As a group of individuals working together to achieve a common goal, a team can be compared with a living organism. A team is not something static – it continually grows and evolves, going through various development stages. The life cycle of a team can be compared to a human life cycle consisting of birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, maturity, and death. However, for a team, these stages have different names.
In 1965, a group dynamics researcher and psychologist Bruce Tuckman identified the four key stages of team development, which are quite easy to remember thanks to the rhyming names: forming, storming, norming, and performing. In 1977, Tuckman together with Mary Ann Jensen added one more stage called adjourning or mourning. Later on, other researchers adjusted this model by adding some alternative stages, such as re-forming, transforming, outperforming, and even swarming. In this article, we will take a look at the basic team development stages by Bruce Tuckman.
Stage #1: Forming
This is an initial stage when the team is just “born.” Here’s what the members do during this stage:
- Meet each other at the first time and form the first impressions about each other.
- Learn about the project that they will be working on.
- Discuss the project goals and timeline, both for the team as a whole and for each member.
- Get familiar with the roles that each of them will have throughout the project.
At this stage, the members are not yet used to each other and thus continue to behave independently. Additionally, the role of a team leader is crucial at this stage because the roles and responsibilities of the members are still not quite clear. Therefore, it is important for you as a lead to have 1 on 1 meetings with each member at the forming stage.
Stage #2: Storming
At this team development stage, the members start to work together and thus get to know each other better. Just like a human organism acquires its immunity against diseases in a childhood by often being sick, the members experience their first conflicts to become immune against them in the future.
Here is how the team members behave at the storming stage:
- They may become suspicious of each other and critical of each other’s (and the team lead’s) working styles.
- They start competing with each other for the acceptance of their opinions and ideas.
- There may be a clash of personalities and disagreements on various issues.
However, it is important to remember that these disagreements are normal and are an integral part of any team’s life cycle. As a leader, we recommend that you use the conflict management techniques in order to weather the storm. This is especially important for virtual teams where people hardly ever see each other’s faces and may be even located in various time zones.
Stage #3: Norming
As the name suggests, things go back to normal at this team development stage. The people have finally got used to each other’s working styles and start collaborating more efficiently as a team. The signs of the norming dynamics are as follows:
- Being focused not on their individual goals but rather on the common goals of the team.
- Respecting each other’s opinions and valuing the differences.
- Having a conflict management plan.
- Trusting each other.
- Respecting your authority as a team leader.
As a team leader, at this stage you should motivate the members and encourage them to move to the performing stage.
Stage #4: Performing
The performing stage can be compared with adulthood. The members are now mature and autonomous enough to make decisions and solve problems without supervision. This is the stage of peak productivity and efficiency, when everyone enjoys working together and relies on each other. In case of a conflict, the members can quickly resolve it by using the strategies adopted at the storming stage.
As a leader, you can delegate the most of your work and focus on the development of your own skills. If you reach the performing stage, it means that your effort at the first three stages has finally paid off. Some team leaders become incapable of bringing the team to the performing stage, so they remain at the norming stage.
Stage #5: Adjourning
This stage typically occurs when the project is finished and the team members move into different directions. It is time to celebrate the project’s success and say goodbye to each other. This stage is sometimes called a mourning stage because the members have grown close and feel a loss when the experience is over.
It is important that your team goes through all of the basic team development four stages. Jumping over a stage or two is a bad practice for team dynamics. As a team leader, you should carefully lead your employees through all of these stages. Good luck!