Four Stages of Teambuilding

by Jesse Hanwit, Project UNITE

What stage of development is your team in now? Just like children growing to adulthood, teams experience stages of development. Properly nurtured, teams mature from early formation through various stages to a developed organization (Tuckman, 1965). Teams, again like developing children, can get stuck in an immature phase and suffer a case of arrested growth and ineffectiveness. Effective team members can successfully move a team toward maturity with specific positive actions. Understanding the stages of growth and recognizing that team members have an important role to play at each stage is a critical step in establishing a healthy, productive team. Tuckman (1965) identified four stages of team development including Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. This widely referenced early work continues to provide a useful model for understanding the dynamic nature of the evolution of teams.

Forming: Early on, team members "test the waters" to determine what behavior will be acceptable to the group. Members generally express the need to agree on their purpose as a team, to set initial goals, and to establish ground rules. During this period, members look to the leader for guidance. Tuckman compared the forming stage to that period of orientation and dependency expressed by young children. In this stage, the group is generally on its best behavior.

Storming: This stage is typically marked by conflict among team members. It is here that the team is at its greatest risk for disillusionment. In a well-directed, open, positive team, members are asking questions, making trade-offs, and constructively challenging one another. This energy should foster creativity; however, conflict can also breed resentment. Members may develop subgroups which feed this conflict. There may be task avoidance if members enjoy the energy created by heated competition. Although some teams never go through this stage, it is not to be avoided. Nor does conflict need to be counterproductive. Teams that fail to experience storming never learn to deal with differences. As a result, members may learn to simply go along with suggestions by more dominant members. Teams that do not pass through the storming phase, tend to be more divided and less creative (Tuckman, 1965).

Norming: As the storm passes, team members learn to resolve difficulties and to focus on the work at hand. The danger here is that members may be so focused on preventing conflict that they are reluctant to share controversial ideas. The unhealthy potential for "group think" exists as well. The competitive and informal climate can inhibit members from challenging the prevailing thinking.

Performing: This stage is the payoff for team member's hard work. What was once a group of individuals has learned to function as a team. There is frequent agreement on goals, roles, and norms, and members are devoted to producing results. They deal with conflicts as they arise, challenging ideas without getting personal, and take collective pride in team successes. Creative confrontation and innovative problem solving are the hallmarks of the smooth running team in the performing stage. So, where is your team now and are you continuing to develop?

References

Friend, M. & Cook, L. (1992). Interactions: Collaborative skills for school professionals. White Plains, NY: Longman.

Harrington-Mackin, D., (1994). The team building tool kit: Tips, tactics, and rules for effective workplace teams. New York: New Directions Management Services, Inc.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological bulletin, 63, 384-389.