Tuckman and Jensen (1977) Model

This is an academic essay written for a Workplace Communication assignment. It examines and evaluates the Tuckman and Jensen (1977) model, a group dynamics model describing the stages a new groups goes through as it functions.

1249/1250 words.

Evaluate the usefulness of the Tuckman & Jensen (1977) model in understanding the process a new group goes through as it functions

The study of small groups has “long been a major interest in the behavioural sciences” (Fisher, 1970, p53). One important study of note is Tuckman’s (1965) study, which produced a developmental four-stage model which aimed to isolate common concepts and changes in group life over time (cited Tuckman and Jensen, 1977). This model was developed further by Tuckman and Jensen (1977), leading to the creation of a five-stage model describing group change and the processes therein. In order to evaluate the usefulness of the Tuckman and Jensen (1977) model, first the model will be analysed for any disadvantages, and then other group-development models will be discussed to inform the conclusion of how useful the (1977) model is in understanding the process a group goes through as it functions.

Tuckman’s original (1965) research led him to isolate various aspects of interpersonal/group structure stages and task-activity stages, and Tuckman was led to summarize four key stages/phases of group development: “forming, storming, norming and performing” (cited Tuckman and Jensen 1977). Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) paper set out to examine literature published after Tuckman’s (1965) original hypothesis to see whether they would “constitute an empirical test” of said hypothesis. However, it was noted by the authors that one of the issues found when reviewing the literature was a lack of empirical data. Whilst Tuckman originally provided a developmental model of group process, it was largely a conceptual model that required quantitative, empirical research (cited Tuckman and Jensen, 1977). Tuckman’s model was created through “organizing and conceptualizing existing research data and theoretical precepts” (cited Tuckman and Jensen, 1977) rather than empirically testing an existing model. Tuckman himself stated that his model “was in need of further testing”. (Tuckman and Jensen, 1977). During the reviews of published literature (post-1965), only one study could be found that specifically set out to test Tuckman’s (1965) model. This study was by Runkel et. al .(1971) (cited Tuckman and Jensen, 1977), however the study itself was criticised as it was open to observer bias. Clearly a lack of empirical testing of the study is a disadvantage and detrimental to the overall usefulness of the model, however it should also be noted that his aim was to produce a “generalizable model of changes in group life over time” (cited Tuckman and Jensen, 1977, p419), a hypothesis that many subsequent studies support due to the many similarities in group-formation stages noted in other developmental models.

The lack of empirical data to support theoretical small-group models was noted by other theorists. Fisher (1970) describes how:

“There have been few attempts to test theoretical conceptions of group task behaviors systematically. Among the most notable of such conceptions are Bales and Strodtbeck’s three-phase progression of group development” (p53).

Strodtbeck and Bales (1951) were a notable exception as they conducted empirical research on their hypothesis, which culminated in a unitary sequence of three phases for group development and task-orientation – a period of orientation, then a period of evaluation, then finally a control phase. These three stages are similar to Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) model, though condensed into three stages rather than five and perhaps more basic. However, one interesting point to note is that Strodtbeck and Bales explained that their model is expected to hold “only under certain conditions”, and that a major distinction can be drawn “between those conditions which may be regarded as constituted prior to the period of observation, and those which arise and change during the actual period of observation” (Strodtbeck and Bales, cited Harper, N., 1974). Variables that could affect the group include members cultures/sub-cultures, their characteristics, their relationships with one another, group size/composition, group cohesiveness, degree of conflict in the decision, task characteristsics (Strodtbeck and Bales, cited Harper, N., 1974; Poole, 1983b; Poole and Roth, 1989b; Mintzberg et al., 1976; Sorenson, 1971,. cited in Poole and Baldwin, 1996) . This is an important point as the Tuckman and Jensen (1977) study did not conclude that variables could affect the model and the stages described therein. Instead a “major outcome” of the review was the modification of the model with the addition of a final stage, “adjourning” (Tuckman and Jensen, 1977). Thus it can be stated that variables can arise within, or prior to, the group that can shift or change the movement or order of the phases/stages, resulting in the repetition of certain stages, for example. (Mintzberg et al.,1976; Nutt, 1984b; Poole and Roth, 1989b, cited in Poole and Baldwin, 1996). Poole (1981) conducted a comparative test of unitary and multiple sequence models, and found “significant between-group differences in development”, noting that the multiple sequence models accounted for 2.5 times more variance in developmental trends (Chandler, 1981; Hirokawa, 1983, cited Poole & Baldwin p218). This could undermine the overall usefulness of the Tuckman and Jensen (1977) model when describing the process a group goes through, as it does not allow for flexibility in light of external or internal variables.

Fisher (1970) created a developmental model similar to Tuckman’s (1965) model, and found that a “four-stage pattern appeared in each of the ten groups [he] studied”(p56), much like the four-stages originally presented by Tuckman (1965). Despite being a sequential unitary stage model similar to Tuckman and Jensen’s model (1977), Fisher also noted that there were “varying degrees of distinction between phases”, for example the distinction between the second and third stages was “not so clear-cut in all ten groups”. Fisher evaluated his findings, stating that it “does not imply the presence of clearly discrete phases of progression”, insetad reflecting “a continuous change of interaction patterns”. Fisher’s four stages of Orientation, Conflict, Emergence, and Reinforcement are very similar to Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) model, with the omittance of the fifth stage of “Adjourning” which Tuckman and Jensen found to be a valid and necessary addition to Tuckman’s (1965) original four stage model. It can be stated, therefore, that Tuckman and Jensen’s model stands on its own as a vaild and more complete model, as Tuckman and Jensen’s model is a five-stage unitary sequence that describes the complete life-cycle of the group from formation to disbandment, a stage that Fisher (1970) does not include.

In regards to the usefulness of the Tuckman and Jensen (1977) unitary stage model, it is very succint and covers the full life-span of the group, labeling key stages that the group passes through. It is limited, however, in that it does not allow for stages/phases to alter or shift based on variables. It appears as a rigid and sequential series of stages, and “several social scientists have countered Tuckman’s notion that work-groups proceed in a linear fashion”. (cited Oravec), whilst Poole (1983a, 1983b) finds that “decision-making groups proceed in multiple (as opposed to unitary) sequences”, supporting Strodtbeck and Bales (1951) admittance that variables can affect the sequence of stages, a factor that Tuckman and Jensen (1977) do not allow for. It can be stated that this is a disadvantage of unitary stage models as a whole, as they assume all “average” groups follow an indentical sequence of phases (Poole and Baldwin, 1996). Despite this apparent limitation of the model, as a stand-alone theory, Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) model is a clear, concise and logical model that is very useful in describing group processes and functioning, and succinctly condenses the full life-span of a new group into five clear stages, from “forming” to “adjourning”.


Fisher, B. A., (1970) Decision Emergence: Phases In Group Decision-Making, Speech Monographs. Vol.37, Issue 1, p53-66.

Harper, N. L., (1974) Human Communication: Core Readings (ed. Illustrated) Ardent Media. P68-78. Available from: http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=3Q4CDLSMOpcC&oi=fnd&pg=PA68&dq=related:SQhD43R0zu4J:scholar.google.com/&ots=Wr9QQdsKQm&sig=t68e4TK3dCxsvL8WqRd2ALINB2Y#v=onepage&q&f=false

Oravec, J. A., (1996) Virtual Individuals, Virtual Groups: Human Dimensions of Groupware and Computer Networking. (ed.) Cambridge University Press. P144-147. Available from: http://books.google.com/books?id=DtHO_u1N8XAC&pg=PA145&dq=tuckman+and+jensen+model&hl=en&ei=0F7ITP-HEYvDswac3OnvDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Poole, M. S., & Baldwin, C. L., (1996) Chapter 8: Developmental Processes in Group Decision Making, In: Communication and Group Decision Making, Hirokawa R. Y. & Poole, M. S., (2nd Edition, Illustrated) SAGE. Available from: http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=lAEA68lX5XsC&oi=fnd&pg=PA215&dq=poole+1983a+1983b&ots=ms1LmZl1PD&sig=wxWpjGRcH2Pm1lY8oy3blcLfmE0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Tuckman, B. & Jensen, M., (1977) Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited, Group Organization Management. Vol. 2. p419-427

2 responses to “Tuckman and Jensen (1977) Model

  1. Pingback: The challenge of managing diverse teams | saifuljamiblogs

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