What are the Stages of Team Development?

Teamwork promotes higher productivity and creativity, but achieving those goals requires team development. Team-building or team development is not a simple leadership skill because people can’t be ordered to feel comfortable with or trust each other. Anyone who understands the process of strengthening employee engagement understands that developing any kind of relationship between people takes well-developed skills.  

Team development is a staged process, and your leaders need the skills and patience to guide team members through the stages. Beyond that, effective leaders also know how to keep the team development process on track when its members change, and the equilibrium is altered. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman introduced the five stages of team development that provide a basis for understanding the leadership skills needed for guiding teams through the stages and towards high performance.

Bruce Tuckman introduced the 5 stages of #teamdevelopment that provide a basis for understanding the leadership skills needed to guide teams to #highperformance. #leadershipdevelopment

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Five Stages of Team Development

The first four of the “Tuckman Stages,” as they are called, of team development were introduced in 1965 as “forming, storming, norming and performing.” In 1977, Tuckman collaborated with Mary Ann Jenson and added a fifth stage called “adjourning.” The five stages of team development recognize several common psychological characteristics of people. 

  • Each group of people is unique in the way they interact with each other 
  • Team development is not always a straightforward process and can surge forward or take a step back in its development 
  • People are people, so every team goes through the same five stages in some manner 
  • Group size does not change the team development stages 
  • A change in team membership changes team dynamics, but the stages remain 

The Tuckman article in the Psychological Bulletin addresses social group activities and group task activities. In group task activities, Tuckman said the four stages are orientation, emotionality, opinion exchange, and the emergence of solutions, which became forming, storming, norming, and performing. As the stages progress, the team leader (referring to your manager or supervisor leading the team) will rely on different skills to keep the development progressing.   

Following are descriptions of each of the stages of team development and the leadership skills needed to help the team succeed. 

Stage 1: Forming 

In the forming stage, team members explore how they fit and how their capabilities and skills compare and integrate. The team structure is developed, and team members are careful to avoid conflict because they want group acceptance. Team members are overly polite, already beginning to decide who they will work best with, and striving to identify tasks and processes each may want. They assess whether the group has a good chance of success. Trust in each other as team members and trust in your leader as a team guide is not developed yet. Members will also avoid any topics that might lead to conflict.  

Some employees will feel optimistic and excited; some will feel anxious and fearful; some will feel suspicious, and others will worry about their productivity expectations. 

The leadership skills needed during this stage are the following.  

  • Establishes a clear vision and mission 
  • Communicates clear goals 
  • Identifies the roles and responsibilities of team members 
  • Lays out the ground rules for behaviors and communication among members (code of conduct) 
  • Establishes operational guidelines 
  • Creates a positive team culture from the beginning 
  • Gets actively involved in the group activities 
  • Provides mostly one-way communication from the leader to team members at this stage 

Your employees are getting used to the idea of working together, but the team leader is establishing the basis for moving forward into a less cautious stage. The mission, goals, and operating rules are set.  

Stage 2: Storming 

At the storming stage, group members begin to act more assertively. This makes sense because each member has had time to think about their perceived role and whether there is alignment between the team’s mission and operating rules and their personal beliefs, feelings, and values, especially as they relate to the other people on the team.   

This is called the storming stage because the team members may argue, engage in power struggles and object to work requirements. Conflict develops among members, and in some cases, one or more members may question the leader’s authority and competence. People are worried about their workload, jealous of one or more members, and have trouble setting realistic goals. The reality of the task at hand is realized, which dampens excitement.   

The leadership skills needed at this stage include the following. 

  • Educates team members on effective listening skills, like 360-degree listening, and how to give and receive feedback from each other 
  • Gives and receives feedback between the team members and the leader 
  • Addresses team member violations of the established and agreed-upon code of conduct 
  • Acknowledges the conflict and determine how the conflict can be turned into sharing of creative ideas and different perspectives  
  • Coaches on conflict resolution strategies 
  • Begins developing shared leadership to encourage team members to accept more responsibility for team success 
  • Clarifies the team’s vision and purpose  

At this team development stage, team members are testing each other to see if or how they can work together productively. To move to the next stage, your employees must reach a level at which they can effectively communicate with each other. In some cases, the team is unable to get past this stage. 

team development stages

Stage 3: Norming 

At the norming stage of team development, the team becomes cohesive, and members develop trust. The group is comfortable with their working relationships, has developed a means for conflict resolution, and strives for consensual decision-making. Appreciation for each other’s strengths develops. No one member has too much power. In fact, there is shared leadership between the group members and between the organizational leader and the team members. The team members feel a sense of belonging, acceptance, and safety in expressing different perspectives, criticisms, and ideas. The employees have a voice 

The leadership skills needed during the norming stage include the following. 

  • Utilizes a shared leadership style 
  • Promotes collaboration  
  • Encourages each team member to contribute, share ideas and make suggestions 
  • Allows less structure 
  • Supports building strong working relationships 
  • Gives feedback as requested 
  • Encourages a high level of team interaction 

The leader is required less as the stages progress if the team is cohesive and performing well. A well-functioning team has members that trust each other, enabling productive shared leadership. The team members are willing to be creative, collaborative, share feedback, and explore different ways of approaching tasks. Your team leader must remain on alert though for signs of team complacency. If that appears, the leader will need to help team members regain their enthusiasm.  

Stage 4: Performing 

A team that reaches the performing stage is a fully functioning team that is independent. It is a high-performance team. The members are confident in their roles, can organize and reorganize tasks to achieve goals, work well as a full team and in smaller subgroups, and leverage each other’s strengths. Team members have empathy, develop bonds and find pleasure and satisfaction in their work and team participation. They work collaboratively, and everyone is making decisions and sharing information and ideas to reach mutual goals. They also now see the team as a venue for personal development and creative expression.  

Leadership skills needed to guide the performing stage include the following. 

  • It helps the team remain collaborative and flexible 
  • Meets team needs as they arise, so members can maintain performance 
  • Knows when to provide direction and when to allow the team to progress on its own 
  • Shares new information as it becomes available 

Positive team member relations are strong, and the team now functions interdependently because the employees are self-motivated.   

Stage 5: Adjourning 

The adjourning stage occurs when the team has achieved its goals and the team disbands. Since interdependence was formed, there might be real feelings of letdown and sadness for some members. There are also employees who will experience feelings of relief that the team was successful and their workload can return to normal. At this stage, team efforts are evaluated. 

Leadership skills needed for the adjourning stage include the following. 

  • Has empathy for what team members are feeling 
  • Utilizes good listening skills 
  • Gives recognition and rewards for team efforts 
  • Evaluate team efforts and results with the team 
  • Assesses what went right or wrong and use the knowledge to improve leadership skills for the next team development process 

Tuckman’s five stages were developed to describe a team that eventually is not required any longer or a team that completes a project. It could be any type of team, from a technical team working on a new software system to a leadership group formed to develop strategies to stay union-free.   

team development

Consider Each Department as a Team 

A department of employees is also a team. Of course, a departmental team would not end, even after goals are met for a departmental project involving all employees or when a department has met performance goals. The adjourning stage would signal the start of the first four stages again. If the team members are the same, the forming stage is when the leader reinforces department members as team members and establishes new goals or presents new challenges. This is one way you can ensure your employees find meaning in their work, a requirement of millennials and Gen Z when assessing as an employer of choice. A second point to keep in mind is that creating smaller teams within a department is an excellent strategy for helping employees develop collaborative skills and work on concrete goals.   

Anything learned from a prior team development process is applied. Departmental team development is a recurring cycle. Any work team doesn’t start fully formed and ready to function fully. Another point to consider is that teams may go back and forth between the stages, especially when team membership changes due to events like an employee resignation or status change like a promotion to a supervisor position in a different function. Team leaders should regularly review the status of the team and adjust leadership behaviors as appropriate for the stage of team development.   

Creating smaller teams within a department is an excellent strategy for helping employees develop #collaborative skills and work on shared goals. #teambuilding #teamdevelopment

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Every Team Must Overcome Challenges  

Leadership skills development is important to help teams reach their performing stage. Some of the challenges that teams can fall victim to without effective leadership include unclear goals, lack of trust, lack of employee engagement, and a tendency to rush through the first three stages. Each stage needs time, and there is no set time duration. A lot depends on the skills of team members and the goal complexity but also your leadership’s ability to coach the team to success. An effective leader is a coach, facilitator, and mentor who helps the team mature and succeed. 

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.