Team Development: Leadership Through the 4 Stages of Team Development

By Chris Cosper

dateWed, Jul 29, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

Do you know where your team falls in the natural progression of team development? In 1965, Bruce Leadership_Team_DevelopmentTuckman researched group development and identified four distinct stages that all teams must move through in order to become successful. These stages are Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Over the years, I have worked with many teams and have found theses stages to be very predictable. You might think that putting a group of high-performing A Players together on a team will automatically create a high-performing team, but even your dream team will find their way into and, hopefully, out of each these stages. 

4 Stages of Team Development:

  • Forming: In this stage, members are just getting to know each other and learning how to work together. People are generally very polite and minimal work gets done. The team may not be completely clear on its purpose, and ownership for the team lies with the leader.
  • Storming: In this stage, members begin to share their opinions more openly and may struggle to agree on the team’s purpose, direction, and identity. Hidden agendas may surface and emotions can run high. Morale and productivity can be low during this stage, but issues are being identified and worked out. It’s not the most fun stage, but it is important. The key is not to get stuck here.
  • Norming: During this stage, members begin to accept their roles on the team with their scaling up job scorecard, defenses are lowered and relationships begin to deepen. Trust is being built and individuals will acknowledge their own weaknesses and ask for help. The team gains focus and begins to make progress, demonstrating alignment and acting like a real team for the first time.
  • Performing: This is where the team finally starts to thrive, in both results and in team spirit. Members are loyal and committed to the team’s results. They are able to balance individual needs and team requirements, and disagreements and differing opinions quickly surface and are handled. Productivity is high, deadlines are met and information flows easily.

Performing is the stage we all want to live and work in, but understanding, acknowledging and appreciating the importance of all the stages is the key to getting there. Many times I have been introduced to teams stuck in the Forming or Storming stages. These people are frustrated and weary, but as soon as they realize that the stage they’re in is natural and expected, they are able to navigate their way out and into the next stage. 

Older, well-established teams can also cycle back through the stages as their circumstances change. A team that has operated in the Performing stage for years can find itself right back in the Forming stage when new members are introduced, or in the Storming stage when new challenges or responsibilities are added.

As a leader, it’s important to know where your team is and how you can help them move through to the next stage of development.

Here are a few leadership tips for each stage:

  • Leading while Forming: During this stage, the team is very dependent on the leader. It’s important that you take the lead in developing agendas, gathering information and solving problems. Try to involve as many members as you can in conversations and decisions, but know that the ultimate responsibility lies with you.
  • Leading while Storming: It’s important to ask a lot of questions during this stage. Seek first to understand and encourage everyone on the team to take the same approach. Act as a sounding board and allow any hidden agendas to surface. Provide information and suggest alternative solutions to roadblocks. It’s important to demonstrate the skills you want the team to develop. You are still responsible for the team’s health and results.
  • Leading while Norming: Finally you are able to begin sharing responsibility with other team members. You are participating in the discussions instead of leading them all, and the team begins to solve problems jointly. It’s important to step back a little during this stage and allow the team to succeed without you where possible. Your contribution becomes more focused on your specialized knowledge and expertise than your ability to hold the team together.
  • Leading while Performing: Your role here is to act as the team’s champion, securing resources and minimizing roadblocks in the organization. Your participation should be much more focused on how the team is tackling problems rather than solving the problems for them. You will still raise issues, ask questions, and challenge approaches, but more to validate the team’s conclusion than to drive it. Leadership belongs to everyone on the team, and the team owns its results.

Your role as a leader is different, but no less important through all four stages. The key is understanding where your team is and providing the right kind of leadership at each stage. If you feel your team is stuck, share this information with them and ask them to self-diagnose where they think they are and what they need to do to move on to the next stage. Understanding that each stage is normal and expected can relieve a lot of tension and free the team up to break through and move on.

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Chris Cosper


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