The Four Stages of Team Development
When teams and other groups of people come together, they typically go through a number of team development stages. This process can take a few days or easily stretch over six months or longer. Note that the stages can play out simultaneously or in a different order so it is important to be aware of the signs and signals of each stage. The leader or team manager supporting team formation cannot jump straight to “perform” but must instead facilitate the group through this process and bring the group through the four stages. The role of the leader is to help resolve issues and move the team toward performance if it gets stuck at any point.
When team development begins, the team mebers are initially polite. They find out about one another and the work to be done. There is typically a “honeymoon” period when people are excited about the newness and potential of being on the team. Some may also be fearful or timid in response to the change.
Forming is best done with high task and low support to provide structure while the new group develops. Introduce people to one another with an orientation of how everyone will work together. Allow opportunities for people to socialize. Clearly communicate the vision and goals of the work to be done to help the team understand what is to be achieved. Do not overwhelm people with too much detail or expect “perform” behavior at this stage. Engage all team members and draw out quiet ones.
As the initial politeness fades and people start to work, tension forms around things that were vague or left unsaid in the last stage. Conflicts may arise regarding roles or procedures. Members may appear confused and dissatisfied. Output is generally low. Storming can be very strong if roles or objectives are unclear; the team faces external challenges, or if there is competition for formal or informal leadership.
Managing the storming stage productively requires both a high-task and high-process focus. The manager asserts his/her role as leader to surface and resolve differences. Work goals and individual roles and responsibilities may need review and clarification. The key is not to let disputes continue to block team cohesion. Use the stage to develop new methods for collaboration and addressing conflicts.
As roles and personal conflicts are sorted out, the focus returns to the task and what needs to be done. Objectives are clarified and the detail of work is laid out. Group rules develop and people start to collaborate as a team. Team identity emerges. Internal clashes may be replaced with external conflicts.
Managing the process requires a higher focus on process than task to provide opportunities for group members to take responsibility for people and for work. Work planning is directed toward goal accomplishment. This is more productive as people feel comfortable with the objectives and in their roles. Team members take more responsibility for forging group norms and behaviors. Emergence of regular venues for socializing and creating a “family” environment may begin.
Finally, the optimal level of performance is achieved. The team works interdependently and feels like a family. There is a strong sense of team achievement and pride. Mutual accountability is maintained, and personal differences are largely kept under control.
Leaders can take a lower task and support role by increasing delegation of responsibilities as the need for direction decreases. Social activities and celebrations of success are important support functions. However, this is not the time to relax but rather to focus on sustaining high performance. An ongoing balance is needed between task and support functions to keep both achievement and motivation high.
Remember, if a team is having trouble in one stage, it might have not completed a previous stage very well. Review the team development stages until you find the one in which there are gaps and address them. For more information on actions to manage and support team formation download the Group Formation Management Checklist.
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