If you have ever been on a team, you’ve probably seen its fair share of ups and downs. All teams go through their high periods and low periods– it’s part of the natural progression and development of teams.
But chances are that even if you have experienced the high and low periods of teams, you might not know exactly what they mean or why they happen. Bruce Tuckman defined these different stages of group development as Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.
So, why should you know these stages? Simply put, being able to recognize your team’s current stage will allow you to better cater to your team and, if you are the team leader, to lead them to the shared goals. Here’s a breakdown of each stage and what to expect.
The first stage of team development consists of the team coming together, or forming. During this stage, members focus mainly on how they fit into the group, as they try to gain acceptance within the team. Because of this, there might be a lot of individual insecurity at the beginning. Members want their teammates to see them as competent and deserving individuals and as someone who can make a real impact on the team. With everyone trying to fit in, the communication during this stage is typically in a polite manner, so members may be less inclined to voice their own opinions.
Leaders of a team in the Forming stage have a lot of responsibility in helping the team come together. Members look to the leader for guidance, support, and structure. This stage is the time to create a team structure to stabilize the team throughout its development. The structure could give roles to certain individuals or rule for all members to follow, but it should provide a basic outline for how the team will function. The leader should guide the members through the process of getting to know one another and should motivate members to reach the team goals.
After the initial stage, teams often enter the storming stage, which entails conflict and disagreement. This stage holds a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction with the team progress. Oftentimes, members will challenge the leader and vie for status or authority within the group. By this point, there is increased impatience and members are more comfortable voicing their opinions if they disagree, so conflicts can arise easily. Some groups manage to avoid this stage, but usually only if the teams are deliberate in preventing problems before they arise. Teams can do this through creating an open and honest environment where everyone is respected. However, some teams experience such a strong Storming stage that they are unable to move past it.
Members continue to rely on the leader for help with navigating this stage, but not quite as much as in the Forming stage. Here, leaders work as directors in decision-making, but they allow members ultimately to resolve their issues with one another. If managed correctly, the storming phase can actually make teams stronger when they come out of it.
In the Norming stage, teams learn how to work together. They have resolved the issues from the previous stage and are in a state of finding better ways to be a team. Often, teams will redefine their goals or team structure that were established in the Forming stage. As a result, there is increased morale on the team, and members have a more clear understanding of what they are trying to accomplish. In this stage, the team shares a vision and more open communication.
During the Norming stage, the leader should continue to encourage members to share their opinions, even if they disagree. Because this stage immediately follows Storming, members may be less inclined to express their opinions if they fear more conflict.
At the Performing stage, the groups have become a cohesive and effective team. Members on the team trust one another and the structure is strong. Because of their strength, the team needs little supervision, and members all work together to make the best decision and move towards their goals. The team is the most high functioning at this stage.
However, when teams reach the Performing stage, they do not necessarily stay there. Teams can often cycle back through, especially if conflicts arise, sending them back to Storming. If teams want to stay in the Performing stage, they have to continuously work on building trust and improving communication.
Building a team from the ground up comes with its own challenges and rewards, but knowing how it will develop can help you navigate the process. Tuckman’s stages of team development provide a framework to help you understand your team and more effectively reach your goals.