This month I thought it might be helpful to focus on group development within the nursery setting. As the new terms get underway, we have all faced a lot of recent change and uncertainty. I recall working with Rosa, a nursery manager who, last year, started the term with her known, established staff, who were facing an organisational change. She had reshuffled the teams to reflect the new restructuring of classes for 2-4-year-olds. She expected it to be plain sailing as everyone knew each other well. She noticed that after the first few weeks there were some grumbles in the staff room. Rosa was concerned that other staff and ultimately the children in her nursery would be affected by negativity that was palpable at times.
As part of a leadership training course (see below), we had talked through thoughts on how she could manage the situation. Tuckman’s Team and Group Development Model (1965) can help us understand the stages of development a team goes through. Learning about this model can help leaders support their team members through the process of building effective working relationships.
Tuckman identified there were four necessary phases for a team to develop and grow:
In an early years setting, we know how important it is for staff to build positive working relationships with team members so they can act as excellent role models for the children in their care. The leader needs to know at what stage their teams are, to help practitioners process and acknowledge likely conflicts and changes during the developmental stages.
Tuckman’s Team and Group Development Model
- Forming - In this stage, most team members are positive and polite. Some are anxious as they might not yet fully understand the way their team works with the established room leader. Others are eager to get going and set the room up and meet the families.
As a leader, Rosa recognised she needed a strong presence, setting the scene, being clear about vision and line of direction. The restructure of mixed-age classes had included wide staff consultation and buy-in. It was well planned. Much of the communication at this forming stage is about providing information on policy and procedure, which team members will try to absorb and follow. For Rosa, this phase had lasted quite some time so she was feeling relaxed that the teams were working well.
- Storming - This is an inevitable phase, where people can start to push against the boundaries established in the forming stage. Team members are more familiar with each other, they know each other’s working styles and they may become frustrated with certain behaviours in the group.
Rosa considered one of her teams in particular and could see there were strong personalities, jockeying for position, and an emerging disagreement about the needs of two-year-olds vs three-year-olds. When a staff member appeared at Rosa’s door to complain about another person, she gently reminded them of Tuckman’s process and asked if they were perhaps still getting to know each other’s practice. Rosa was delighted to hear that very evening that the two staff members agreed to go for a drink to get to know each other a little better. That was an unusual, yet highly effective solution they created for themselves.
- Norming - Gradually, people get used to and more accepting of each other’s ways and begin to work on the individual strengths of the team. Staff start to socialise more naturally and can provide constructive feedback to each other to support the team and organisational goals.
Rosa noticed that routines were in place, and there was a general air of competence and satisfaction as the staff and children found their balance for teaching, learning and caring for the environment. She reflected on past, petty squabbles over things such as toys being left in the garden by ‘the others’ but there was certainly less of this now the age groups of children were combined. There was humour in the teams as they recognised past competition, and they also recognised they had all had the expertise to share new learning within the restructuring.
- Performing - This stage is reached when the hard work leads to the achievement of the organisational goal. The structures and systems are embedded and support the goal well.
Rosa was expecting an inspection visit at the end of the year. When the day came, she was proud to see all practitioners rise to the occasion to demonstrate the excellent work they had invested over the past nine months. She now has time to develop individual staff further, helping them develop deeper insight into their key children’s successful learning and outcomes, and as a whole team, has ambitious plans for the future.
Top tips for new leaders
Remember to use the Tuckman model of team development when faced with staff difficulties in your setting. Forming, storming, norming and performing are powerful words that create strong imagery and are easily remembered.
Whilst experiencing the Covid-19 threat and current government guidelines in your setting, individual team members may well be displaying behaviours outside of your usual expectations. This can contribute a new layer to team dynamics.
Provide staff training on the Tuckman model, so you and the teams have a shared language to draw on. For example, if a practitioner ‘storms’ in to see you because of a disagreement with another staff member, ask them to think about what stage they might be at, and what their learning from this might be.
Be mindful that if a new person leaves or joins a team, there will be a period of adjustment for everyone and Tuckman’s model might be worth considering to help understand team dynamics again.
The environment and atmosphere you create will impact everything, and will ultimately affect the outcomes for the children in your setting. It is worth the investment to do all the right things to secure the best learning environment possible.
Image from teambuildingactivity.com accessed online 09/09/2020
Tuckman, Bruce W. (1965) “Developmental sequence in small groups”, Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384–399.
“Understanding the Stages of Team Formation” mindtools.com accessed online 09/09/2020.
About the author:
Ruth Mercer is a coach and consultant, with a career background in early education. Ruth is committed to creating a positive learning environment for staff, children and families. She has a successful track record of 1:1 coaching for leaders and group coaching across the maintained and PVI sector. She supports leaders and managers in developing a coaching approach in their settings through bespoke consultancy and introductory training on coaching and mentoring for all staff.
Virtual course forthcoming: Onwards and Upwards - Becoming an Effective Leader in the EYFS (6 half-day sessions over 6 months). Suitable for EYFS leads in school, nursery school teachers and reception teachers. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details, to book a space or request a bespoke option for your school/setting.