Four years ago, I went to a lecture that shattered everything I thought I knew about teams. In the lecture, Richard Hackman — probably the top teams researcher who ever lived — told a story about how he was teaching a class at Yale on the 4 stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing.

Halfway through that presentation a young lady in the front row raised her hand and said, “Excuse me Professor Hackman, that’s wrong.”

Now it was Hackman’s chance to say “Excuse me?”

“I’ve had years of experience in workplace teams,” she replied, “and they don’t go through those stages.”

Hackman said he said what all good, condescending, Ivy League professors say in such situations: “Well, you’ll have to go out and do the research to prove it wrong then.”

Which, to Hackman and everyone else’s surprise, she did.

She started observing workplace teams and teams in labs, and she pointed out to Hackman what they had missed in the initial research: they had studied groups of strangers. Those groups do go through the 4 stages. The problem with that: they had no roles, no tasks to do, and no deadlines.

But how many workplace teams have you been on with no tasks, no roles, and no deadline? Zero, right?

It turns out, when you put those conditions in, people don’t go through those 4 stages at all — they get straight down to work.

The most convincing thing about those 4 team development stages forming, storming, norming,  and performing? They rhyme!

10 thoughts on “The No. 1 Myth About Building Teams

  1. Emma says:

    Nick, do you have a reference for the young lady’s research? I would LOVE to read about it.
    Thanks.

  2. Emma says:

    Nick, do you have a reference for the young lady’s research? I would LOVE to read about it.
    Thanks.

  3. Doug says:

    I echo Emma’s question. That information from the research would be very informative since my experience is very much like that of the woman in Hackman’s class.

    1. Lauren McSwain-Starrett says:

      We’re checking with Nick, who’s currently out of the office. Thanks for your patience!

  4. Doug says:

    I echo Emma’s question. That information from the research would be very informative since my experience is very much like that of the woman in Hackman’s class.

    1. Lauren McSwain-Starrett says:

      We’re checking with Nick, who’s currently out of the office. Thanks for your patience!

  5. Ronnie Grabon says:

    Based on my coaching work, I would agree, they get right to work. However, they are often ineffective in the face of conflict. Why, they have failed to form (why are we together), norm (what agreements do we need to make about how we work together), storm (how will we resolve conflict)? I find this a recurring theme with clients and often refer to Lencioni’s work to resolve frustrations.

  6. Ronnie Grabon says:

    Based on my coaching work, I would agree, they get right to work. However, they are often ineffective in the face of conflict. Why, they have failed to form (why are we together), norm (what agreements do we need to make about how we work together), storm (how will we resolve conflict)? I find this a recurring theme with clients and often refer to Lencioni’s work to resolve frustrations.

  7. Nick Petrie says:

    Hi all, the model is called Punctuated Equilibrium and the researcher was Connie Gersick (now at Yale).

    Watch this short video for an explanation – http://www.nicholaspetrie.com/the-no-1-myth-about-building-teams/

    Do teams really always go through a storming phase? And does the fact that team members sometimes disagree mean ‘we must be in the storming phase’? Maybe people just disagree?

  8. Nick Petrie says:

    Hi all, the model is called Punctuated Equilibrium and the researcher was Connie Gersick (now at Yale).

    Watch this short video for an explanation – http://www.nicholaspetrie.com/the-no-1-myth-about-building-teams/

    Do teams really always go through a storming phase? And does the fact that team members sometimes disagree mean ‘we must be in the storming phase’? Maybe people just disagree?

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