Deborah Mackin

Article Summary:

What are the four stages of team development most teams go through?

Team Development: The Four Stages of a Developing Team

A well-functioning team is always working on two objectives simultaneously: completing tasks and managing processes. When teams start to experience difficulty, it’s typically because the tasks have moved ahead at a fast clip and the processes — such as communication, role clarity, and decision making — are breaking down. Never is this balancing act more apparent than in the development of a new team. Let’s examine the development process most teams go through.

When people are brought together as a team for the first time, they are typically very polite and tentative with their communication. Trust is on a “wait and see” basis as people try to figure out exactly what is expected. This is the Forming Stage of team development and usually lasts about 1-3 months depending on how often the team meets. An outsider, seeing how agreeable people are, might think this is a real team, but it isn’t; the behavior is superficial. The coach of a Forming Stage team needs to be directive, teaching the team about what to expect, providing them with the draft of its team charter, helping the team develop its protocols, and requiring them to run their own meetings and rotate meeting and star point roles.

As team members begin to take on new responsibilities, the differences in styles and approaches start to emerge. Members jockey for control in the absence of a supervisor or boss. Members question each other’s usefulness to the team and form cliques with team members they like. This is the Storming Stage which can last from 3-5 months to forever. Many teams never get past Storming, because the team functioning breaks down and attendance and commitment become problems. The coach for a Storming team must address two things: the team’s counterproductive behaviors and the team’s desire to see the team fail. A good Storming Stage coach requires members to address each other about their problems, while at the same time, constantly reminding the team about its potential. Most teams want to get rid of their coaches during this stage; a wise coach won’t allow it.

There is an expression “it’s darkest before the dawn,” and such is true with a Storming team. Just when everybody is about to give up on teaming, members often shift and decide to make a real commitment to be a team. Usually the decision comes because they are sick and tired of arguing, and nobody is coming to their rescue. When this happens, they move to the Norming Stage, where the first real team behavior starts to emerge. There is only one problem with Norming: once the team has started to function effectively, they have no interest in allowing any outsiders onto the team. A Norming Stage coach shifts to a supporting role, often asking provocative questions to get the team to think in new and different ways. Norming is a short-lived stage as the team starts to accept and capitalize on the diversity of its members.

Finally, after months of bickering and trying to avoid accountability, the team has reached the Performing Stage. Now we see the real benefits of teaming emerge as the team concentrates on achieving its goals, driving performance, and sharing roles and responsibilities. Informal experts emerge on the team and members rely on each other’s talents. There is low tolerance for autocratic leadership. The Performing Stage coach can now truly empower the team to set its goals and make its own decisions. This is the only stage where the word empowerment is truly appropriate.

Ironically, every time a member is added to the team, the team reverts back to the Forming Stage and goes through the development stages again. B.W. Tuckman first outlined the Development Wheel in 1965; it continues to be an appropriate way to describe team development today.

Deborah Mackin is founder and president of New Directions Consulting, Inc. and author of teambuilding books, including the 2nd edition of the Team Building Tool Kit (Fall, 2007). As an international consultant and trainer for 20+ years, Deborah is a widely recognized authority on teams, quality service, productivity, and leadership. For more information, visit New Directions Consulting.

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