The Stages of Board Development
Like any team, association boards don’t just come together overnight. Operating at peak efficiency takes time, especially with planned turnover every year. Boards that understand how groups evolve will likely be more productive more quickly.

While there are various theories on the stages of small group development, the Tuckman Model, created by psychologist and former Ohio State University professor Bruce Tuckman, is used by some association boards as a guide to grow, face challenges and deliver results. Here is a summary of each stage in the Tuckman model of group development, also referred to as Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

Stage 1: Forming. This is when the board comes together for the first time. For most boards, it’s going to be right after new members are elected or appointed. At this stage, the focus should be on building relationships, clarifying the mission or goals, and identifying roles and responsibilities of the team. The team members are typically more guarded and polite in this “feeling-out” stage.

Stage 2: Storming. This is when team members typically become more assertive and begin to seek out their place or status on the board. This could lead to disagreements, criticism, personality clashes and conflict. Differences of opinion on issues or goals can lead to frustration among some members, while others may withdraw. This can impede progress. Often, this stage is necessary, although sometimes it can be skipped over. While some teams never move beyond this point, those that do will become stronger for it.

Stage 3: Norming. At this stage, the team begins to come together and starts to form an identity. Individual roles and responsibilities crystallize and members accept one another’s talents, skills and contributions. Norms of behaviors are developed. Further, new ideas form and risks are taken because the team members start to trust one another. This might be a good place to go on a board retreat as team unity is high. It should be noted that there is a fine line between the storming and norming stages, and it’s easy to regress back to storming, depending on the issue.

Stage 4: Performing. Here, the team has fully coalesced. It is focused on achieving its shared goals and delivering results for the organization. The team has evolved to the point where members can debate and accept constructive criticism without conflict. Decisions are made and implemented with all members pulling in the same direction, speaking with one voice. The board is clearly focused on actions, outcomes and moving the association forward. Also, when a team is at the performing stage, it’s much easier to integrate new members in to the fold.

There have been variations and add-ons to this model over the years as organizations have made it their own. Its purpose is to simply serve as a guideline for association boards to follow so they can recognize their progress. If a team is dysfunctional due to personality clashes, or stuck in neutral because a small handful of people make all the decisions while others sit quietly, this guide may help it realize that changes are needed to advance to the next stage. Recognizing and addressing problems allows the board to evolve more quickly.


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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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