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Coaching Teams via Tuckman and Holling

February 17, 2013

In Developmental Sequence in Small Groups (1965) and Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited (1977), Bruce Tuckman introduces the commonly cited forming-storming-norming-performing-adjourning group (team) development model, an empirically derived “generalizable model of changes in group life over time.”

In Understanding the Complexity of Economic, Ecological, and Social Systems (2001) and Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems (2001), C. S. Holling (Facebook page) introduces the adaptive cycle (of complex adaptive systems) and panarchy model, an empirically derived “integrative theory” of the “evolving nature of complex adaptive systems” and “transformational cycles”.

Tuckman’s Model: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning

Tuckman’s model is a “conceptualization of changes in group behavior, in both social and task realms, across all group settings, over time.” The social realm focuses on interpersonal relationships / structure (that is, social-emotional-integrative functions) among group members and the task realm focuses on task activities / behaviors (that is, task-oriented functions) among group members.

The lifecycle of groups involves stages, including group structure & task activity:

  • Forming involves “testing [boundaries] and dependence [relationships] & orientation [through testing] to task.”
  • Storming involves “intragroup conflict [around interpersonal issues] & emotional response [as resistance] to task demands.”
  • Norming involves “development of group cohesion [resistance is overcome, standards evolve, roles are adopted] & open exchange of relevant interpretations [personal opinions].”
  • Performing involves “functional role relatedness [roles, flexible and functional] & emergence of solutions [group energy channeled into the task].”
  • And adjourning involves the “death of the group”.

Holling’s Adaptive Cycle: Exploitation, Conservation, Release, and Reorganization

Holling’s adaptive cycle is the “fundamental unit of dynamic change” where the properties of potential (inherent options), connectedness (internal controllability), and resilience (adaptive capacity or vulnerability) shape the pattern, which involves r, K, omega, and alpha phases/stages as well as front and back loops/transitions.

  • The adaptive cycle “alternates between long periods of slow accumulation and transformation of resources (from exploitation [growth] to conservation [maturation], or r [instantaneous rate of growth] to K [sustained plateau or maximum]), with shorter period that create opportunities for innovation (from release [death] to reorganization [birth], or [creative destruction] omega [representing the end] to [renewal] alpha [representing the beginning]).”
  • The “‘front loop’ [transition] of the trajectory, from r to K [which is gradual (long period)] [maximizes production and accumulation], becomes progressively more predictable as it develops.”
  • The “‘back loop’ [transition] of the adaptive cycle, from omega to alpha [which is very rapid (short period)] [maximizes invention and reassortment], is inherently unpredictable and highly uncertain.”

CoachingTeams-TuckamHolling-2013021601

(click to enlarge)

Holling’s panarchy is a “representation of a hierarchy as a nested set of adaptive cycles” that represents the “hierarchical structure in which systems of nature, and humans, as well as combined human-nature systems and social-ecological systems, are interlinked in never-ending adaptive cycles of growth, accumulation, restructuring, and renewal” as “transformational cycles” that occur “in nested sets at [various] scales.”

Adaptive Cycles and Group Development

Generally, for groups of individuals who don’t particularly share any history (past together), Holling’s r stage (first half) is similar to Tuckman’s forming stage, Holling’s r stage (second half) is similar to Tuckman’s storming stage, Holling’s front loop (r to K) is similar to Tuckman’s norming stage, Holling’s K stage (first half) is similar to Tuckman’s performing stage, and Holling’s k stage (second half) is similar to Tuckman’s adjourning stage. That is, there is no “death” of the past to “birth” the future — however, given that there is always a past, perhaps this perspective is nothing more than an idealistic view.

CoachingTeams-TuckamHolling-2013021603(click to enlarge)

Generally, for groups of individuals who do share a history (past together), Holling’s alpha stage is similar to Tuckman’s forming stage, Holling’s r stage is similar to Tuckman’s storming stage, Holling’s front loop (r to K) is similar to Tuckman’s norming stage, Holling’s K stage is similar to Tuckman’s performing stage, and Holling’s omega stage is similar to Tuckman’s adjourning stage. That is, there is “death” of the past to “birth” the future — and, given that there is always a past, perhaps this perspective is nothing more than a realistic view.

CoachingTeams-TuckamHolling-2013021602(click to enlarge)

However, more significantly, Holling’s front loop (r to K) is similar to Tuckman’s norming & performing stages and Holling’s back loop (omega to alpha) is similar to Tuckman’s adjourning (as individuals) and forming & storming (as a group) stages.

  • The back loop focuses on transformation, creative destruction and renewal. When coaching groups/teams through the back loop, support the group in defining, living, and evolving a culture.
  • The font loop focus on the group’s potential, connectedness, and adaptive capacity to observe-orient-decide-act or intuit-orient-improvise. When coaching groups/teams through the front loop, support the group in addressing dysfunctions as the group achieves greater efficiency & effectiveness or creativity & innovation.

Many coaches foster the collapse of teams because they don’t focus on the back loop but only focus on the front loop — that is, they attach themselves to an idealistic (versus realistic) view of teams — fundamentally, individuals and groups must experience a bit of “death” to experience “birth” as a team.

While Tuckman’s insights are powerful, Holling’s insights (adaptive cycle) are exponentially more so! Furthermore, we’ve not even considered panarchies!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2013 9:58 am

    Interesting article on group development. Very good read.

  2. June 14, 2013 7:53 am

    I am also brainstorming on the events which is happening in the organizations while they are travvelling between panarchy phases.

    • Si Alhir (Sinan Si Alhir) permalink*
      December 29, 2013 10:55 am

      Thanks for your comment. Very interesting dynamics among (traveling between) the phases…

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