“forming, storming, norming, performing” … These are the four stages of group development that Bruce Tuckman described in his 1965 Psychological Bulletin article, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” This model, based on a review of published literature on the topic at the time, has since been widely accepted.

Tuckman writes, “The second point in the sequence is characterized by conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues, with concomitant emotional responding in the task sphere. These behaviors serve as resistance to group influence and task requirements and may be labeled as storming.” (p. 396)

Though I agree that each of these four steps are typical, I am not convinced that they are all necessary. Specifically, I’m not convinced that the “storming” phase is a necessary activity at all. I think it happens regularly and naturally in the course of groups, but can’t ascribe to the view that the regularity of its occurrence makes it necessary.

In fact, I am keenly interested in finding/creating a group dynamic model that bypasses it entirely. I’m interested in this because the organization I work in is project-based and as such, relies on continuously forming and reforming teams of technical experts in various combinations to accomplish the goals of each project. I am convinced that finding a way to effectively and rapidly organize teams can dramatically impact productivity, satisfaction (ours as well as our clients’), and quality in a positive way.

I’m also interested in this for an entirely selfish reason. Feedback from multiple sources seems to indicate that it is fairly natural for me to wind up in the middle of “stormy” situations and look for ways to bring diverging opinions and perspectives together. That activity plays out a little differently with every different combination of people, but it is a role I fill consistently and occasionally I manage to do it well.

Often, though, this feels a little bit like each person in the group has a rope with one end tied around my neck and the other end in their hand, all pulling in different directions. Usually it works out well enough in the end, but more often than not, it’s exceedingly unpleasant from my point of view. I find deep pleasure in integrating ideas that seem inherently contradictory, but would like to find a way to do it without being strangled in the process.

I think one of the reasons that “storming” occurs regularly is that people generally feel a need to prove themselves in a new group context. What I’m wondering is whether instead of struggling to prove to one another that we are intelligent, capable, likable, worthy, or whatever it is that each of us feels the need to prove (probably different for everyone), that we could begin instead by simply accepting one another. We could each look the other in they eye and say something like: “You don’t have anything to prove to me. I accept you as you are, more than that, I appreciate you just as you are. I believe you are uniquely intelligent, capable, likable, worthy. I believe you have a gift for me, for everyone who knows you, by being who you are.”

How would our interaction be different if it started with the assumption that you have nothing to prove? that I unconditionally accept and appreciate you just as you are? I think it’s worth finding out.

1 thought on “can we skip the “storming” part?

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