Every team, be it in the world of business, sports, or any field where collaboration is key, embarks on a journey. This journey may not be physical, but it is a critical one nonetheless – it is a journey of development. Understanding how a team develops and evolves over time is essential for both team members and leaders, as it can profoundly impact a team’s effectiveness, cohesion, and ultimately, its success. Introduced by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965, the concept of “5 Stages of Team Development” provides an insightful lens through which we can view, understand, and guide this journey. In this blog post, we will delve into each of these stages, exploring their characteristics, challenges, and providing practical tips to facilitate the process.
5 Stages of Team Development
Forming: The Beginning Stage
Forming, as the name suggests, is the initial stage of team development where team members are just starting to come together. It is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty, politeness, and careful navigation. Individuals are trying to understand their place in the team, the team’s goals, and how they fit into the bigger picture. There’s a shared sense of excitement mixed with apprehension as everyone is still getting to know each other, their roles, and responsibilities.
In this phase, team members may be keen on impressing each other and their superiors, leading to a somewhat artificial environment marked by cordiality and restrained behavior. This stage can feel somewhat superficial as team members are generally hesitant to voice disagreement or dissent.
As a leader, it is crucial at this stage to provide clear direction and establish a safe environment where team members feel encouraged to participate. Clear communication about team objectives, individual roles, and expectations is crucial. Remember, team members might be feeling uncertain and anxious about what’s to come, so the more clarity you can provide, the better.
The goal at the forming stage is to transition to the next stage, storming, where team members start to feel comfortable enough to express their opinions openly. Therefore, promote open communication, active listening, and respect for diverse viewpoints. Team-building exercises can also be an effective way to foster bonds among team members and break down initial barriers.
Although the forming stage can be somewhat uncomfortable due to its transitional nature, it’s a crucial phase where team members lay down the foundation of their working relationships. By navigating it effectively, leaders can set the stage for a productive and cohesive team.
Storming: The Conflict Stage
As teams move from the polite, introductory forming stage, they enter the storming phase, often characterized by a period of conflict and discord. This is the stage where the team’s harmony may seem to break down, and disagreement or tension may arise. But contrary to how it sounds, storming isn’t necessarily a stage to be feared or avoided. In fact, it’s a crucial part of the team’s evolution and can even be a sign of healthy progress.
During the storming stage, team members begin to express their individual perspectives, leading to a clash of ideas and opinions. They start to challenge each other, and disagreements over roles, responsibilities, and the best way forward are common. This conflict often stems from a deeper understanding of the team’s goals and the realization of the complexity of the task at hand.
It’s also the stage where power dynamics become more evident as team members vie for influence and recognition. Differences in working styles and personalities can lead to frustration, and the initial high spirits of the team may dip.
However, despite its inherent challenges, the storming stage can also foster creativity and innovation if managed correctly. Diverse perspectives and open dialogue, if encouraged and managed appropriately, can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving.
As a leader, it is important to facilitate healthy communication during this stage. Encourage team members to voice their disagreements respectfully and listen to different viewpoints. Leaders should promote a culture of feedback, making sure it’s constructive and solution-oriented. Conflict resolution techniques can be beneficial in managing personal conflicts that may arise.
It is also important to remember that not all teams will experience intense conflict during this stage, and the storming phase can look different for every team. With effective management and patience, teams can navigate through this stage and emerge more cohesive and understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, moving into the norming stage.
Norming: The Cohesion Stage
After the storm comes the calm, and in the context of team development, this is the Norming stage. Once the team has navigated through the conflict and disagreement phase of storming, they start to find their rhythm and establish a sense of unity and harmony – this is where the norming stage begins.
The norming stage is characterized by the establishment of shared norms, values, and operational guidelines within the team. Team members have begun to respect each other’s strengths and compensate for weaknesses. They have a clear understanding of the team’s goals, their roles, and how to work together effectively. A consensus begins to form around processes and working methods, and the team starts to feel like a cohesive unit.
During this stage, individuals become more comfortable expressing their ideas and feedback, but now it’s done in a constructive and respectful manner. The fear of conflict decreases as trust within the team strengthens. The team’s productivity usually starts to increase as they find ways to work together more efficiently and effectively.
However, it’s important to note that the norming stage, while certainly more peaceful, may have its own set of challenges. There’s a risk that the team might become complacent and avoid necessary conflicts, thereby inhibiting innovation and creativity.
As a leader, your role in this stage is to continue encouraging open communication and ensure the norms being established are productive and beneficial for the team. It’s important to reinforce team goals and shared responsibilities, recognize and celebrate team achievements, and promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Make sure the environment remains one in which constructive feedback is welcomed and valued.
The norming stage signifies a team’s progress toward maturity. With newly established norms and improved cooperation, the team is now better equipped to face challenges and deliver results, setting the stage for the next phase: Performing.
Performing: The Mature Collaboration Stage
The performing stage marks a point of maturity and high productivity for the team. At this point, the team has successfully navigated the hurdles of forming, storming, and norming, and they’ve emerged as a cohesive, efficient unit.
During the performing stage, the focus shifts from building relationships and establishing team norms to achieving the team’s goals. The team is now confident, motivated, and largely self-directed. Team members have a clear understanding of their roles and expectations, and they work collaboratively towards shared objectives. The dynamics of the team are established and functional, allowing for high levels of trust, autonomy, and effective decision-making.
Conflict and disagreements might still occur, but they are typically resolved constructively and efficiently within the team. The strong foundation of trust and mutual respect enables the team to focus on problem-solving and accomplishing tasks rather than interpersonal issues.
For leaders, the performing stage is an opportunity to delegate more and oversee less. This doesn’t mean becoming absent or complacent – rather, it’s about recognizing the team’s capability and allowing them to take ownership. Leaders can focus on providing resources, removing obstacles, and offering high-level guidance.
It’s also essential to continue recognizing and rewarding the team’s efforts. Celebrating milestones and individual contributions helps keep the team motivated and acknowledges the hard work behind their high performance.
The performing stage represents the pinnacle of team growth, where the synergy of individual members leads to greater team productivity and effectiveness. Yet, this isn’t the end of the team’s journey. Depending on the project’s nature or team’s purpose, they might soon face the adjourning stage, bringing closure to their collective journey.
Adjourning: The Closure Stage
The adjourning stage, also sometimes referred to as the mourning stage, signifies the end of the team’s journey. It involves the dissolution of the team after the project has been completed or the goal achieved. This stage was added later to Tuckman’s original four-stage model to address the emotions and reactions that can occur when a team disbands.
During the adjourning stage, team members may experience a range of emotions from satisfaction and pride in their work, to sadness or anxiety about the team’s disbandment. The successful completion of the team’s work is usually celebrated, but this can also be a time of uncertainty as individuals transition to other projects or roles.
As a leader, it’s essential to handle this stage with empathy and openness. Recognize the contributions of each team member and celebrate the team’s accomplishments. This can help foster a sense of closure and acknowledge the hard work that has been done.
It’s also beneficial to conduct a debriefing or a “post-mortem” of the project. This provides an opportunity for the team to reflect on what worked well, what challenges were faced, and what could be improved for future projects. It’s a chance to learn from the experience and take valuable lessons forward.
Lastly, provide support for your team members during this transition. They may need assistance finding new roles or projects, or simply require reassurance about the changes that lie ahead.
The adjourning stage, while often overlooked, is a critical part of the team development process. It offers a moment for reflection, learning, and recognition. By handling this stage effectively, leaders can ensure a positive end to the team’s journey, fostering a lasting sense of achievement and camaraderie among team members.