We’ve all heard the phrase “teamwork makes the dream work.”
And although it may be slightly cliche, there’s a lot of truth to it. When you’re on a team full of high performers and go-getters, even the most daunting of goals or end-result becomes a lot easier to face head-on and accomplish.
Of course, working on a cohesive team can sometimes be a struggle. There are a lot of different personalities, work preferences, senses of humor, and work preferences to consider. To ensure the team runs as smoothly as possible, and goals are hit, it’s in everyone’s best interest to implement the five stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.
If you’re new to this concept, you’re not alone. Let’s break it down!
- Where do “Forming, Storming, …” come from?
- 5 stages of team development
- Why group development is important
- How to help your team advance
- There’s no i in team
Where do “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning” come from?
The terms we use for the stages of team development were developed by Bruce Tuckman, an educational psychologist, who published his findings in a paper titled Developmental Sequence in Small Groups in 1965. His theory, which is referred to as Tuckman’s Stages, is centered around his research on the dynamics of teams and team building. His common belief of team development that the stages are all necessary for a group to work together as effectively together as possible in order to see success.
While his work started with only the first four stages, in 1977 Tuckman and his doctoral student Mary Ann Jensen added the fifth stage, adjourning, to indicate when a team has completed a project.
Each of these five stages clearly represents a step that teams go through, from start to finish, to work on a project as they complete all of the necessary steps and tasks for it to be a success.
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5 stages of team development
Now that we know where the stages come from, let’s break down the ins and outs of each stage and what you can expect from your team in each.
The first stage is forming, which is when the members within the team first come together to meet. It can be considered the period of orientation when everyone is getting to know one another and becoming acquainted.
Think of the forming stage like the first day of school or the first day at a new job. There’s excitement in the air and everyone is ready to roll up their sleeves and get started on the project. Usually, group dynamics and roles have yet to be established, a team leader will typically emerge and take charge and direct the individual members.
The forming stage is also where team members discuss things like:
- Team goals
- Individual roles
- Ground rules
Next up is storming. Stage two of five is considered the most critical but also the most difficult to go through. It can be riddled with conflict as the individual personalities and work styles clash within the team. It’s also common for team performance to dip a bit in the storming stage as members can sometimes disagree on goals, strategy, responsibilities, and roles. Also, keep an eye out for subgroups or cliques that can begin to form during this stage.
In order to not get bottlenecked in the storming stage, members have to work together and play to each other’s strengths to overcome obstacles and stay on pace. Also, take the time to address and overcome conflicts early on so they don’t stay an issue throughout the other phases.
Think of this phase like when you move in with a friend you’ve never lived with before, and you slowly start to notice the little things about them that get on your nerves. The same is likely to happen with members of your team. While some teams think they can skip this stage, it’s important to dive into it with the expectation that there may be some conflict.
Once you’ve weathered the storm, pun intended, your team can move into norming. Here, team members have figured out how to work together and there’s no more conflict or internal competitions lingering.
Unity is upon everyone and a consensus develops around who the leaders are, what everyone’s role is, and what comes next. There’s also a sense of bonding between the team and is more familiar with each other’s personalities and sense of humor. There should also be a sense of comfort in the norming stage when giving constructive feedback through online forms, or asking for help as you work through various tasks.
Next up is the performing stage, which tends to be where there is the most cohesive work environment, people are happy and excited, and team performance is at an all-time high. There’s a clear and stable structure in place throughout the group and everyone is fully committed to achieving the goals put in place. In the performing stage, there’s a sense of focus, purpose, and alignment from everyone on the team, no matter their role.
Remember that no matter what, problems and conflict can still emerge, but they’re handled and dealt with in a constructive and honest manner. And, because there’s a bond and a relationship already built amongst the team members, it’s easier and faster to get to a resolution if a conflict were to occur.
Last but not least is the adjourning stage. Sometimes also called the termination, mourning, or ending stage, most, if not all, of the goals of the team have been accomplished. The project as a whole is being wrapped up and final tasks and documentation are completed. As the workload becomes smaller, it’s common for team members to be taken off the assignment and delegated to a new project. The team members also usually debrief and discuss what went well and what could be improved on for projects in the future.
Depending on how long the project lasted and the bond that was formed, there is sometimes a ceremonial celebration of the work that was completed and the overall success of the project.
Why are the 5 stages of group development important?
For your team to be as successful and as high-performing as possible, it’s important that all five stages are utilized to their fullest potential. You may feel like you can skip the first or the last, but each stage has a purpose.
When each of the five stages is carried through, your group will feel more in sync and be a high-functioning unit. No one is afraid to ask a question, bring up a concern, or pose a new way of going about certain tasks. Everyone can bring their whole self to the team, play to their strengths, and will step up and help one another when it’s needed.
Being able to do this will also increase productivity. Bottlenecks are solved fast and with purpose. And, if any other roadblocks are met, the team is able to work together to come up with the necessary solutions to get back on track.
And, when all is said and done, going through all five stages of team development sets the team up for success. There’s an increased chance of reaching the product goal within the timeline originally set during the forming stage.
“So you’ve got structure that’s coming in, whether you officially have it or not. I definitely think that somewhere above 10 [employees], and certainly, well, below 50 [employees], you want to have some structure, and you can decide how much you want to put in, in the early days, it’s always easier, I think, to add a little bit more structure than it is to take it away.”
– Camille Fournier, Managing Director, Platform Engineering at Two Sigma
How to help your team advance in their development
As mentioned, some of the stages are team development may have some conflict, disagreements, or general butting of heads. However, there are some strategies you can do to help your team advance through the five stages with minimal conflict.
For instance, you can set a clear purpose and mission early on during the forming stage, and consistently revisit during the other stages, so no one ever loses sight of the goal you’re all working towards. Similarly, establish ground rules and make sure they’re followed.
One of those rules can be to remember to always listen to one another. No question is stupid, no idea is too silly to bring up, and no one is too “senior” to ask for help. At the end of the day, you’re all working towards a common goal, to get there, you need a foundation built on listening to what the others on the team have to say.
You can also choose to end each meeting with insightful and constructive feedback that improves the group process. Having this pre-written notion that feedback will be given at the end of each meeting not only promotes and encourages feedback, it also makes it easier for the team to collaborate on strategies moving forward. To take it one step further, leave specific time for this feedback when you outline the meeting agenda. That way, it’s built-in to the time and it’ll never go forgotten.
There’s no i in team
At the end of the day, when your team implements the five stages of team development, it sets up everyone in all roles for success. Knowing what to expect in each stage gives you the opportunity to predict what could be around the corner, better support your fellow teammates, and have crystal clear alignment on all moving parts.