Managing Groups and Teams/Stages
Stages of Group Development
One of the greatest challenges for team leaders or the team members themselves is progressing through the stages of team development. There are many different models and theories on team development and the stages of team formation. For the time being, most of this part of the chapter will focus on Bruce Tuckman’s model of Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing established in the 1960’s and 70’s.
In this first stage the team members do not have defined roles and most likely it is not clear what they are supposed to do. The mission of the team may be nonexistent or in the early stages of development, thus individuals may not feel any sort of commitment or ownership toward the team and/or its mission. The individual team members probably don’t know and/or haven’t worked with other members on the team. Obviously there is no team history, and the norms of the team are not yet established. There is a high degree of learning in this phase as members learn about each other, the mission, and their place within the team. Because there is a high degree of unfamiliarity among team members there is high uncertainty and low conflict. Team members are generally on their best behavior, and tend to behave independently.
The forming phase of team building can be a bit stressful for the team members, but is very important in laying a strong foundation for future teamwork. Teams in the Forming stage must be careful to avoid cliques, or subgroups from forming within the team. Subgroups may or may not have a negative impact on the team’s performance. It is best for the team leader/manager to carefully observe the subgroups behavior to ensure it is acting in the best interests of the team.
This stage of team development is crucial and it is suggested that teams in the forming stage participate in team-building activities (as discussed later in this chapter). The below list is a non-exhaustive list of behaviors and outcomes that characterize this phase and which high performing team’s generally complete.
- Define roles of team members
- Set the goal(s) of the team
- Establish a mission
- Determine directive leadership (this step may have been completed through an organization’s structure)
- Occasionally meet to work on common tasks
- Team members decide to be on the team
- Figure out how to build trust within the team
- Establish expectations for the team and it’s members
- Form relationships, make contact, and bond
- Create and agree to a team charter
The storming stage of team development is a time for team members’ ideas are considered and in competition. Individuals will try new ideas and push for power and position in the team. Agendas are quickly displayed. People may want to modify the team’s mission. There can often be little team spirit and lots of personal attacks. Roles are expressed and refined. Those team members who are conflict avoidance will often participate little in this phase due to its inherent nature. Conversely, those that are not conflict avoiding will often participate more during this stage than others.
If this phase is not carefully managed it can get out of control and be destructive to the effectiveness of the team. It is especially important for team members to manage this phase with patience and tolerance. The diversity and differences of the team members should be emphasized as well as a common goal. There are some teams that never move from this stage to the next because it can be de-motivating. Often cliques, subgroups, and splinter groups will form.
For teams to move from the storming stage the norming stage they typically do the following tasks.
- Recognize and publicize team wins
- Display active listening skills among members
- Make time to spend with the team
- Build trust by honoring commitments
- Provide and accept honest open feedback
- Create and maintain a positive supporting atmosphere
- Team leader asks for and expects results
- Team leader constantly reinforces proper team behavior
- Team leader facilitates the group for wins
- Buy into goals, actions, and activities
- Have a “We can succeed” mindset
Only some teams reach the norming stage. Member agree about the roles and processes required to solve problems. Members of the team adjust their work habits and behavior in order to accommodate other team members and make the work on the team more smooth and natural. Team members work through this phase by agreeing on rules, values, professional behavior, and methods. As team members learn more about each other their perspectives about each other change (for the better or for the worse).
In this stage success occurs and the team has all the resources to meet their objectives. Within the team, members will develop an appreciation for each other as well as build trust. The team’s purpose is accepted by the members. The team leader will support and reinforce correct team behavior. The team is creative, has more motivation, and commitment from all members. If there are any hidden agendas, they will typically be exposed as team members solidify team norms. Decisions are made through consensus building and negotiation.
There are some common pitfalls that must be avoided in this phase. Creativity may be stifled if norming behaviors become too strong, or the group may begin to foster and display groupthink. Team members often fail to challenge each other, or issues that may prevent the team from performing to their optimal ability. Some team members can feel threatened by the large amount of responsibility they are given – causing them resist and revert back to storming stage. To prevent this from happening team members must be aware of the common pitfalls that may occur during this stage and take appropriate steps to ensure they don’t.
Teams that want to enter the performing stage should take the following action steps during the norming stage.
Maintain traditions Distribute responsibility evenly Communicate at all times Perform self-evaluations Express praise for other members commitment and work Share leadership based on unique skill sets Responsibility sharing Commit time to the team Set new higher goals to keep the team excelling Actively delegate responsibilities Share rewards and successes
During the performing stage teams become high performing teams. Teams collectively work to solve problems and get the job done without the need for outside supervision or unnecessary conflict. The team is focused, effective, and achieves extraordinary results. There is a collaborative environment in which team members use their resources most efficiently. Team members are autonomous, competent decision makers. Team leaders focus more on strategy as well as communicating successes and areas of opportunity because the team takes on the responsibility of decision making.
Teams in this stage have the ability to recognize weaknesses and strengthen them. Team members will experience tremendous personal growth. Members care about each other, thus creating a unique team identity. Any arguments, disagreements, disputes, and the like will be channeled toward making the team stronger. Finally, performing teams utilize their established communication protocols and action plans.
Teams cannot exist indefinitely if there is overarching goal to achieve. If the team has met its objective, it is usually disbanded. Tuckman added the adjourning stage as a final stage to his four (now five) stage process. High performing teams typically have positive team experiences. Therefore, this stage is sometimes referred to as the mourning stage by teams that must break up.
There are four main stages of team development – forming, storming, norming, and performing. Each stage has its own set of characteristics, but there may also be overlap among the phases. Teams that make it to the norming and performing stages have done so because the team members were willing to trust other members and care for them. Performing teams also are able to assess the team’s effectiveness and make decisions on how improve in the future – all autonomously. This is the most desirable state for a team to reach.
The certainty of change in a team (whether it be objectives, members, or other) will almost inevitably cause the team to revert back to earlier steps. Long standing teams will periodically go through these cycles as changing circumstances require.
Barret, D.J. (2006) Leadership Communication. McGraw Hill Irwin.
Rickards, T., & Moger,S.T., (1999) Handbook for creative team leaders, Aldershot, Hants: Gower
Rickards, T., & Moger, S., (2000) ‘Creative leadership processes in project team development: An alternative to Tuckman’s stage model’, British Journal of Management, Part 4, pp273-283
Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.
Tuckman, B. W. & Jensen, M. A. (1977). Stages of small-group development revisited. Group Org. Studies 2:419-27
White A, (2009) From Comfort Zone to Performance Management. White & MacLean Publishing.