Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing in a Scrum Team

Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing in a Scrum Team

four colorful pawns

An essential Scrum Master role is to facilitate the formation of new teams, and this is where Tuckman’s “Stages of Group Development” model can help.

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman published “Development Sequence in Small Groups” which detailed four phases of group development. By understanding the evolution of team behaviour, the Scrum Master can specifically target each phase:

Forming: The assembled team discusses the development vision, roadmap and high-level features. Initially, they work independently on tasks and act as a group of people rather than a team. Lacking clear alignment and trust, the team members avoid conflict and instead focus on collecting information and agile planning.

The Scrum Master works in the forming stage to promote positive initial team behaviours. Leadership style at this stage tends to be directive and teaching. Activities include:

  • Running a kick-off workshop to orient everyone involved in development
  • Creating the right physical environment to aid collaboration
  • Engaging with businesses, customers and stakeholders
  • Encouraging the team to confront threatening topics

Storming: Team members begin to form opinions of each other and start to challenge situations they feel are unfair or wrong. Personality clashes and arguments highlight tensions in relationships and disagreements over practicalities. Decisions are difficult due to the high level of uncertainty that is present.

Note that approximately half of teams skip this phase; for the rest, the Scrum Master strives to get the team to face its conflicts and find solutions. The leadership style transitions to providing guidance by coaching and mentoring. During the storming stage, the Scrum Master:

  • Facilitates workshops to understand conflicts and identify solutions
  • Empathises tolerance and demonstrates the value of differences and diversity
  • Promotes agile values and principles

Norming: When agreement and consensus have been reached, the team starts to become cooperative and cohesive. Roles are understood and ground rules are established. The team members take responsibility and work together for mutual success. By becoming accountable, they begin to understand each other’s contributions.

The empowered team assumes authority during the norming phase, which alters the leadership style to emphasize facilitation and support for the team. The Scrum Master’s actions include:

  • Facilitating customer workshops
  • Organising external activities to increase socialisation
  • Developing communities of practice and mentoring
  • Ensuring the team does not grow complacent and avoiding potential conflicts
  • Focusing on constant innovation and incremental improvement
  • Helping the wider organisation to support the team and transform more widely

Performing: With firmly established roles in place, the team can focus on achieving their common goal, often with a high level of success. A strategically aware, motivated and skilled team working in an autonomous and self-organising way can move dynamically and address issues quickly.

During the performing stage, the leadership style is participative and collaborative, with the fully empowered team providing its own solutions. Scrum Masters:

  • Encourage a high degree of autonomy
  • Support growth within the team, both personal and aligned with delivery goals
  • Facilitate development review and disengagement activities

In 1977, Bruce Tuckman and Mary Ann Jenson published “Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited" which added a fifth stage, the adjourning stage, which covers the break-up of the team. This phase recognises the sensitivity and insecurity that team members face following successful completion of development. In this stage, the Scrum Master facilitates a review to enable self-reflection and recognition of contributions, followed by the co-creation of a plan for transitioning roles.

It is important to consider that changing circumstances, such as the addition of new team members or unexpected market conditions, can cause teams to revert to earlier stages in the model. Even high-performing and long-standing teams can run through the same cycles, with experience providing the knowledge and tools they need to move through the stages faster.

Tuckman’s model also highlights why a move to long-term teams and product development make sense due to the lengthy period of time required to form high-performing teams.

Mathematician George Box once said, “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” The value of a model is in its application, and Tuckman provides us with a simplified view of the development of maturity within a team and its relationships, ability and required leadership style for each phase. By using this model, the Scrum Master can empower the team with the right tools to move forward.

Consider your current team using Tuckman’s model – which phase are you in? Let me know in the comments section below.


Peter Hyde (CSP, CSM, CSPO, SA) is an enterprise agile coach who resides in West Sussex, UK.

Learn More
comments powered by Disqus