Four Stages of Team Development

In 1965, psychologist Bruce Tuckman wrote an article entitled, “Developmental sequence in small groups.” In this article he presented a model for the four stages of team development, which came to be known as forming, storming, norming, performing. This simple but effective model is often used today to help leaders who are working to build a cohesive, high-performance team.

So, what is happening in each of these stages? In this post, I will breakdown what team members are feeling and thinking, as well as what leaders must do to effectively manage each stage.

STAGE 1: FORMING

In the first stage, the team members are excited about being on the team, but they are also cautious and curious. Specifically, they are asking:

What are we doing and why?
How do I fit in?

As a result, the leader must: (a) explain the purpose and goals of the team, and (b) clarify expectations and roles for each team member. Doing so will help give each person a sense of what the team is trying to accomplish each day, and it will also give each team member clarity about their role. This helps to remove any anxiety they might be feeling.

Reflection for Leaders:
Is my team clear about our purpose, goals, and expectations?

STAGE 2: STORMING

In the second stage, team members begin to experience conflict and confusion. Why? Because of varied personalities, differences of opinion, and issues with leadership. This ultimately leads to confusion, conflict, politics, and frustration.

The burning question for team members is, “will we work through this, or avoid confronting it all together?”

In order to get through this often difficult stage, leaders must: (a) create an environment where people can openly share concerns and feedback, and (b) face challenges and conflict head-on, and then coach the team through difficulty. Without taking these steps, leaders will be putting the health and performance of their team at risk. And ultimately, they will be sowing the seeds of a toxic culture.

Reflection for Leaders:
Have I as the leader created an environment where people can share honest feedback?

STAGE 3: NORMING

In the third stage, the team has worked through the conflict and is starting to find its rhythm. This is where the team begins to experience confidence and engage in effective communication. As a result, relationships and trust are being built, feedback is being given and received, people begin working together to help each other, and there are no hidden agendas.

Although the team is growing stronger, the leader must continue to cultivate a positive culture by (a) using feedback to refine processes and systems, and (b) encouraging, equipping, and empowering the team. Doing so will help take the team to the next level.

Reflection for Leaders:
Am I doing all that I can to bring out the best in each team member?

STAGE 4: PERFORMING

In the final stage, the team has reached peak performance and is operating at a very high level. There is full commitment and cohesion among the team. The key indicators include: high productivity, high morale, complete role clarity, and people are fully engaged in their work.

In order to maintain this optimal performance, the leader must: (a) celebrate team successes and progress, and (b) continually improve through ongoing assessment and evaluation. Celebrating the wins is essential to maintaining high morale, and continuous improvement ensures that complacency doesn’t set in.

Reflection for Leaders:
Am I intentional about recognizing my team and celebrating the wins?

These four stages provide you with a clear path for developing your team, bringing out the best in your people, and achieving results. I encourage you to evaluate where you are with your team right now, and be intentional about taking the necessary steps to move toward the performing stage. If you’re already in that stage, congratulations. But remember that it takes discipline and effort to stay there.

Lead well!

__________________

Reference:

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6): 384–399

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