Business Relationships

A Nurturing Potential report

Business relationships, like romantic relationships, tend to start euphorically and progress through a series of predictable stages.  Many business relationships do not survive and in this respect also they resemble the typical progress of a romantic relationship.  A key to understanding the cause and effect of this progression has been provided (in a slightly different but equally applicable context) by the Bruce Tuckman model. 

Bruce Tuckman published his famous 'Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing' model in 1965.  Despite the many changes in the structure of business and organisations since that time, his conclusions are still valid and useful.  


This is like the 'dating phase'  of a romantic association. At the forming stage, people are focused on the mission, vision and goals of the relationship.  When a business relationship is forming, those involved have a sense of excitement, anticipation and optimism.   This is normally the case regardless of the type of business being formed, ranging from simple collaboration between two people to the very complex and formal legal requirements of a joint stock company.

Awareness of the stages of the Tuckman model helps associates to avoid some of the early possible pitfalls.  It's important to be clear and focused about the mutual expectations.  Drawing up a legally binding and formal written agreement about roles, responsibilities and financial issues really focuses the mind.


In this stage, people are adjusting to working together.  Storming is like 'living together' and learning to accept each other's personal habits.

As business associates try to combine differing working styles they may experience argument, conflict, confrontation and dissent.  This may be about how work is performed, how records are maintained, how clients are billed, how expenses are paid.  Differences of opinion over how these things will be done need to be addressed in a constructive way to find the 'best practices.'  Failure to resolve conflict in a positive way usually results in the end of the business relationship.


Business relationships that make it through storming emerge into a new stage in which people begin to integrate their way of working in a positive manner.

Norming in business resembles settling into a long term relationship in marriage.  In the norming stage, people feel a sense of belonging and are comfortable sharing ideas and feelings and giving and receiving feedback.  Norming involves moving beyond the work into socializing and enjoying each other's differences.  


At this stage, group members achieve interdependence.  This means that they work well together, achieving more together than they would as individuals.  The romantic relationship analogy for performing might be successful parenting in which the partners work as a team to handle the challenges.  


A fifth addition to the model is sometimes described as "mourning".  This marks the breakdown of the relationship.  But here we are concerned only with the positive, so we will not dwell on failure.  In fact, in its original conception, the Tuckman model in this appended stage, regarded the purpose for which the association was set up as having been successfully concluded, and the participants used this stage (sometimes alternatively known as the "adjourning" stage) to consider what had been achieved.

Learning how to cope and survive the various stages of a business relationship is vitally important if a business is to succeed.  Using the Tuckman model as a tool for this purpose, if only to keep the mind focused on objectives, on what has been done, what needs to be done, and how you are coping, makes it potentially of enormous value.