If you've ever been on a team, you know there are good times and bad, highs and lows, ups and downs. But you might not have known exactly what they mean or why they happen. Group researcher Bruce Tuckman, defines these different stages of group development as Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Being able to recognize your team’s current stage will allow you to understand what is going on and know how to take them to the next stage. Here’s a breakdown of each stage and what to expect.
The first stage of team development consists of the team coming together, or forming. During this stage, members focus mainly on how they fit into the group, as they try to gain acceptance within the team. Because of this, there might be a lot of individual insecurity at the beginning. Members want their teammates to see them as competent individuals who can make a real impact on the team. With everyone trying to fit in, the communication during this stage is tentative and polite, so members may be less inclined to voice their true opinions.
Leaders of a team in the Forming stage have a lot of responsibility in helping the team come together. Members look to the leader for guidance, support, and structure. The structure defines roles for individuals or rules for all members to follow. At this stage, the leader needs to help members get to know one another and inspire a shared vision.
After the initial stage, teams often enter the storming stage, which often includes conflict and disagreement. Because of this, members may experience frustration and dissatisfaction with the team progress. Oftentimes, members will challenge the leader and vie for status or power within the group. By this point, there is increased impatience and members are more comfortable voicing their opinions if they disagree, so conflicts can arise easily. Team leaders can encourage healthy conflict by creating an open and honest environment where everyone is respected.
Members continue to rely on the leader for help in navigating this sometimes difficult stage. Here, leaders work as directors in decision-making, but they allow members to resolve their issues with one another. If managed correctly, the storming phase can actually make teams stronger when they work their way through it.
In the Norming stage, team members put all the cards on the table. The issues that surfaced during the storming stage need to be addressed. The most effective leaders act as facilitators to allow the core issues to be discussed. It often requires a hard hat session where members share their frustrations and brainstorm better ways of working together. When this is done effectively, teams become more committed to their goals and engage in practices that improve efficiency. There is also increased morale as members feel like the group is finally on the right track.
In the Performing stage, groups become a cohesive and effective unit. Members trust one another and are not afraid to challenge each other. Because of improved structure and increased commitment, the team needs little supervision as members work together to make decisions and execute plans.
Unfortunately, when teams reach the Performing stage, they do not necessarily stay there. Teams can often cycle back to other stages especially when new members join the team or high profile members leave. In order to remain a high performing team, members have to continuously work on building trust and improving communication.
Building a team from the ground up comes with its own challenges and rewards, but knowing how it will develop can help you navigate the process. Tuckman’s stages of team development provides a framework to understand team dynamics and to reach the highest levels of performance.