What Are the Stages of Team Development?

The 5 Stages of Team Development: Why Might You Form Teams?

Smiling business people discussing progress at their team meeting. The group is in the performing stage of team development.
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Organizations have tried to use teams for many years with some degree of success–or none at all. General Motors was trying to develop employee involvement teams (EI) at least as early as the 1980s with the cooperation of the UAW.

In a quest to figure out why so many teams fail to achieve their goals and contribute to the overall success of their organization, team development became a hot topic.

Traditionally, a team goes through five stages of development.

Each stage of team development presents its own special challenges to a group of people striving to work together successfully by forming a cohesive team.

The team and the organization can take specific actions at each stage of team development to support the team’s success in accomplishing the team mission. Only by supporting your teams through each stage of their development will you accomplish the purpose for which you formed the team.

With a thoughtful look at each stage of team development, you can solve team problems before they derail the success and progress of the team. You cannot treat a team the same at each stage of its development because the stages dictate different support actions.

Most importantly, at each stage, the behavior of the leader must adapt to the changing and developing needs of the group. An effective leader who other members of the team want to follow is indispensable when the group is trying to progress through the stages that are common to most teams.

The leader, generally, also reports to a manager. The manager, as the team sponsor, must understand the support the team needs at each stage of development. This understanding is critical to the team’s success.

Stages of Team Development Model

The model used was first developed by Dr. Bruce Tuckman who published his four stages of team development: the Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing model, in 1965.

Dr. Tuckman seems to have added a fifth stage, Adjourning, during the 1970s.

Interestingly, in my own work with teams, I had arrived at the conclusion that a fifth stage of team development was either Transforming or Ending. So, I have trained clients on the fifth stage forever. This was prior to my finding that Dr. Tuckman had also later added the stage that he called Adjourning.

Stages of Team Development

The following are the five stages of team development with suggested actions to best support the team.

  • Forming: a group of people comes together to accomplish a shared purpose. Their initial success will depend on their familiarity with each other's work style, their experience on prior teams, and the clarity of their assigned mission.

    As a sponsor, your role is to help the team members get to know each other whether you offer team building activities or just a listening ear.
  • Storming: Disagreement about mission, vision, and ways to approach the problem or assignment are constant at this stage of development. This struggle is combined with the fact that team members are still getting to know each other, learning to work with each other, and growing familiar with the interaction and communication of the group members.

    As a sponsor, once again, your role is to help the team members get to know each other whether you offer team building activities or just a listening ear. Help your team leader clarify each of these assignments so that the team succeeds.
  • Norming: The team has consciously or unconsciously formed working relationships that are enabling progress on the team’s objectives. The members have consciously or unconsciously agreed to abide by certain group norms and they are becoming functional at working together.

    As a sponsor, ask for periodic updates from the team. Regularly check the team's progress at agreed upon intervals and critical steps on the path to a successful conclusion.
  • Performing: Relationships, team processes, and the team’s effectiveness in working on its objectives are synching to bring about a successfully functioning team. This is the stage at which the real work of the team is progressing.

    As a sponsor, ask for periodic updates from the team. Help solve problems and provide input as needed. Make sure that team members are communicating with all of the other appropriate parties in your workplace. You don't want the team operating in a vacuum.
  • Transforming: The team is performing so well that members believe it is the most successful team they have ever experienced; or

    Ending: The team has completed its mission or purpose and it is time for team members to pursue other goals or projects. (Adjourning)

    As a sponsor, make sure that the team schedules an ending ceremony. Whether they debrief the project and discuss how the team could have been more successful or they just order in pizza, you will want to mark a clear ending to the team or project.

Not every team moves through these stages in order and various activities such as adding a new team member can send the team back to an earlier stage while the new member is incorporated.

The length of time necessary for progressing through these stages depends on the experience of the members, the support the team receives and the knowledge and skill of the team members. These are the twelve specific factors that must be present for a team to succeed.

These stages apply to teams that are not expected to stay formed forever. In the case of a department team, a social media team, a customer service team, and so forth, the same stages apply to these ongoing teams except the ending doesn't occur.

Purpose for Forming Teams

The purpose of creating teams is to provide a framework that will increase the ability of employees to participate in planning, problem solving and decision making to better serve customers. Increased participation promotes:

  • a better understanding of decisions,
  • more support for and participation in implementation plans,
  • increased contribution to problem solving and decision making, and
  • more ownership of decisions, processes, and changes.

In order for teams to fulfill their intended role of improving organizational effectiveness, it is critical that teams develop into working units that are focused on their goal, mission, or reason for existing. They do this by effectively progressing through the stages of team development outlined here.

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