Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing

Issue 5 and Volume 13.

Team building and developing leadership abilities

How does your team perform when smoke’s showing? (Photo by author.)

How does your team perform when smoke’s showing? (Photo by author.)

It is my belief that our ability to develop team bonding and comradery is a key indicator of how we will lead personnel in the future. While this seems simple in nature, for some individuals this is an acquired attribute. For example, I was never known to be the outspoken or humorous one. I came to work on time, performed the work that was expected of me, volunteered for opportunities, and strived to be the best I could be. Unfortunately, none of what I just stated provides for team building expertise. So, then the question is, how does someone work to develop a team? Furthermore, how do we begin to develop leadership abilities from these opportunities?

In the 1960s, Bruce Tuckman developed the forming, storming, norming, and performing philosophy of team building. While some teams are obvious when they go through these phases, others may not be as obvious. One of the action items after reading this article is to look at your team and determine which are you currently. The second action item is to determine how you move your team to the next level. By understanding the points Tuckman states within each phase, we can learn to be team builders, which requires us to exhibit leadership skills. Now, exhibiting these leadership skills at the early stages in these team building situations of our careers develops us to become formal leaders later in our careers.


In the forming stage, the team comes together for the first time. Introductions are made, and people begin to frame up and make assumptions based on the first impression. Everyone is attempting to determine who has like-minded ideas and which team members have attributes that complement their own. These attributes may be knowledge and skill set levels, work ethic, morals, and values. During this stage, I find it very important to create opportunities for ice breaking to occur and to orchestrate opportunities to stretch team members outside of their comfort zones.

For example, consider the last class you attended with one of your coworkers that was outside of your department. Human behavior and being creatures of comfort, I bet that you sat in the same seat, if it was available when you arrived, every day. I also bet that 80-plus percent of your time was spent with the one person you were familiar with, your coworker. The same behaviors are exhibited at the fire station, so it becomes all the more important to break us of our comforts and create opportunities such as drills, exercises, or even just having a cup of coffee at the kitchen table discussing the past weekend.


During the storming stage, the team can start to develop internal groups from the team based on the forming of the first stage. Individuals also start to become more comfortable speaking up and being more vocal as they become more comfortable in their environment. While these attributes can greatly benefit the team, they can also be harmful if they are not harnessed toward the team’s goal or vision.

It is important to establish the expectations of what the team is here to accomplish. This establishment of expectations does not have to come from the officer. The senior firefighter can motivate the crew by stating here’s the situation and this is the level we will perform to. Then, that senior firefighter must lead by example.

I commonly compare this stage to my three brothers. When we were younger, with zero life experience, by no stretch of the imagination did we get along very often. However, when some outside situation affected us, we banded together even without leadership training, team building, or life experience. We knew what the goal was and how we had to perform to be successful. The fire station crew is no different.


As my brothers and I grew older and we gained more life experience, we began to storm less and started operating at a higher efficiency. This is the norming stage. We appreciated each other’s differences and leveraged our strengths. My older brothers stopped making the old dial-up phone ring and telling me the devil is calling and, in return, I quit trying to shoot them with my bow and arrow. Dad (formal leader) had to get involved less and less often because of the team being committed.

For the fire station, the team must be committed to the badge that we wear every day and the eight points it stands for. We need to respect what each member brings to the table and learn from them. At this point, we need to have been in situations where we wiped the same sweat, dirt, and grime off our faces. These types of drills and exercises allow us to gain trust and build bonds with each other. These types of situations predict how we will react to future events and, as a team, we begin to appreciate the work effort that each person is putting toward the team.


We arrive on the scene of a two-story, wood-frame structure with light smoke showing from the A/D corner. The hydrant was spotted 100 feet in front of the apparatus by the engineer. The officer provides the initial radio report, and the firefighter stretches the fast attack preconnect to the front door. The officer conducts his walk-around while the engineer obtains positive water supply and charges the initial line. The engineer stretches a second preconnect for the second arriving crew and awaits the officer’s return to side A. The firefighter is geared up and has checked the nozzle flow and pattern. Without being told, the firefighter and engineer conduct their own size-up by looking through windows on side A and looking for signs of occupants. The firefighter scans the door for heat and opens the door to check for potential victims. The firefighter sees an occupant five feet from the door. The firefighter makes the grab, the engineer assists the extrication, and they begin resuscitation while the second-in crew grabs the attack lines and makes entry. The officer returns to side A and none of these actions required his decision-making ability. Why is this? Simple: The team has trained together through drills, exercises, and discussions, so they operate or perform at the highest levels. They use the implicit communication approach with little to no words because their actions speak for themselves. This is the last stage of team building, when we perform at the highest level.

Working Toward Mastery

As we work through the team building process, we need to understand the various stages. These stages happen to various extremes to all teams. Understand the process and understand what is needed at each stage. During the forming stage, determine where your team is mentally, and create opportunities for people to work together and step outside of their comfort zone. Help your team members appreciate each other’s diversity, and praise the team building efforts as a group. Once the storming stage begins, it is vital that we understand what the goal or vision is for our crew. Establish the expectations, level, or performance, and continue to create meaningful opportunities to better ourselves individually and as a team. Create the situation where everyone receives the chance to be a leader and be engaged. The norming stage is where people begin to work through differences and appreciate the diversity of each other without your influence. The team must continue to be challenged and learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The team that endures the sweat, dirt, and grime together is the team I want to be a part of. After the norming stage, we begin to perform where mastery is the minimum standard and we chase perfection in the hopes that we reach excellence.

By Brian Ward

Brian Ward is division leader of fire protection and emergency operations for Georgia Pacific (GA). He is a member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, is Georgia Smoke Diver #741, is the founder of www.BarnBossLeadership.com, and is an FDIC International instructor. Ward is the author of Barn Boss Leadership: Make the Difference and Training Officer’s Desk Reference (Fire Engineering).