Tuckman's stages, startup edition

11 Jan 2024 . tech . Comments

Teams and groups within organizations are chaotic environments, people come and go, projects start, get cancelled, paused, or end, and the organization itself is constantly changing. Patterns can be found in chaotic systems though, and identifying these patterns will help you manage your stress and improve your performance, no matter if you are a manager or an individual contributor. One staple of team dynamics is Tuckman’s stages of group development, which describes the stages that a team goes through from the moment it is formed to the moment it is disbanded. These stages were defined in the “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups” paper that was published in 1965.

The Stages


This is the first stage of a team, when team members are recruited and assigned with a team wide goal. During this stage the team members are usually polite and friendly, and they are trying to identify what their boundaries are when it comes to interpersonal relationships with other group members, the leaders and preexisting standards. The team leader is usually the one who is the most active in this stage and will take the most initiatives, by assigning tasks and roles to the team members. During the forming stage the team is naturally not very productive.


This is the second stage of a team, when the team members start to push against the boundaries that were established in the first stage. Conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues are common, while the team members start to compete for status and acceptance. The group leader is usually challenged as part of this stage, and all these conflicts result into resistance to group influence and task requirements. The team members are usually more productive in this stage, as they grow more confident in their roles, while the team leader is usually less active.


Norming is the next stage, where the resistance of the previous stage is overcome, and ingroup feeling and cohesiveness develop, new standards evolve and new roles are adopted. In this stage the team members take ownership and responsibility, while they are motivated to work together in order to achieve the team’s goals. During norming, intimate personal opinions are expressed, as a result of the psychological safety that the team members start to feel as part of the group. As a result, the productivity is increased during norming, compared to the previous stages.


During the Performing stage, interpersonal structures have been well established and become a tool for accomplishing tasks. Roles become flexible and functional, while the group’s energy is channeled into their tasks. This is the most rewarding and enjoyable stage, as the team members are productive, which results in achieving tasks and goals, which increases the group’s morale. They are also more willing to take risks, as they are more confident in their abilities and they are not afraid of being judged by their peers. Ideally the team will achieve its end goal during this stage, but of course this is not always the case. Team members will depart and the interpersonal dynamics will change again, which results in regressing to earlier stages. This can cause disappointment and frustration, but it’s important to understand that this is normal and that the team will eventually move to the next stage, usually faster than it did the last time.


In 1977, Tuckman and Mary Ann Jensen published a fifth stage, called Adjourning or Mourning. This final stage is usually reached either by achieving the goal the team had set, or in extreme cases when the team has been mismanaged so heavily by the leader, that the team members decide to leave. At this stage the team members have to accept that the team is disbanding and that they have to move on. This can be an intense stage, as the team members have to say goodbye to their team members and the team leader.

Startup edition

Startups are traditionally more chaotic environments than established companies, which affects the Tuckman’s stages in two ways. First, the stage cycles are performed faster and second, the stages themselves are more intense. In Big Tech companies for example, reorgs usually take place every two years in order to catch up with the latest trends and opportunities of the industry. In a startup though, where innovation is critical for the survival of the organization, reorgs can happen as soon as every six months. This means that the teams will go through the Tuckman stages faster, which can be disruptive and overwhelming. Also, given how volatile environments when it comes to attrition startups are, it’s common to see teams oscillating back and forth between the Forming, Storming and Norming stages, even within a quarter. This is one of the startup roller coasters that you have to ride if you have signed up for working in one.

Questions to ask yourself and your team

  • Has my team a conscious end goal?
  • What stage is my team in?
  • When did we enter this stage?
  • What can I do to help my team move to the next stage?
  • What can I do to help my team stay in this stage?


A creative thinker who is not afraid to challenge the norm. His diverse track record includes failed startups, approved patents and scientific publications in top conferences and journals. On a mission to protect what matters most to you.