The 5 stages of a team that you need to know to develop high performant teams.

Suppose you are a leader building new teams or struggling with getting your teams to deliver high-performing results. In this article, we will discuss the fundamental stages a team goes through. And the challenges that you need to overcome as a leader to be successful.

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman an American Psychological Researcher focused on group dynamics. Published a paper explaining a theory about the development stages that a team goes through while working together. This theory got known as “Tuckman’s stages of group development”. It is a classic for understanding a team’s stages during its development cycle.

Being aware of these stages is, therefore, critical for leaders. Knowing the team’s stage will help them navigate to the following stages to mature their performance.

The five stages in team development, according to Tuckman, are:

1. Forming

This is the first stage, where the team members get together and analyze the challenges they would need to overcome. Team members operate primarily individually, and the challenges and goals of the team are unclear.
There is probably a lot of motivation, excitement, and uncertainty.
Purposefully, if presented with the opportunity, the leaders should choose team members of various ages, experience levels, and perspectives towards change.
Additionally, if possible, a shared training event serves as an introduction to getting the team together and learning about each other’s values, strengths, and weaknesses.
The team members will struggle to understand the shared goals and the mental models required to solve problems.
Finally, the leader should guide the team to overcome the conflicts to progress to the next stage.

2. Storming

This is the second stage of team development. In this stage, the team starts to fit together and gain each other’s trust. This stage starts with tension, where team members feel overwhelmed, hesitant, and unclear about their roles. The team members start to speak up about their opinions, even if that leads to conflict.
Additionally, conflict might arise as the hierarchy of power, and status is defined.
The leader’s responsibility at this stage is to describe the tasks to the team members, the fundamental rules, and how to deal with and resolve conflict.

3. Norming

In the third phase, the team starts to come together, supporting each other and sharing a common goal. By now, the team members know each other very well and accept each other strengths and weaknesses points.
The risk vs reward of having conflicts might move to prevent conflict by not raising controversial ideas.
The leader needs to support a good balance of having a performant team and being stable, keeping everyone encouraged to share and discuss their ideas.

4. Performing

This is the stage all teams and leaders aim to achieve. The team will make most of the necessary decisions with a high degree of autonomy. Take calculated risks to try out their ideas. Owning their decisions and actions.
At this stage, the team no longer relies on the leadership to coordinate the team’s actions and collect feedback or problem-solving.
The leader transitions to a mentor or coaching role, and the team assumes to share leadership.
The team members are motivated, knowledgeable, competent, autonomous, and able to handle decision-making without supervision.
Although keeping a team in a performing state is a constant daily task. Not a milestone we need to get to, and that’s it. Changes in the team composition, particularly in the leadership, might push the team back to the norming phase. Therefore, long-standing teams will inevitably go through cycles as changes in their context happen.

Regarding team changes, some sources mention a different stage, “Outperforming”. This is a stage where team changes inevitably happen. Therefore, bringing new team members when a team has been performing for extended periods might be an excellent thing to revitalize the “old team members”. New team members should be able to integrate into the team seamlessly.

5. Adjourning

Although not in the original list of stages from Tuckman. In 1977 along with Mary Ann Jensen, the fifth stage to the initial four stages: Adjourning. There aren’t more tasks for the team to complete, so the team will break up.
Most of the time, when high-performing teams have been working for years in an organization, there are cultural changes at the level of the organization that will stay even once the team is disbanded and the team members transition to new roles or challenges.

Are there any critical points that a leader should be aware of during the teams’ development stages?

For a leader, there are four significant points during team development that are critical for team success:

  1. The Forming stage is crucial for the leader to set the stage.
  2. The storming stage is essential to resolve conflict and tension to allow the team to move forward.
  3. In the Norming and Performing stages is essential to keep the momentum in delivering projects to keep motivation.
  4. In the Outperforming (or Performing) stage, it is critical to integrate new team members and expand the team scope.

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