The 5 Stages of Team Development (Including Examples)
Taking talented individuals and turning them into a high-performance team is always a challenge. Add in the realities of today’s work environment, and the issues of creating and coaching a collaborative and trusting team take on new dimensions.
Leveraging a bit of behavioral psychology can help. It all starts with the stages of group development discovered by Bruce Tuckman in 1965.
What is Tuckman’s model of team development?
Tuckman’s model of team development recognizes that groups don’t form spontaneously or immediately. Rather, they develop through clearly defined stages, eventually transitioning from strangers with singular ambitions to a dynamic group of collaborators with a like-minded focus.
Tuckman—a behavioral psychologist—originally came up with his team-building theory in 1965, when his research revealed that groups of all kinds followed a common four-step pattern when forming into teams. Twelve years later, in collaboration with Mary Ann Jensen, he expanded the theory to include a fifth stage, which took into account the disbanding of the team once it reached its goals.
For over 50 years, managers and team leaders across many industries—including health and social care, the military, and software development—have leveraged Tuckman’s stages model to reach their desired results. The following explores the stages and provides ideas for group activities to help your team reach its full potential.
The 5 stages of team development
The five stages of team development are:
This team development framework, according to Tuckman, progresses in a natural and fluid manner, each stage building on the one that preceded it and sometimes—as explained in more detail below—reverting back to a previous stage before moving forward.
The forming stage of team development is punctuated by excitement and anticipation. Group members are on high alert, each wanting to put their best foot forward while, at the same time, sizing up each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
In this initial phase of group interaction, individual members tend to behave deferentially to one another. Because each new team member sees their role from the perspective of individual performance, the group doesn’t accomplish much during this stage.
This is a good time for the group leader or manager to open up discussions about the team’s mission. It’s also a good time to address the ground rules, clearly stating what the team norms should be while reviewing expectations for team dynamics.
All that polite, deferential behavior that dominated the forming stage starts to fall by the wayside in the storming stage. Storming is where the metaphorical gloves come off, and some team members clash personally, professionally, or both. One team member might take offense at another’s communication style. Work habits might be at odds, and perceptions about who is contributing what—and who might be left holding the bag—begin to surface. Members might start to question team processes. They also might form cliques. The result is likely to interfere with team performance and stall the team’s progress.
This critical stage is a necessary evil in the formation of a successful team. Managers and team leaders need to confront issues directly. Ignoring them could let minor conflicts fester into major problems. In the end, however, team members will have to come to a consensus about how to move forward as a team.
You can help the team break through the storming stage by encouraging members to refocus on goals. Try breaking large goals down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then, work with the team to redefine roles and help them flex or develop their task-related, group-management, and conflict-management skills.
You will know your team has entered the norming stage when small conflicts occur less frequently and team members find ways to work together despite differences. Each person begins to recognize how their fellow team members contribute to the group, and that perspective—combined with a recommitment to the team’s objectives—helps establish work patterns and accepted performance markers.
Some teams will toggle back and forth between the storming and norming stages. This may happen if work priorities shift and team members are temporarily thrown off-kilter. Given time, the storming will dissipate, and team members will come to appreciate how individual performance and group performance overlap.
What should you do? Wait, watch, and intervene only where necessary. The group needs to work out this dynamic organically. You can gently encourage team members to engage in self-evaluation to determine whether there is room for process improvement, but your primary focus should be on encouraging stability.
The relationships and interdependencies formed during storming and norming pay off in the performing stage. By now, team members have honed their conflict-resolution abilities and spend less time focused on interpersonal dynamics and more on team effectiveness. This is where surges in creative problem-solving and idea generation occur. The lines between individual performance and team success blur as the team works to deliver results.
As momentum builds and each team member leans in to the team’s goals, productivity—both personal and collective—begins to increase. This may be the perfect time to evaluate team functions to increase productivity even more.
Even as you push for greater productivity, you should make a point of rewarding the team by showing confidence in their abilities, offering support for their methods and ideas, and celebrating their successes.
Often, the adjourning stage brings up bittersweet feelings, as team members go about the business of concluding the group’s functions. They start to focus on the details of completing any deliverables, finalizing documentation, and meeting reporting requirements. They might start looking toward their next assignments, leaving little energy or enthusiasm for finishing the tasks at hand.
Management can help the team navigate through the adjourning phase by acknowledging the team’s accomplishments and recognizing the difficulties that come with tackling all the loose ends.
Examples of group activities for each stage of team development
As your newly formed team starts its journey together, it’s helpful to have some team-building activities to help nurture team members through each phase of team development.
For example, let’s say you are heading up a group in your marketing department dedicated to the launch of a food product for a new client. The campaign will last six months. About half of the members of your creative team are full-time workers who know each other well and have been with the company for years. The other half are remote freelancers hired for this specific campaign. No one among the group of independent talent has worked with anyone from the company before. Because you’re managing a distributed team, a big focus will be on boosting collaboration between employees and freelancers.
Consider the following activities to bolster camaraderie among members on your creative team.
Stage 1: Forming activities
Forming is all about getting acquainted with the company and team members. The following activities—which everyone can participate in over video conferencing—can be helpful ice breakers:
- Introductions. Match up each team member with a new team member. Each will tell the other their name, what their job on the team is, and two fun facts that most people don’t know about them. Each person will then introduce the other to the group.
- Client trivia. Since the client you’ll be working for is new to the company, everyone is on the same footing when it comes to having limited knowledge about the client and the specific product. Divide the group into two teams. One team will have 30 minutes to research the client and the other will have 30 minutes to research the new product. Each team will then have one hour to collaborate to create a 15-minute presentation about the facts they uncovered. Schedule a video call for the presentations and then open up the virtual floor for discussions about the client and the product.
- Pet pictures. Nothing brings people together like their pets. Have everyone change their online avatar to a picture of their pet for the day. For people who don’t have pets, encourage them to take a picture of something (or someone) else in their home they are fond of. You might lose a little productivity on pet-picture day, but you’ll more than make up for it in newfound rapport among team members.
Stage 2: Storming activities
Storming stage activities usually center around conflict resolution and the easing of tensions.
- Use video whenever possible. Since your full-time workers and remote freelancers are still learning to work together, encourage them to use video whenever possible, especially when resolving issues. The key is seeing people. When workers can see each other’s expressions and body language, they’ll be much more likely to empathize and work toward a resolution.
- Give compliments. A great storming stage activity is to help remind people that everyone was brought into the team because they have something valuable to contribute. Encourage full-time team members to complement and thank the freelancers for their contributions when appropriate. As the new kids on the block, the temporary creatives may feel insecure about how their work is being evaluated by the team. It’s important for team leaders and management to also model this behavior.
- Look how far we have come. Map out a visual representation—an infographic or a slide deck—of the team’s progress so far. This helps everyone realize that even though they are just getting started, and there is some tension in the air, they are working toward a common goal. Accomplishments to date could be as simple as creating workflows and doing brand research. As long as the team has moved forward in some capacity as a unit, this visual representation should resonate.
Stage 3: Norming activities
During the norming stage, you really want to give the team a wide berth as the members find their way to the performing stage. It’s not unusual for some members of the group to propel the team back, at least temporarily, into storming. If you want to engage in a team activity, consider hosting a virtual happy hour or some other lighthearted excuse for freelance creatives and full-time team members to meet for reasons other than work.
Stage 4: Performing activities
Performing is the culmination of all the hard work your team has put in to date. While it may be tempting to take a sigh of relief, the last thing you want is for your team to start resting on their laurels. You might consider keeping the momentum going with these activities.
Stage 5: Adjourning activities
Adjourning is a time to acknowledge accomplishments while bringing closure to the team’s work. The independent professionals will be moving on to their next contract engagements, and full-time team members will be moving on to other projects.
If you engaged in the “think about the future” activity during the performing stage, consider repurposing the vision board to evaluate whether the team accomplished what it set out to do. Get the group together on a video call and invite everyone to share their experiences of working with the team. Challenge each team member to acknowledge the ups and downs of the campaign, discuss the lessons learned, and provide suggestions on how to apply skills, knowledge, and insights they gained to their next engagements.
Once this post-mortem is concluded, you might want to send each team member a personal thank-you note acknowledging their unique contribution or organize a group celebration.
Developing an effective hybrid team
To develop an effective hybrid team and keep members focused and moving forward, today’s team leaders should recognize how group dynamics play out in this new work environment. Fortunately, with a little ingenuity helped along by technology, teams can cohesively work together to achieve a common goal.