The five stages of team development help a team know where it is. Additionally, it helps a team learn how to go through each stage. When people are assigned to a project, they are often called a team. But, it is doubtful they are an effective team, even if they have worked on a team before. On the other hand, if they know the five stages of team development, they can become more effective quicker.
The stages of team growth were first theorized by Bruce Wayne Tuckman and published in 1965, which he called the “Tuckman’s Stages.” At that time, he only had four stages of team development. Then in 1977, Tuckman working was with Mary Ann Jensen, and they created the fifth team development stage.
But, before you learn about the five stages, consider this question. How can a team know which stage of phase it is in?
Sequential or Iterative
Is team growth sequential or Iterative? From my experience, not research, iterative makes the most sense. Of course, It would be nice if one stage is complete and you move on to the next. But reality shows that teams tend to move to later stages and revisit earlier stages depending on the situation or team.
While team development does move from Forming to Performing, it is seldom a straight line. Additional difficulties appear when leaders think that they immediately move into the Performing stage just because you call a group of people a team. Okay, maybe not immediately, but at least by the second week!
Teams experience each stage but often don’t complete a stage before moving into the next one. Then, they go back to earlier stages to support growth needs in the later stages. Of course, individual personalities create the iterative nature of team growth. If they can deal with the PROBLEM, then teams get more effective.
With those thoughts in mind, the left side of the graphic below is how I see team development as it goes through the five stages.
The Stages Overview
The first stage is Forming which is relatively easy yet critical and often ignored. This stage helps members get to know each other and establishes the team guidelines and processes.
Next comes Storming, which is often the cause of failure. This is where the members transition from expectations to actual work.
Norming does not show up without agreement and trust as a team is in the Storming stage. The Storming subsides as the team develops a consensus on how the work will be done.
Then Performing occurs as stages 1-3 take less energy and time. As roles and responsibilities work out, more gets done. But don't forget, most often, those earlier stages will be revisited. So, in this Performing stage, the team settles on its relationships and ways to get work done.
Finally, the Adjourning stage is often ignored. When you use this stage, it benefits any future teams and their work. In this stage, you share what you learned about the project, technology, processes, and relationships among the members. When you do this stage, it often passes extremely valuable insights along.
Stage 1 - FORMING
You initiate this stage when the team first meets each other. In this first meeting, team members are introduced to each. You encourage them to share information about their backgrounds, interests, and experience and form first impressions of each other. They also learn about the project they will be working on, discuss its objectives/goals, and think about what role they will play on the project team. Of course, they are not yet working on the project. Basically, they are gathering information about each other and finding how they might work together at this stage.
Additionally, during this first stage, the team leader needs to be very clear about team goals and provide clear direction regarding the project. It is best to involve the members as roles and responsibilities are discussed and determined.
And team development isn't just about roles and responsibilities. It is also about guidelines and rules on how they will work together. These guidelines provide a clear structure for communication, procedures, and interpersonal relations.
The team primarily depends on the team leader to guide them during this stage.
- The “polite” stage
- Trying to figure out what to do and how the team will operate
- Some individuals may try to establish their leadership
- Team is primarily positive for the initial meetings
- No one has offended anyone at this point yet!
Feelings and Behaviors
- Feeling excitement, anticipation, and optimism
- Developing tentative attachment to the team
- Determining acceptable group behavior
- Deciding what information needs to be gathered
- Defining tasks and how they will be accomplished
- Discussing concepts, issues, processes, roles, etc.
- Developing impatience with discussions and little progress
- Identifying very few of the relevant problems
- Developing suspicion and anxiety about the project
- - Accomplishing very little, which is NORMAL
Stage 2 - STORMING
As the team begins to work together, they move into the “storming” stage. This stage is not avoidable; every team – especially a new team who has never worked together before – goes through this part of team development.
Here, members compete for status and acceptance of their ideas. They have different opinions on what to do and how to do it – which creates conflict within the team. As they progress with the guidance of the team leader, they learn how to solve problems together and function independently and together. And they begin to adapt to their roles and responsibilities on the team.
Since most people do not like conflict, this is a difficult stage for teams.
Coaching Is Essential
Storming requires an adept team leader that facilitates the team rather than directs them. The leader ensures that team members learn to listen to each other and respect different ideas and approaches. And it requires working with team members who try to control all conversations and facilitating contributions from quieter team members.
The team leader coaches some to be more assertive and others to be more effective listeners.
This stage seldom closes completely but is complete primarily when team members accept each other more and learn how to work together for the project's good. The team leader starts transitioning some decision-making to the team to encourage self-governance and independence. Additional team development is needed to resolve conflicts as quickly as possible, so leaders stay involved.
Some teams, however, do not move beyond this stage, and the entire project is spent in conflict with low morale and motivation. Those projects are challenging to complete.
Most teams have more professionally immature members, so the team may not move past this stage without solid leadership.
- Honeymoon is over
- Individuals may be clashing for control of the group
- Members may disagree over guidelines and processes
- Members may blame the team concept, saying it doesn’t work
- The team needs coaching to get past their differences, may take separate 1–on–1’s with people
Feelings and Behaviors
- Resisting suggested tasks and improvements
- Fluctuating attitude about team and project's chance of success
- Arguments among members even when they agree on the real issues
- Defensiveness, competition, choosing sides
- Questioning the wisdom of those who selected this project and appointed the other members
- Establishing unrealistic goals
- Disunity, increased tension, and jealousy
- Little energy spent on the team's goal
- BUT, beginning to understand each other and the project
Stage 3 - NORMING
When the team moves into "Norming," they begin to work more effectively as a team. The structures and methods help them work together and focus less on themselves. They show more respect for each other’s opinions and value differences. Finally, they begin to see the value in the differences, which makes working together seem more natural.
So, right now, you might be able to guess which team development stage your team is in. It is not easy, though, because moving through the stages is not likely to be a straight line.
As the team agrees on team rules for working together, how they will share information and resolve team conflict, and what tools and processes they will use, less friction occurs, and more gets done. The team members begin to trust each other and actively seek each other out for assistance and input.
Rather than compete against each other, they now help each other work toward a common goal. Team members also start to make significant progress on the project.
The team leader may not be as involved in decision-making and problem-solving since the team members are working better together. And the leader encourages them to take on more responsibility in these areas. Additionally, the team has greater self-direction and can resolve issues and conflicts as a group. However, the team leader may step in to move things along if the team gets stuck. The team leader should always ensure that the team members are working collaboratively and may begin to function as a coach to the team members.
- Starting to work together
- Bragging on the team concept to outsiders
- Bouncing back to Storming temporarily
- Recovering from “storming” quicker
- Speaking positively about them and the project
- Developing leaders within the team, some unexpected
- Needing less management and direction
Feelings and Behaviors
- Expressing criticism constructively
- Accepting membership in the team
- Attempting to reach harmony, not conflict
- Sharing with, confiding in, and friendlier to each other
- Developing team cohesion and spirit
- Clarifying and maintaining team guidelines
- Working out their differences
- Spending more energy on teams goals
Stage 4 - PERFORMING
When teams arrive at this stage, they function at a high level. They focus on the team's goal. And they know, trust, and rely on each other.
Not every team makes it to this level of team development; some teams stop at Norming. The high-performing team functions with little oversight, and members are more interdependent.
Self-governance Is Maximized
At this stage, the team wants to get the job done. They make decisions and problem-solve effectively. When they disagree, members work through it and resolve issues without interrupting the project’s progress. If there needs to be a change in team processes – the team is mature enough to agree on how the process needs to change without reliance on the team leader.
The team leader encourages team decision-making, problem-solving, or other such activities without the leader's involvement. The team works effectively and does not need the oversight required at the other stages. The leader monitors the team's development and celebrates milestone achievements with the team. That continues to build team camaraderie. The team's high performance allows the leader to interact and serve as the gateway when decisions need to be reached at a higher level within the organization.
Even in this stage, the team may revert to another stage. For example, they may revert back to the “storming” stage if one of the members starts working independently. Or, the team may revert to the “forming” stage if a new member joins the team. And, if there are significant changes, the team may go back until they manage through the transition.
- Beginning to achieve goals
- Accomplishing new tasks successfully
- Going back to the “Storming” phase, seldom
- Taking on new work on their own
- Accepting 1 or 2 new members would not hurt work
- Working with minimal outside direction
- Reaching this stage may take 6+ months
Feelings and Behaviors
- Gaining insights into personal, group processes
- Understanding other's strengths and weakness
- Maintaining constructive self–change
- Preventing or working through group problems
- Bonding with and attachment to the team
- Getting a lot of work done
- Team is now an effective, cohesive unit
Stage 5 - ADJOURNING
Finally, the project ends, and members move into different roles and responsibilities. This stage looks at the team from the perspective of the team's well-being rather than from managing a team through the initial four stages of team development.
Capture Best Practices
Here the team leader ensures there is time for the team to celebrate the project's success and capture best practices for future use. (Or, if it was not a successful project – evaluate what happened and capture lessons learned for future projects.)
This also allows the team to say goodbye and wish each other luck in pursuing their next endeavor. When the group reaches Stage 4 - Performing, it is likely that they will keep in touch with each other. High-performing teams develop bonds and become very close-knit groups. It is even sad for them to separate and move on to other projects.
That is just the nature of working together, especially in successful projects.
- Identifying objective improvements and changes needed for other teams
- Sharing the learnings with others
- Determining ways to stay in touch and learn from each other
- Many relationships formed within these teams continue long after the team disbands
So, if you are on a team right now, guess where your team is currently. It may not be easy, but it might be very instructive to help your project complete successfully.