The Four Stages of Team Development

Educational psychologist Bruce Wayne Tuckman, Ph.D. identified four stages of team development in his research. The stages of team development were identified as the forming stage, the storming stage, the norming stage and the performing stage.

Four Stages of Team Development

The Forming Stage of Team Development

Teams, at this initial stage, concern themselves with orientation which is accomplished primarily through testing. This process of testing serves to identify the boundaries of both interpersonal and task behaviors. In this stage you also find the establishment of dependency relationships with leaders, other group members, or pre‑existing standards. Adaption, testing, and dependence constitute the forming stage of team development.

When a new team forms, it concerns itself with becoming oriented.  It does this through testing.  It tests to ascertain the boundaries of interpersonal and task behavior. At the same time, the members are establishing dependency relationships with leaders, fellow team members, or any standards that existed when the team formed. The behaviors of orientation, testing, and dependence become the process called Forming.

Strong leadership is essential in the forming stage. The leader must provide an framework for introductions and create an atmosphere where participants can begin to build rapport. At this stage, the team leader needs to offer a strong first agenda to ensure that the goals for the team are clear. It is critical that members are made to feel part of the team at this stage of team development.

Related: Leadership Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Members act independently when the team forms. While there may be good will towards fellow members, unconditional trust is not yet possible.

The Storming Stage of Team Development

The second stage of team development is characterized by conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues and is known as the storming stage.

In the Storming phase, the team starts to address the objective(s), suggesting ideas.  It empowers itself to share leadership. Different ideas may compete for attention, and if poorly managed, this phase can be highly harmful for the team. Egos emerge and turf wars occur. In extreme cases, the team can get stuck in this phase.

If a team is too focused on consensus, members may decide on a plan which is less effective to complete the task for the sake of the team. This carries its own set of challenges. It is essential that a team has strong facilitative leadership during this phase.

Team conflict is common in this stage and is a catalyst for creativity. The leader must address any conflict quickly and directly, so issues do not fester. Once you understand two sides to an issue, you can help the team produce a win-win solution.  Assertive communication is an essential skill during this phase of the group’s progress.  It is also crucial to help team members continue to build trust.

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

The Norming Stage of Team Development

In the third stage of team development, called the Norming stage, in-group feeling and cohesiveness start to develop, new standards evolve, and new roles are adopted. In the task realm, intimate, personal opinions are expressed.

As the team moves out of the Storming phase, it enters the Norming phase. This tends to be a step towards harmonious working practices.  Teams begin agreeing on the rules and values by which they operate. In the ideal situation, teams begin to trust themselves during this phase as they accept the vital contributions of each member toward achieving the team’s goals.

As individual members take greater responsibility, team leaders can take a step back from the leadership role at this stage.  It is an opportune time to provide team members with task and process tools, or even an energizer to keep enthusiasm levels high.

Because team members have gained some mutual trust, they experience more freedom to focus on process and task. Being a link in a chain is a powerful way to visualize followers in this stage. If one link is not pulling its weight, or is not as strong as the other links the chance of success is lessened. Everyone needs to work together.

The Performing Stage of Team Development

Finally, the group attains the fourth and final stage in which interpersonal structure becomes the instrument of task activities. Roles become flexible and functional, and group energy is channeled into the task. Structural issues have been resolved, and structure can now become supportive of task performance. This stage can be labeled as performing.

Once teams move from Norming to Performing, they are identified by high levels of independence, motivation, knowledge, and competence. Decision making is collaborative and dissent is expected and encouraged as there will be a high level of respect in the communication between team members.

Since the team is functioning in a highly independent way in the Performing phase, the leader shifts partially into a support and mentoring role to provide task or process resources to help the team complete its objectives. Because the Performing stage implies strong interpersonal trust, knowledge, and competence, participants can perform higher level analyses to support decisions toward team objectives.

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