 1965. It describes the stages of development of every team unit. He later added another stage – adjourning, which is how he describes the end of a team’s work together and the parting of ways. Others may call this phase ‘mourning’ instead.

It’s more likely that you are working in a team environment and are either already in a leadership role or are hoping to advance to one. If you are forming a new team, there are particular challenges involved. When people come together for the first time as a team, there is a learning curve – not just about the project you will be working on together, but also about each other. 

Teams develop in a series of stages as they start to work together. By becoming aware of the stages and what’s involved in each one, you will be prepared for the ups and downs of a new team and you will understand that certain difficult aspects of forming a new team are to be expected. Bruce Tuckman first called these stages Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing in 1965, but they continue to be accurate today.

FORMING - In the forming stage, everyone tends to be on their best behaviour. Everyone is polite and excited, usually spouting positive comments about the new team and the work that will be done together. Others might be anxious, as they haven’t quite figured out what the team is about or what their role will be. They are trying to figure you out as a leader as well – what type of leader you will be, how you will interact with them as a team, and whether or not they feel comfortable with you.

At this point in the team formation, your role as a leader is the only one that might be clear and so it is also the dominant one. You will want to make it clear that you have a handle on what the team will be doing. You want to work to build trust, demonstrate integrity, and understand which team members will do the best in which roles. 

This stage doesn’t tend to last very long. It could be one-meeting or a few weeks while you are still designing roles and forming procedures of how you will operate. Before long the group will move into the second stage, Storming. 

STORMING - This is when the honeymoon period is over. You may find that some team members seek to challenge your authority or your decision-making. As roles and means of working are clarified, others may express discomfort in their roles, in the amount of work there is to do, or in the way that the work will be done. You might even hear team members questioning the purpose of the project, or expressing feelings that what they are doing is a waste of time. Personal conflicts between team members might rise up as well, as members are still jockeying for position or for your favour.

When you go through this phase, your leadership skills are key. If you can’t get the team past this phase, it is likely that the team will either fail or will struggle along, limping painfully towards the final product. You will need to address conflicts, redirect behaviors to what is expected of the team, clarify roles, and check that you have given instructions in a clear, straight-forward manner. Be flexible during this stage, and willing to adjust roles or assignments as necessary. Adopt the attitude that you are all in this together, and that you acknowledge that changes in what was originally set-up as the team structure might be needed along the way. Address complaints before they become roadblocks. And as always, be sure to praise and reward achievements and positive behaviors. 

NORMING - As you move past the storming phase and resolve the situations that came up during that phase, you will move your team into the Norming stage. A hierarchy has been established at this point, meaning that your team members have accepted you as the leading authority of the team and may even have begun to take on leadership roles themselves within the team.

By now the team members have begun to get to know each other as well. They may have begun socializing with each other. They feel more comfortable asking one another for help or input and they are more willing to accept constructive criticism. 

The individual team members have begun to commit to the team’s overall goal, and as the leader, your job is to continue fostering this commitment. You will also need to make minor corrections as the team moves forward, guiding them back onto the path towards goal completion.

Also be aware that there can be some overlap between the storming and norming phases. In particular, the team may revert to some storming type behaviors when new challenges come up or when tasks that they haven’t tackled before are required. Over time, and with your vigilance, these slips back into storming behavior will become less frequent and shorter in duration over time. 

PERFORMING - At this point in team formation, the team is functioning at its best. They are working under agreed upon methods with the joint purpose of reaching the team’s goals. The team structures, procedures, policies, and processes are set up such that they form a sort of team ‘culture.’ The team could lose members or add new members but would still function well because of the established culture. 

As a leader, you will find this the easiest stage that your team will go through. You will be able to delegate a great deal of the work that there is to do, and to trust that it will be done well. You will also be able to begin concentrating on staff development, particularly because you will have learned a great deal about your individual team members at this point. This is important not just for showing your team members that you are invested in their development, but also because it helps to prepare them for the final phase of team development – the team’s end. 


Your Approach as a Leader During Each Phase 


 Provide clear directions

 Establish clear objectives

 Begin defining roles

 Form team purpose

 Begin working to establish trust and display integrity


 Establish team structures and reporting relationships

 Address challenges to your authority or to the team purpose / goal

 Establish processes, procedures, and policies

 Identify and address conflicts

 Make corrective changes as needed

 Encourage positive behaviours 


 Encourage team members to give and take guidance from each other

 Recognize positive contributions

 Arrange team-building activities when appropriate

 Encourage team members to take leadership of certain tasks or activities

 Fine tune procedures, policies, and roles as needed


 Delegate responsibility to team members

 Encourage continuing achievement and ‘high performance’

 Focus on individual team member development and begin thinking about the future beyond the team 

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