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Systems Engineering and Engineering Management Research

 Pamela Jo Knight, Ph.D.

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Small Short Duration Team Dynamics Research Final Report

This report provides empirical evidence that the Tuckman Team Dynamics Model (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing) is not necessarily applicable for small short duration technical teams.  Instead a variant model called the DAU Model (Forming, Norming, Performing) is presented.  

How to build effective teams is one of the most significant management questions of the day. Small, short duration technical teams drive critically important decision-making processes in a broad range of organizations in all sectors of the economy. Thus, gaining a better understanding of how small, short duration technical teams develop is of critical importance to contemporary managers.

There has been much theorizing about how teams function, and many theoretical constructs have been proposed to define a general model of team development. The Tuckman (1965) four-stage sequential model of team development (Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, or FSNP) may be today’s most widely used model. However, the Tuckman model is a conceptual statement that was suggested by the data and has not been empirically validated (Tuckman 1965). Hadyn et al. (1997, p. 118) state that, “despite increasing interest in teamwork, much of the literature on the subject is inconclusive and often derived from anecdote rather than primary research.”

It was the intent of this study to develop empirical evidence to determine whether or not the Tuckman model or some variant thereof provides an appropriate model to explain the development of small, short duration technical teams. A validated survey instrument of 31 questions was administered to 368 small, short duration technical teams within the Department of Defense, Defense Acquisition University (DAU). The resulting data were analyzed with scientific rigor to determine if these teams followed the Tuckman model or a variant of that model.  

This research has discovered a new general model of team dynamics (called the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) model) that applies to technical teams. It is a variant of the Tuckman model with a new twist that better fits the data. A technical team is defined as a group of individuals with specific expertise who are assembled to complete a task, which results in a product. This research demonstrates that not only do technical teams generally follow the DAU model; but that teams following the DAU model produce better products than teams that do not follow this model. It may, therefore, be possible to significantly improve productivity in technical teams by facilitating the DAU model—that is, to encourage teams to first coalesce as a team and form their intent and structure; then develop their approach, ground rules, and processes; to be followed by assigning sub-tasks and getting the work done—all the while cooperatively challenging, re-evaluating, and improving the overall team process as they work together to accomplish the task they were given.


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