What Everybody Ought to Know About Team Building and Situational Leadership

What Everybody Ought to Know About Team Building and Situational Leadership

This short guide looks at team building and compares Tuckman's model of team development with situational leadership. Use it to adapt your management style.

One of the team manager’s main concerns is that of team building. For team members to cooperate and achieve results.

However, many factors affect individual and team performance. For instance, membership, environment, organization, and maturity. Situation and leadership styles influence these areas greatly and ultimately determine the success of the team.

Bruce Tuckman’s model for small group development: forming, storming, norming, and performing describes how we forge relationships and develop team spirit.

In contrast, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard’s theory of situational leadership tells us that there is no single best style of leadership.

In this article, I briefly introduce Tuckman’s model of group development before looking at other factors that affect team building and team cohesion. I conclude that management and leadership styles contribute the most to team effectiveness. In other words, the team leader is responsible for team building, team cohesion and the accomplishment of results.

Bruce Tuckman’s Model of Group Development

Bruce Tuckman introduced his popular model of team development in 1965. This identifies four successive stages of group development and relationships: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

This has some similarity with Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model, which we define later, and includes the four stages of progression—including a comparison with the Situational Leadership model—and applies to teams of any duration. That is, the model is equally valid in project teams as in groups that run for several years.


In the first stage of team building, forming the team takes place. The group will seek to establish boundaries by testing assumptions, and is concerned with orientation. The team asks many questions: there is a high dependency on the team leader, since roles and responsibilities are unclear.

The team leader tends to be more directive during this stage, which is similar to the telling style in the situational leadership model. From experience, I’d say that this is an important phase of team development. It’s about laying down the foundations, i.e., setting expectations and goals. And this needs frequent communication and regular team meetings.


The next stage of team development in the sequence is storming. This is categorized by conflict and polarization and is a normal and necessary part of team growth. As the group establishes new ways of working, team members will compete for position. During this period, the leader needs to focus on goals and objectives.

All your strength is in union. All your danger is in discord. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

So, the team leader continues to direct and focuses on why the team does things in a particular way. This is akin to the selling style—coaching—in the situational leadership model. Expect some team members to challenge openly and others to resist the change you are making.


In the third stage, the team leader has for the most part overcome resistance, and the team begins to work as a cohesive group. Processes and procedures are largely in place, and everyone commits to the team’s goals. Moreover, people get to know each other better and are comfortable to take on more responsibility.

The team leader focuses more on relationships and less on direction. This is similar to the participating style described in Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership model.


Finally, in the last stage of Tuckman’s model of team development, the group moves to the performing stage. The team knows what it is doing. It is the high-performance team.

We see strong interpersonal relationships where roles are flexible and functional. The team is supportive in pursuing its goals. Moreover, the high-performance team is competent, knowledgeable, and motivated, and accept that performance management is necessary to achieve objectives. The team leader delegates most of the day-to-day running of the team and usually adopts a participating approach. This has similarities with the situational leadership delegating style.

Team Building and Team Cohesion

Tuckman’s model of team development takes us through a series of steps and behaviours. From the newness of circumstances to a period of conflict and exploration.

Finally, by overcoming difficulties, the team pulls together, matures and puts its problems firmly in the past. The team performs. This is what team building is about … forming a united whole.

Cohesion Noun The action or fact of forming a united whole.
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