Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development

As a group forms, it goes through several defined stages that feature different dominant trends in intragroup relations, such as differentiation and integration. Within these stages, a group progresses from a collection of individuals to a cohesive team with a common goal. According to Wheelan (2009), the objective of group development is the evolution of individuals into a productive and cohesive entity.

The objective of research on group development is to understand the patterns of small groups change and define internal communication systems to improve them (Raes, Kyndt, Decuyper, Van den Bossche, & Dochy, 2015). Determining patterns of group development is important in team and group work of organizations (London & Sessa, 2007). Therefore, it is crucial to research group development theories in order to apply them in project teams.

Initial interest in the stages of group development can be traced in the writings of behavioral scientists in the second quarter of the 20th century. Even though currently there is a great number of different theories of group development, one may classify them into three common types. In sequential group theories, a group progresses by going through a successive series of changes. In phase theories, a group shifts its focus from one central concern to another one (Gersick, 1988). In equilibrium models, after long periods of equilibrium, there are periods of radical change.

For the given reaction paper, Tuckman’s theory of group development has been chosen. A professor of educational psychology at the Ohio State University, Bruce Wayne Tuckman is best known for his research into the theory of group dynamics that was published in 1965. In his “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups,” Tuckman identified four stages that are inevitable for a team to grow, deal with challenges, plan work, make decisions, and meet goals.

The stage model evolved out of Tuckman’s observations of group behavior in a variety of settings, as well as his examination of empirical research. Settings examined by a researcher include the group-therapy setting, the human relations training group (T-group), the natural-group setting, and the laboratory-group setting. Due to the fact that there were a few studies on group development in the last two settings, Tuckman combined them. In the study, a psychologist made an attempt to differentiate interpersonal stages in group development and task behavior exhibited in a group. The main claim is that any group, regardless of the nature of the setting, is aimed at achieving its objective.

In order to define the pattern of interpersonal relations, Tuckman (1965) uses the term group structure, which is “the interpersonal configuration and interpersonal behaviors of the group at a point of time” (p. 385). Task activity is “the content of interaction as related to the task” (Tuckman, 1965, p. 385). Apart from Tuckman, other researchers acknowledged an ambiguous nature of a group being both a social structure and a goal-oriented team (Tuckman, 1965). Below a detailed description of the five stages of the model is presented.

The first stage of group structure development is testing and dependence, as group members try to understand what is acceptable in a group regarding interpersonal behavior. In order to do that, people should carefully track the reactions of the group members. The first stage of task activity development is an orientation to the task, as people try to define its scope and steps to perform it successfully. In this stage, team members behave independently; they are little informed about the current problems and goals of the group. Nowadays, this stage is referred to as a forming one. Roles and responsibilities of a leader include directing the team and establishing clear goals to all team members.

The second stage of group structure development is the intragroup conflict, which may be explained by team members’ desire to express their individuality. The conflict may also be a consequence of different group members’ natural working styles. Another major point of disagreement is perceptions regarding the leader. The lack of group unity is a general feature of the intragroup conflict. Speaking of the task-activity development, members tend to react emotionally to the group objective. In this storming stage, many teams fail, because members start to resist the boundaries established in the previous stage.

Therefore, it is necessary for a leader to establish processes and structures and build trust and good relations between members. Swift resolution of conflicts and providing support to the most vulnerable members is also a leader’s responsibility.

The third stage of the model is the establishment of group cohesion. This is when people tend to resolve their differences and respect each other. Group members better know each other, they easily communicate and develop a stronger commitment to a common goal rather than to an individual one. The third stage of task activity development is the “open exchange of relevant interpretations” (Tuckman, 1965, p. 387). The group is viewed as an entity, because the spirit of co-operation emerges. Since people in a team are working better together, a leader may not be involved in a decision-making process. During this stage, a leader should provide opportunities for groups members to work hard.

The fourth stage of structure development is considered to be functional role-relatedness. The group is characterized by a unified structure, as well as a high level of cohesion. High performance standards and norms that facilitate productivity have been adopted.

The team is highly motivated to get the job done. The fourth stage of task-activity development is the emergence of solutions. Speaking of the therapy-group and T-group settings, these solutions regard interpersonal processes and constructive self-change, whereas in the laboratory-group setting, the solutions are rather intellectual (Tuckman, 1965). At this stage, a leader has to delegate tasks and projects and focus on other areas of work. This person is also supposed to monitor the progress of a group without being involved in problem solving and decision making.

Having reviewed a new set of studies on group development, Tuckman and Jensen (1977) added a fifth stage to the theory of group development, which is adjourning (also known as termination, deforming, and mourning). When the task is completed and the objective is achieved, the group disbands. The adjourning stage may be found difficult and stressful by group members who have developed close relations with others.

Speaking of a leader, he or she has to celebrate achievements of a team and consider performing a supporting role to expand the initiative, which may involve creating future projects for the group members (Manges, Scott-Cawiezell, & Ward, 2016). Therefore, the complete Tuckman’s model now consists of the following stages: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.

One may note that the above-described theory provides a good theoretical basis to build and develop project teams, as well as analyze interpersonal communication. Tuckman’s theory of group development provides definite guidance and framework for team development for small groups. Marquardt, Seng, and Goodson (2010) claim that the model may be of help in human resource development. Several modern studies utilize the above-described stages in studying how to facilitate the development of a highly-performative team. In particular, Manges, Scott-Cawiezell, and Ward (2016) use Tuckman’s model of group development to research the role of nursing leadership in healthcare facilities. Based on the theory, it is possible to define leadership strategies that may facilitate successful team development.

However, one may note that there are several serious drawbacks of Tuckman’s theory. Firstly, Tuckman does not describe the psychological mechanism that moves a group from one stage to another. This does not allow for answering what mechanisms lead to failure and outstanding performance (Rickards & Moger, 2000). Secondly, there is no information on how much time a group needs to progress from one stage to another. Thirdly, a researcher does not discuss the impact of the external environment on group development. Fourthly, Tuckman’s theory often differs from group processes in the real world.

According to Salman and Hassan (2016), Tuckman’s stages may be considered to be idealized nowadays. Fifthly, the model is linear, which does not allow for applying it to groups that return to previous stages and groups in which members solve problems independently (Funk & Kulik, 2012). Sixthly, there are many other several sequences through which a group can develop (Poole, 1983). Therefore, Tuckman’s theory has serious limitations which allow for doubting its practical application.

To sum up, Tuckman’s model is today’s most widely used model of group development due to it being simple and serving as a good theoretical basis for small teams. The four stages of the theory have been described regarding both group structure and task-activity development; group leader roles and key responsibilities have been discussed. Finally, the advantages and limitations of the theory have been analyzed.


Funk, C. A., & Kulik, B. W. (2012). Happily ever after: Toward a theory of late stage group performance. Group & Organization Management, 37(1), 36-66.

Gersick, C. J. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. Academy of Management Journal, 31(1), 9-41. Web.

London, M., & Sessa, V. I. (2007). The development of group interaction patterns: How groups become adaptive, generative, and transformative learners. Human Resource Development Review, 6, 353-376. Web.

Manges, K., Scott-Cawiezell, J., & Ward, M. M. (2016). Maximizing team performance: The critical role of the nurse leader. Nursing Forum, 52(1), 21-29. Web.

Marquardt, M., Seng, N. C., & Goodson, H. (2010). Team development via action learning. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 12(2), 241-259. Web.

Poole, M. S. (1983). Decision development in small groups, III: A multiple sequence model of group decision development. Communication Monographs, 50(4), 321-341. Web.

Raes, E., Kyndt, E., Decuyper, S., Van den Bossche, P., & Dochy, F. (2015). An exploratory study of group development and team learning. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 26(1), 5-30. Web.

Rickards, T., & Moger, S. (2000). Creative leadership processes in project team development: An alternative to Tuckman’s stage model. British Journal of Management, 11(4), 273-283. Web.

Salman, W. A., & Hassan, Z. (2016). Impact of effective teamwork on employee performance. International Journal of Accounting & Business Management, 4(1), 76-85. Web.

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384-399. Web.

Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. (1977). Stages of small-group development revisited. Group & Organization Studies, 2(4), 419-427. Web.

Wheelan, S. A. (2009). Group size, group development, and group productivity. Small Group Research, 40(2), 247–262. Web.

Cite this paper

Select style


PsychologyWriting. (2022, January 14). Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development. Retrieved from https://psychologywriting.com/tuckmans-theory-of-group-development/


PsychologyWriting. (2022, January 14). Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development. https://psychologywriting.com/tuckmans-theory-of-group-development/

Work Cited

"Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development." PsychologyWriting, 14 Jan. 2022, psychologywriting.com/tuckmans-theory-of-group-development/.


PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development'. 14 January.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development." January 14, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/tuckmans-theory-of-group-development/.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development." January 14, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/tuckmans-theory-of-group-development/.


PsychologyWriting. "Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development." January 14, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/tuckmans-theory-of-group-development/.