Forming, storming, norming, storming, norming….

Courtesy John Fowler CCLately, I’ve been thinking about Bruce Tuckman’s model of how groups develop:


The idea is that first groups form.   Forming is when everyone gets to know each other and starts to understand the capabilities, goals, and gaps.

Then they storm.  Storming is the natural friction that arises as a team is coming together and people bring all their previous preferences, skills, and styles into the group and drop them in a big, messy pile.

After that, teams norm.  That is, the members figure out how they will work together to get things done, and learn how to communicate.

Only after those stages can a team perform.

It’s a cool model, and one that I think holds up pretty well even 50+ years later.  I definitely saw it in practice at Dell.  Once when I built a team from scratch, hiring quickly, and again when I returned from maternity leave to a team that had doubled in size.

What’s funny about it at a startup, though, is that it can feel like we’re in the “Storming” and “Norming” stages repeatedly.  It’s not that we’re not performing – we are! – but the team composition changes so quickly that we need to keep evolving how we work together.

When I joined Infinio, it was about the same time as a Director of Demand Generation joined.  We’ve all been focused together in Marketing to get a working model of how we do things.

  • Fast forward two months, and Scott Davis joins as our CTO.  Not an official member of Marketing, but a huge influence on the company and the messaging.  OK, so we figure that out.
  • Fast forward a few more weeks, and Matt joins my team.  Here we go again

At a startup it’s just all happening too fast to ever really “norm” – “norming” just has to include adjusting for new members and configurations on a constant basis, rather than having that trigger the entire process all over again.

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