Early Childhood Systems Building Resource Guide

To manage change, whether it is internal to your organization—such as a new Secretary of the agency with a new vision—or change that includes external partners—such as CCDF reauthorization or a new plan from a statewide coalition—you’ll need skills in developing, implementing, and sustaining a team or coalition to reach the desired outcome. Groups change as team or coalition members come and go; however, teams and coalitions will most likely move through various stages of development throughout their time together.

The following model, known as the Tuckman Model, is one that can be used to address stages of internal team or cross-sector coalition development. Bruce Tuckman reviewed more than 50 studies of group development in the mid-1960s and synthesized their commonalities in one of the most frequently cited models of group development.[1] The model describes four linear stages (forming, storming, norming, and performing) that a group will go through in its unitary sequence of decision-making. A fifth stage—adjourning—was added in 1977 when a new set of studies was reviewed.[2]

Tuckman Model of Group Development

Forming Group Development Stage

Group members learn about each other and the task at hand. Indicators of this stage might include unclear objectives, noninvolvement, uncommitted members, confusion, low morale, hidden feelings, or poor listening.

Working with Internal Teams Examples

Staff within your agency may have experienced change within government many times due to the episodic nature of new administrations. Even though team members may have worked together over time, when change occurs, often teams can take steps backwards into the forming stage. Know that what the team needs most is clarity about where they are headed and how that differs from where they are now.

Working with Guiding Coalitions Examples

The field of early childhood is interdisciplinary at its core. It has a focus on the whole child and includes goals that promote comprehensive services for children and families. Leading and participating in cross-sector partnerships are part of doing business. However, the partners who need to be involved constantly shift due to contextual influences and change. With new coalitions just launching or new (powerful) partners joining an existing cross-sector table, coalitions begin at a stage of “forming”—becoming grounded in the who, what, why, where, when, and how of the group and the problem that they are solving.

Storming Group Development Stage

As group members continue to work, they will engage each other in arguments about the structure of the group, which often are significantly emotional and illustrate a struggle for status in the group. These activities mark the storming phase: lack of cohesion, subjectivity, hidden agendas, conflicts, confrontation, volatility, resentment, anger, inconsistency, or failure.

Working with Internal Teams Examples

In times of change, team members can be opportunistic, pessimistic, or devoid of enthusiasm—positive or negative—toward the new direction. As teams work through their individual biases and struggle to come together collectively, meetings can feel combative and lack cohesion. The important thing here is to allow the team to be in this phase of storming long enough to begin to coalesce, developing common ground for the new direction. However, don’t allow the team to overstay in the storming phase. You want progress; move through the storm process. You don’t want them to stay and build a camp in the storm.

Working with Guiding Coalitions Examples

Building an early childhood system requires the work of many. Coalitions form to solve problems. One of the first action steps a coalition can take is to define the problem they want to solve and secure agreement on their focus. This doesn’t come easily. There may be hidden agendas, historical conflict patterns, or inconsistent leadership. The storming stage can include the work of naming and overcoming barriers to coalition functioning and structure design. Know that this is a natural part of group dynamics and getting to a place of higher functioning.

Norming Group Development Stage

Group members establish implicit or explicit rules about how they will achieve their goal. They address the types of communication that will or will not help with the task. Indicators include questioning performance, reviewing and clarifying objectives, changing and confirming roles, opening risky issues, assertiveness, listening, testing new ground, and identifying strengths and weaknesses.

Working with Internal Teams Examples

In this phase of the process, the group begins to create norms that will help in smoothly addressing the work. This may involve new work for newly-created inside government teams or may involve revisiting and updating these communications and other norms as internal early childhood team members change.

Working with Guiding Coalitions Examples

The norming process is critical with early learning guiding coalitions, such as state early learning advisory councils or other bodies. As these guiding coalitions establish group approaches to essential communication and organizational functions, including clarity about purpose and roles, the opportunity to engage in the most meaningful work begins to emerge.

Performing Group Development Stage

Groups reach a conclusion and implement the solution to their issue. Indicators include creativity, initiative, flexibility, open relationships, pride, concern for people, learning, confidence, high morale, and success.

Working with Internal Teams Examples

At this phase, the internal group is working hard and focusing on achieving its objectives. During this process, an early childhood group may have its best success if it continues to position and promote a learning perspective for accomplishing the work.

Working with Guiding Coalitions Examples

During the performing stage, external early childhood groups are mixing a focus on the outcome or solution with ongoing processes that embrace learning, flexibility, and openness.

Adjourning Group Development Stage

As the group project ends, the group disbands in the adjournment phase.

Working with Internal Teams Examples

For internal teams, while a specific project-oriented team may adjourn, with the reality of the relatively small staffing within most governmental early childhood teams, the participants are likely to keep working together. Therefore, taking care to celebrate accomplishments before moving on will support the next phase of internal team work.

Working with Guiding Coalitions Examples

For guiding coalitions, having the opportunity to “check” the box and celebrate an accomplishment can be useful in the overall and often ongoing work with guiding coalitions. With so much work to be done, guiding coalitions may change focus and may reconstitute themselves.


Coalitions or teams do not necessarily move or progress in a straight line through developmental stages. They often cycle through several different stages multiple times. Teams can stagnate at a stage for a while and then move quickly through the next. As long as leaders recognize these stages of development, they are able to respond appropriately to help the group remain focused on its goals and move forward toward the performing stage.

 

[1] Tuckman, B. (1965). Sequences in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384–399.

[2] Tuckman, B., & Jensen, M. (1977). Stages of small-group development revisited. Group and Organization Studies, 2(4), 419–427.