5 Stages of Team Development

How to Provide the Right Team Support at Your Organization

Team of coworkers meeting around table
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Organizations have used teams for years with some more successful than others. In a quest to determine why so many teams failed to achieve their goals, team development became a hot topic. The differences between successful and unsuccessful teams were studied, and organizations gradually learned to manage teams more effectively through all the stages of development and contribution.

Successful Team Development

Traditionally, a team goes through five stages of development, with each stage presenting its own challenges. The goal is for a cohesive team of people to produce a positive outcome that contributes to the success of the organization.

Proper Team Support

The team and the organization take specific actions at each stage to support the team's success in accomplishing its mission. Supporting the team at each stage of development will help it accomplish its goal.

With a thoughtful look at each stage of team development, you can solve problems before they derail the team. You cannot treat a team the same at each stage of its development because the stages dictate different support actions. These support actions, taken at the right time, will allow your teams to successfully meet their challenges.

Leadership Is Key

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.

Generally, the leader reports to a manager. The manager, as the team sponsor, must understand how to support the team at each stage for it to succeed.

Stages of Team Development

Dr. Bruce W. Tuckman, a professor of educational psychology at The Ohio State University, researched the theory of group dynamics and published a theory in 1965 called "Tuckman's Stages of Group Development." Thus emerged a four-stage team development model, "Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing," with a fifth stage, "Adjourning," added in 1977.

Tuckman's five stages of team development include suggested actions to best support the team:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 group members. As a sponsor, help your team leader clarify each of these assignments so that the team succeeds.
  3. 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.
  4. Performing: Relationships, team processes, and the team’s effectiveness in working on its objectives are syncing 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.
  5. Adjourning: The team has completed its mission or purpose and it is time for team members to pursue other goals or projects. As a sponsor, make sure the team schedules an ending ceremony. Whether they debrief the project and discuss how the team could have been more successful or just order pizza, you will want to mark a clear ending to the team or project.

These stages can be applied to all teams. However, in the case of ongoing teams, such as a department team, social media team, or a customer service team, the "Ending" stage is not applicable.

The length of time necessary for progressing through these stages depends on the experience, knowledge, and skills of team members and the support they receive. In addition, teams may work at varying rates based on issues and obstacles they may encounter, such as changing team members, tasks, and goals.

Closing Thoughts

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
  • More ownership of decisions, processes, and changes

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