Like a living organism, teams have a life cycle. As they mature, the members of the team relate to each other differently. These changing behaviors affect the ability of the team to perform. Today we’ll talk about what the stages of team development are, and how you can adapt your leadership emphasis to get maximum performance from your teammates every step of the way.
The Team Development Model
The way groups operate when they first assemble is very different from how they function after months of working together. In 1965, Psychologist Dr. Bruce Tuckman noticed that as a team matures, relationships among the members follow a progression.
First they focus on getting oriented to the task and to each other. Next, intragroup conflict emerges as individuals struggle to define their place and roles within the group. Over time, the struggles are resolved and a sense of place and cohesion emerges. Finally, the group becomes a functional whole, with its energies focused on accomplishing its task.
Dr. Tuckman called these stages Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. To be an effective leader, you need to know what these stages are, and understand where your team is on the continuum.
Below is a brief review of the four stages, with a short description of the feelings and behaviors of the team members at each stage, based on an article by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Judith Stein.
If you are more of a visual learner, you can find all in this infographic as well.
The Forming Stage
In the Forming Stage, the team is assembled to accomplish a task. Members of the team are often excited about the job at hand, eager to get started, and have high expectations about the future success of the team. Some members may also feel concerned about their ability to fit in with the others, or are uncertain about how they will contribute to the efforts of the team.
As a result, expect that there will be many questions as each person seeks to understand his or her role and how they are to participate. For the team team, the initial focus is to get organized and oriented by understanding the mission, developing an internal structure, and identifying the roles the individual members will fill.
As a leader in the Forming Stage, you want to focus on establishing the team vision and putting goals in place to orient the team on attaining its objectives. At the same time, establishing organizational structure, processes, and a team culture of mutual trust are critical to helping answer a lot of those questions and getting started on the right foot.
The Storming Stage
In the Storming Stage, teammates begin to confront the possibility that their expectations may not match reality. There will be initial confusion about how the different teammates are supposed to interact, and some may be jockeying for power. Barriers to communication can lead to errors or misunderstandings resulting in feelings of frustration or anger.
In consequence, teammates may become more critical of each other. They may even question the appropriateness of the goal or the leader’s competence. As the team continues to organize, there will also be struggles to determine processes and procedures.
Your focus as the leader during this turbulent time is to clarify the roles and responsibilities of each teammate. You may find that some adjustments are necessary as various strengths, weaknesses, and skills emerge. Some conflict is inevitable, so expect it, don’t avoid it. Success for you comes in providing constructive feedback, encouraging supportive honesty, working to adjust behaviors, and keeping the focus on the overall goals of the team.
The Norming Stage
In the Norming Stage, team members begin to adjust their expectations to fit the current reality. They develop an improved sense of their “place” within the group, and become more accepting of others, acknowledging their relative strengths and weaknesses.
With their personal place on the team more firmly established, members shift their focus to accomplishing the goals of the group. More open and frank communication is possible, which helps the group coordinate and execute to a higher level of performance.
As the leader, you want to encourage this communication and coordination among members of the group, and continue to refine group processes to boost your efficiency.
The Performing Stage
In the Performing Stage, the team is fully functional and achieving results. Members feel a sense of satisfaction with their progress, and identify with the team and what it is doing. There is a “can do” attitude, and a willingness to adjust roles to take advantage of the relative strengths of teammates.
Commitment to the goals of the team is high. Individual competence is also high, but group members recognize that learning needs to be a continuous part of the process.
As the leader, your focus should be to support the efforts of the team, encourage and coach them as they continue to improve. As the team meets its goals, be sure to take a moment and celebrate successes.
Progression of a team through the stages is not always neat and clean. Your team may be in the Norming or Performing stage, but if you lose some members, gain new ones, or there are changes to the mission or circumstances, the team may drop back to Forming or Storming again while roles and processes are re-defined.
But wherever your team is, if you take a moment to think about what stage it is in and what is going on in the minds of your teammates, you can adjust your leadership focus to meet their needs, and move quickly to the performing stage.
Note: Dr. Tuckman later added a fifth stage – Adjourning – which addresses the breakup of the group after it completes its task.