Stages of team development – Forming – Storming – Norming- Done?

stages of team development

In our efforts to develop a strong team, it would be helpful if there were some steps to follow. These steps are like different stages that teams go through as they work together.

They help us understand how teams grow and become better. By knowing the stages of team development, we can guide our team from the beginning all the way to being successful. Each stage brings its own challenges and chances to improve. However, it’s important to note that this way of thinking can be mislead us to believe that the stages of team development follow a straight, linear path.

Team development stages – Some different approaches

In the attempt to define the concept of team development stages, several models have been proposed about how teams grow together. 

One of these team development models is Lencioni’s.  It focuses on five dysfunctions of a team:

  1. lack of trust,
  2. fear of conflict,
  3. lack of commitment,
  4. avoidance of accountability and
  5. inattention to results.

According to Lencioni, these dysfunctions are interconnected and can undermine a team’s ability to perform and stay cohesive. 

Another useful model developed by Dr William Moulton Marston is based on the DISC theory. It focuses on how understanding the personality traits of team members can help with conflict resolution. It predicts behaviour based on four key personality traits, which he originally described as Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. Today, they are often referred to as Dominance, Influence/Inspirational, Steadiness/Supportive and Compliance/Conscientiousness. 

Richard Beckhard’s GRPI model has been widely adapted as the GRIP model. It describes four interconnected components of highly effective teamwork:

  1. Goals,
  2. Roles,
  3. Interpersonal and
  4. Processes.

Goals ensure alignment and commitment to team and organizational objectives. Roles clarify responsibilities and accountability. Interpersonal dynamics emphasize trust, communication, and conflict resolution. Processes establish structured procedures for decision-making, problem-solving, and workflow.

Another model that can be used in team development is the Change Management Curve. It has four stages: denial, resistance, exploration and commitment. It is based on the five stages of grief and the idea that team members typically experience a range of emotions and reactions when adapting to new situations. It suggests that effective team development requires identifying and addressing these reactions.

Criticism on this model is that it does not have empirical evidence that it can be applied in different cultural environments.

Thomas and Kilmann’s model outlines five main approaches to team conflict: Competing, Accommodating, Compromising, Avoiding and Collaborating. Each of these approaches can have both a positive and a negative impact. The model helps team members reframe and reduce conflict by identifying alternative conflict resolution styles. This way team members can choose how and when to use them effectively, leading to more productive outcomes.

However, one of the most popular team development model is Tuckman’s stages of group development. Let us explore the stages of team development of this widely used model.

Tuckman’s stages of team development

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman in his 1965 paper “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups” describes how teams move through four stages to achieve unity and high performance: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

Forming 

When new teams are in the forming stage, members may be excited and curious. At the same time they are nervous, unsure and confused about the team’s purpose. They are wondering how they fit in, who does what and how everyone will work together.

As a result, performance during this stage is usually average.

Storming

Confusion and frustration are common, as teams move through the Storming stage of team development. There may be friction or conflict between team members, based on differences (e.g.of opinion, way of thinking). There may be also competition and high emotions.

During this phase, productivity is at a low level and the team is in danger of “breaking up”.

Norming 

Team members begin to manage themselves, resolve their differences and start to appreciate each other’s strengths. The purpose and goals become well understood and each team member feels more confident, engaged and supportive at the norming stage.

As a result, the level of performance at this stage increases as improvements are made.

Performing

During the Performing stage, team members trust each other and demonstrate empathy. They build personal relationships and are highly motivated.

As a result, productivity is high.

According to Tuckman’s theory, teams move through these stages of team development in this order. It is possible to go backwards to Forming, (for example if members are leaving or being replaced), but team must go through the stages again in this order.              

Except that in real life, things do not usually go in such a linear way.                                            

Challenging Tuckman’s stages of team development

For a long time now, the need to keep teams stable in order to achieve and maintain high performance, has been emphasised. According to Tuckman’s stages of team development, changing teams are constantly pushing them back into storming stage. This way their productivity drops critically as the team goes through all the stages again.                                              

However, studies that have been conducted to prove or extend Tuckman’s theory, proved that teams are not always moving through all these phases in a linear way. Several teams go through them in a different order. Moreover, the stages that Tuckman identified were difficult to say whether they were stages at all. 

Storming, in particular, is a regular event rather than a stage.       

We now know that teams cannot regress into storming phase, as it is always happening. 

Differences in people’s perceptions and expectations lead to annoyances. These can become impediments, if team members begin to conflict. Changes happen all the time and team members need time to adapt. They need time to build trust and strong connections among them, find balance and their unique team spirit.

Rethinking Team Development: Beyond Tuckman’s stages of team development

It is a no brainer that if you want to have an effective team, you need to work on improving teamwork. 

Rather than focus on one model, try to understand the underlying topics that teams face in everyday life: adaptability, effective communication, trust, continuous learning, employee satisfaction and innovation.

Additionally, more and more companies are discovering that allowing people the autonomy to move from assignment to assignment and from team to team, it is increasing productivity. It is also accelerating learning, and improving retention.

Building up a team for success, means helping team members manage their actions, learn, and improve, as they step back and reflect.

In other words, you may guide team members to enable effective teamwork whatever stage, assignment or team they are in.

Conclusion: Effective team development

In conclusion, while Tuckman’s model of the stages of team development has provided valuable insights, the evolving nature of workplaces demands a more adaptable approach.

As our understanding of teamwork develops, it is vital to recognise the unique journey of each team.

Ultimately, effective team development is not a one-size-fits-all model. It is a dynamic process that adapts to the ever-changing landscape of the workplace. Organisations can ensure that their teams maximise their contribution to overall success, by embracing this flexibility and invest in team development.

Check my “entry workshop” and contact me to discuss ways we can work together on your team’s development.