Overview of team development stages
Dr Bruce Tuckman published his Forming Storming Norming Performing model in 1965. He added a fifth stage, Adjourning, in the 1970s. The model is regularly used to understand where teams are in their lifecycle. The stages teams go through as they evolve normally happen in this order:
All teams go through similar stages as they evolve from a group of individuals into an effective functioning team. Recognising the characteristics and needs of the team at each of these development stages can give the team leader a significant tool for moving the team towards higher performance. Once the team leader has determined the team’s stage of development, they can assess the team’s needs and act appropriately.
Since we know that all effective teams progress through this series of predictable phases and that their needs change at each of these stages, we can safely predict that each phase requires different leadership skills. Therefore, it is crucial for the leader to recognise the characteristics being displayed, and understand the team’s changing needs and the leadership behaviours that will best serve the team and, if necessary, enable it to move to the next stage.
Note that a group might be happily norming or performing, but a disturbance – such as a new leader or, indeed, any new member, or a new project that is significantly different from the former task – might force them back into storming. Seasoned leaders will be ready for this, and will help the group get back to performing as quickly as possible.
Note also that a team does not inevitably progress from one stage onto another. A team may get stuck at one stage such as storming through lack of effective leadership or through an imbalance in the makeup of the team. If this happens, the team will probably fail at its assigned task and be disbanded.
Plan a team meeting to discuss where your team is in the development cycle
Read through the descriptions of the team development stages and ask each member of the team to write down which stage they think the team is at.
Depending on which stage the team as a whole believe themselves to be in, the following discussion topics will help the team to move up the development cycle more quickly.
- Spend time talking about the role that each member has in the team. Make sure they each understand what is expected of them as a member of the team, and what they must do to remain in the team.
- Spend time finding out what each individual wants to get from the experience of being in the team – understanding each individual’s driving motivation will help you, as team leader, to work out how to manage them within the team
- Spend time round a table discussing what are the real issues that affect the team. Ask each team member to write down what they like and don’t like about being in this team.
- Once you’ve identified the issues that are concerning the team, be aware that it’s very common for team members to suggest that the problem lies outside the team – they have to work with systems that are unworkable and so on. All this may be true, but it’s likely that you will have very little control over these issues. Focus the conversation on what you can do in the team to make life easier for each other and become a more effective and high-performing team
- Agree some ground rules as a team. A good way to do this is to talk about what you want to be known for or be famous for as a team. When you’ve brainstormed some ideas, have a chat about how you need to behave in order to become famous for those things you’ve highlighted. As a simple example, you might decide you want to be known for providing a fast service. So, in order to make that happen, you would need to have some guidelines in place about how quickly you will respond to enquiries.
- When you have agreed some guidelines, write them down and re-visit them regularly as a team. If a new team member joins the team, the guidelines will be a really useful way of quickly explaining to them what the team stands for and what it wants to become famous for.
- At this stage of maturity, it’s likely that the team has been together for some time. Each member should be clear on the role they play, who to go to for any information they need, what the team stands for and what they are trying to create.
- Spend time as team leader making sure that you visibly reward those who deliver what you’ve agreed the team wants to be famous for, and make a point of thanking them for good work. In a mature team, thanking each other for a job well done should be standard practice and this should be role modelled by you as team leader.