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Aug 01, 2017 Katelind Hays

Adapting Tuckman’s Model for Global Virtual Teams

BYTE Session Recap

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Offices and teams come in all shapes and sizes these days. Members of the same team may live on different continents. How do managers and leaders evolve their existing skills to support this modern way of working? One proven possibility: adapt an existing model based on our understanding of successful remote teams. 

Amy Lins and Munira Bangee recently shared their expert insight with BYTE learners recently during their informative session, Global Teams and Virtual Learning.

Listen to the BYTE replay for remote manager and employee best practices, top tips for teams, and an overview of Harvard Business Review’s, “Global Teams That Work” SPLIT model.

Let’s explore how you can adapt Tuckman’s famous model to create a more highly functioning global virtual team.

Tuckman’s Model: An Introduction

Virtual team leadership requires skills also needed in traditional workplaces, but with extra attention paid to communication and conflict resolution. There’s no reason to re-create the wheel, though. Leveraging proven group dynamics or leadership models provides a solid starting point for any global remote team.

Amy and Munira introduced our learners to Tuckman’s Model: a well-known, ubiquitous framework used in team performance and leadership courses and seminars. Tuckman, a PhD in Psychology, used his research to create his now-famous four-stage model in 1965.

Even if you haven’t heard of Tuckman specifically, you’ve likely encountered his stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. He later expanded his model to include a fifth stage, Adjourning/Mourning. Each stage refers to a specific part of any team’s development. It defines how members interact with the business, with their leaders, and with their coworkers.

Supporting Each Stage of Your Virtual Team’s Development

Munira and Amy defined how each stage manifests itself within a team, and made helpful recommendations for working through them for improved performance.

Stage 1: Forming.

“During this stage, the team is still developing. Team members are highly dependent on the leader for guidance and direction. There’s little agreement on each team aim, and members are still looking to the leader. There’s little trust between members, no norms have been developed, and roles and responsibilities are unclear.”

What does this mean for leaders? Members look to them for direction, while also testing the tolerance of the system. Support the Forming stage by allowing time for team bonding, acknowledging that this process takes longer for virtual teams, and providing direction and purpose to your team.

Stage 2: Storming.

“During this stage, we’ve already developed articulated roles and responsibilities. Team members have agendas, and are working out boundaries and team mission. Because trust isn’t fully established, there are still some problems with problem solving.”

Leaders need to be aware that at this stage, sub-groups can develop in your team, they may be distracted by relationships and emotional issues. Furthermore, your team members may be performing at different levels. Guide your team through the Storming stage by increasing skill-building opportunities for your team, requesting and accepting feedback, defining rules of engagement, and establishing a supportive work environment.

Stage 3: Norming.

“Now we’re starting to see consensus forming if we as leaders did our job during the first two stages of development. There’s agreement on the team, and responsibilities are clear and accepted. People are making decision by consensus, and delegating because there’s commitment and unity.”

As leaders, we shift from commanding our team, to facilitating and enabling our team’s success. Encourage Norming by putting things in writing. Talk about the norms so that everyone knows what they’re doing and how things work on this team. Remember: norms are not obvious unless they are documented and agreed upon.

Stage 4: Performing.

“When teams reach the Performing stage, they have a high degree of autonomy. Yes, disagreements will occur, but they are resolved with trust and positivity. Team members look out for, and after, each other.”

We leaders now delegate tasks and work on encouraging professional development of our direct reports. We also fend off distractions or disruptions from outside the team, including organizational politics.

On virtual teams, we need to remember that it’s easy to slip out of this stage and revert back to earlier modes of operating. We can take things out of context, or struggle with communication. With awareness and constant work, we can maintain the Performing stage on our global virtual teams.

Stage 5: Adjourning/Mourning

Whenever a project ends, or a new team member is introduced into the mix, group dynamics shift to the fifth stage of development. Virtual team leaders have to anticipate the grieving stage their employees go through during a period of change, and prepare to start back at stage one at the beginning of a new project or team iteration. 

Leading virtual teams requires patience, persistence, and presence of mind. Amy and Munira's BYTE session reminded us that by adapting a model like Tuckman's, we can build upon existing skills (especially communication!) to create a highly successful virtual team


Published by Katelind Hays August 1, 2017
Katelind Hays