Relax – It’s Just a Stage: The Stages of Team Development

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Yep, it’s true. Over 40 years of research has shown that it is both natural and necessary for a team to go through several stages of team development before it begins the performing stage, performing at its optimum level. However, many leaders and team members are not aware of this natural progression and will stop their team from reaching its full potential by preventing the team from entering a stage that is uncomfortable. Unfortunately, in my experience when working with teams this happens a lot.

The stages of team development were proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965 and have been used over the years to help us understand what teams experience each time a new member, new change or new process is introduced.

The Four Stages of Team Development

Stage 1 – The Forming Stage
In this stage the group gets comfortable with each other. Team organization and bonding begins to take place and the group agrees on common goals and establishes base level expectations. Most team members want to make a good impression, so serious feelings or conflict is usually avoided. Team members act independently during this stage, so not a lot of actual teamwork takes place.  Management direction during this stage is critical.

Stage 2 – The Storming Stage
This stage is the most uncomfortable and many teams get stuck here and never leave. In this stage, different ideas, opinions, and feelings compete for consideration. Team members react to leadership ~ who has it, who doesn’t and who wants it. Many power and control issues start to surface during this stage and team members who are adverse to conflict may bury themselves in unimportant details rather than deal with the real issues at hand. Without understanding, patience, and open communication, many teams will fail during this stage.

Stage 3 – The Norming Stage
YES! We have an agreed upon plan to move forward. In this stage team members are clear about their roles, processes and team goals. Although some team members may have had to give up their ideas, in this stage everyone on the team agrees on a course of action. Decisions are made collectively and strong relationships begin to form. Team members depend on one another to get things done.

Stage 4 – The Performing Stage
The pinnacle of team performance is the performing stage. This is where team members work collaboratively, care about each other, and are interdependent on one another. The team establishes a unique identity and accomplishments and satisfying results are the norm. Most managers take a more participative approach and team leadership is shared.

Figuring out where your team is in terms of its development is important to helping your team move to the performing stage. Even so, if you are lucky enough to reach Stage 4 you may not stay there for long since each time a change is introduced, the team will need to go through the stages again. The key to remember is these 4 simple rules:

  1. Each stage builds on the previous one
  2. Each stage prepares the team for the performing stage
  3. Skipping any stage affects performance negatively
  4. With every new change, the process repeats

I hope that you will present this information to your team and open up some conversation about what stage your team is experiencing and ideas for moving on to the next stage of team development. Of course if you need some help making that happen, we’re here for you and your team development needs.

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