The one with the grief or the celebration

If I asked you what you knew about Tuckman’s theory of Group Dynamics, you would probably (like me until fairly recently) shrug and look at me with a ‘oh god what’s he read now’ expression. However, if I asked if you’d ever heard the words forming, storming, norming and performing with respect to teams then I imagine I would get a very different reaction.

Bruce Tuckman is to teams what Mr Kipling is to pre-packed cakes – kind of a cornerstone, fundamental kind of ‘brand’. If you are inclined to, there’s a great summary on Wikipedia which you can find here Tuckman. Considering he first published his theory in 1965, I think it says something that it is a) so well known and b) still relevant. It may even have to be considered enduring wisdom…

Some 12 years later, he added a further stage that he termed ‘adjourning’ concerned with completion of the task and the breaking up of the team. The term ‘adjourning’ makes it sound very casual or maybe very processural but it doesn’t sound like something that involves human beings.

It’s fairly obvious (even to someone who works in HR) that we are living in unprecedented times. Over the last 3 ½ years the world has changed and unless you’re a banker (who seem to have bounced back fairly nicely) not likely for the better. I would expect most of you whether directly or through friends have seen the impacts of the economic climate and how it can effect businesses and the inviduals within them.

This brings me back to the 1977 5th stage. The more appropriate term I’ve heard (and I must credit my colleague Charlotte for this) is ‘mourning’ because the teams breaking up I’ve seen are going through a far more human process that simply adjourning something. Whether it’s a triumphal dissolution of a successful team or the team is losing people (which is probably more likely in current circumstances) actually taking the time to reflect on the team, it’s challenges and achievements and allowing yourself and others to make sense of the situation is a powerful but oft overlooked part of  managing the change the individuals are going through.

I have been fortunate not to attend many funerals in my life. I have reached an age where I’m 0 for 4 on Grandparents but fortunately the rest of my immediate family are alive and kicking; although my Dad does seem to be embalming himself in advance! The most difficult of those have been where people’s grief has centred around the loss of an individual, a life cut short or a person central to their general existence and emotional well being. The best, if you can say that of a funeral, have been where it’s been possible to take a step back from the loss and celebrate the life of the individual, how they’ve enriched those around them and usually in my experience have featured the double whammy of alcohol and anecdotes.

The interesting thing about the latter experience is the catharsis it allows, the emotions that are dealt with (in company) and how the overall experience leaves you saddened at the loss but thankful for the experience of knowing the individual. Thinking about this as I write its most like the Irish tradition of the Wake…

Now I’m not suggesting organisations should start throwing piss ups for teams that are breaking up (although I wouldn’t vote against it personally). However, taking the time and giving the support to a team to have that catharsis before throwing them either a) into the next team or b) out the door, may pay dividends both the individuals directly affected but also for the survivors who may be feeling the guilt of not being shown the door.

Therefore I propose a new structure:


*where no one is allowed to drive and the taxis are on expenses




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2 responses to “The one with the grief or the celebration

  1. Sukh Pabial

    In our workplace when a project comes to an end, we have a review of the whole project where we break down everything from deliverables to working practices to team dynamics. And once that’s done, they go out for a meal and a piss up all paid for. It works in exactly the way you’ve suggested above. The catharsis you experience is a vital piece of working on a project and helps to give a sense of proper closure.

    We’re far from perfect in getting this done, but it does seem to be something which we’ve got right.

  2. I’m with you on the ‘Wake’, having seen more than a few friends and family laid out in an open coffin in the home. As a first generation London-Irish guy I have seen, held and helped dress more corpses of loved ones than most people.

    Wakes are misunderstood by people who have not been brought up with the culture.

    They are not exactly ‘celebrations’, and certainly not always piss-ups. Nor are they long-faced mourn-fests with tea and sandwiches.

    The way I explain it – especially to people who are experiencing their first one and probably seeing a corpse for the first time …. in a house …. and obviously belonging to a loved one – is that it is a time of personal closure with a supportive group in a normal environment. Now, I know that the word ‘Normal’ seems strange here, but consider the rality of most funeral services. Most funeral services – even those in celebration of a long life well lived – are heavy with emotions of loss and mourning which are amplified by the ritual of the service, overlaid with the ritual of the cremation or the burial. Wakes are free of this ritual. They are an opportunity to take stock, reflect, reminisce, laugh, cry, support and be supported in a front room, with friends, family and the deceased.

    So, I’m with you. Forget ‘adjourning’ and ‘mourning’.
    It is: Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing-Wake for me.

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