Learning to let go: The fifth step in Tuckman cycle


Didier Marlier

May 16, 2019

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You probably all heard about a classic in team dynamics, called the Tuckman cycle: When assembling, a team (even a couple of people) tends to start with a stage called “Forming” (socialisation, need for inclusion), then it will naturally migrate towards “Storming” (affirmation, assertiveness), followed by “Norming” (reflecting, structuring and learning from the previous mistakes) and finally “Performing” which is what the leader and shareholders were longing for.

To this very predictable cycle (which I better explained in a recent post) we added a fifth step, often overlooked: Deforming, which is the necessary to take in order to healthily close a project, period of time together or relationship.

Recently, I was deeply disappointed with what appears to be the end of a relationship with a client we served for more than ten years. Disappointment and sadness (“after all we’ve done for them”) were the emerging feelings until one of my partners in the US sent me the mail here below which is a perfect illustration of what “De-Forming” is about and should be lived as. I thought worth bringing his reflection to your knowledge as I found it relevant for business ties and other personal relationships.

“Dids (my nickname with some of my partners),

These incidents are always troubling.  I’m never sure what really happened, who I p… off, who got jealous, who got tired of me or what I was doing, who was too scared to push the envelope and I ended up taking the blame, who I didn’t pay enough attention to or who fell in love with someone else.

Over the years we’ve watched this dynamic and, with some long term clients, we have seen an arc to the relationship: someone really likes what we do, we come in and do it, others like it and resonate and we start working more broadly or more strategically, we help them achieve great success … then it starts to wane… my sense is that at some point, we have given our gift, they have enjoyed it and the ride, and now it’s time for them to move on.  Of course we can refresh and reinvigorate our approach and offering and sometimes that buys us another chapter or two.  Ultimately the players change or they move on.  We may stay connected to those execs that see us as trusted partners, but the big work is gone. Sometimes these things just sputter out or diminish into the twilight, other times people say hurtful things in the ending.  I’ve reflected a lot on this since I tend to be all in with my clients, and many become friends as we spend a lot of time together.  In many cases what becomes apparent is that friendship is contextual – we’re together a lot, the exchanges are real …, yet the reason we’re together is that we have business to transact, a job to do.  When they decide that the job is over, I’ve never had anyone say: “Hey, we’ve had a really amazing ride, we’ve supported each other and had lots of fun together over the years, it’s now time for me to move on (for whatever reason) and I want to acknowledge that.  It’s not that I don’t hold you in high regard, or like who you are, or value our relationship, it’s just time to move on.  There may be other ways for us to work together going forward, but for now… and I recognize that we also have a personal connection”.

When this happens, it hurts … like a break up or divorce in some measure. Part of my gift with my clients is not only how I help them achieve their goals, but that I care about them, and in cases where we got close over time, I genuinely like them.  And yet, in these cases our relationship began as a business transaction and ends as a business transaction.  The fact that we built a strong connection with them is less relevant at the end of the day than the business purpose.  on rare occasions the personal remains after the business relationship is done – and for those I’m grateful.”

Taking the Call to Adventure, transforming ourselves, falling and recovering are vivid parts of our leadership Journey. Enjoy it!


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