What are the stages of team development?

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshotSarah LaoyanAugust 13th, 20215 min read
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Summary

Have you ever wondered why it takes some time for a new team to hit peak performance? In this article, we discuss the different stages of team development and how leaders can guide their team through those stages to increase collaboration.

As a team leader, it's your goal to support and empower your team to help get their highest-impact work done. When your team members feel comfortable with each other, it’s easier to collaborate and work together. Alternatively, if your team is having challenges meshing, it may take them longer to get work done. 

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman was the first to document the different phases that teams go through as they develop. In this article, we discuss the different stages of group development and how you can guide your team through them to optimize collaboration.

What are the stages of group development?

The stages of group development were first described by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in his 1965 essay titled, "Developmental sequence in small groups." The paper discusses how team members start as strangers and flow through five different stages before they become a high-functioning team.

This paper became the groundwork for the stages of group development. Tuckman’s foundation helps team leaders understand how team dynamics change as a project progresses. By understanding the five stages of group development, you can support your team as they’re getting to know one another to quickly enable collaboration and effective teamwork.

Read: 10 easy steps to boost team collaboration

The 5 stages of group development

The five stages of group development, according to Bruce Tuckman's model, are forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. 

Stage 1: Forming stage

The first stage of group development is the forming stage. In this stage of group development, team members are just getting to know each other. As a result, they're unsure of how they'll interact together. At this stage, the group isn’t very productive, as they're still getting acclimated and figuring out the role that each person will play on the team. 

Stage 2: Storming stage

The next stage of group development is the storming stage. In this stage, team members are in the process of learning how to work together. As team members begin collaborating, conflicts may arise, whether that’s from clashing personalities or opinions on how a project should progress. Without a clear understanding of what role each individual plays on the team, relationships can get tumultuous as team members struggle to find a role that’s right for them.

Establishing group collaboration early on can help reduce the impact of—or even prevent—this stage of group development. This doesn’t necessarily mean that conflicts won’t happen. In fact, disagreement is critical to effective team collaboration. So when conflicts do arise, it’s important to resolve them as they come instead of avoiding them. Having a team with already existing collaborative skills can help resolve conflicts more easily and faster.

Stage 3: Norming stage

This is the stage when things begin to settle down as your team finds their groove. As they grow more comfortable working together, team members are more comfortable asking for help completing a task or getting constructive feedback. Your team starts to increase their productivity at this stage as they become more familiar with their teammates and their working styles.

Read: Efficiency vs. effectiveness in business: Why your team needs both

Stage 4: Performing stage

At this stage, your team has reached cohesion and team members are working together at their highest potential. Your team follows established workflows and group members feel as if they have a common goal to reach together. This is the ideal stage of group development. As a team lead, it’s your goal to get your team to this stage as quickly as possible. We discuss more about how to get your team to this point below.

Stage 5: Adjourning stage

The fifth stage of group development, also known as the mourning stage, is the final stage a team will go through. After a project is over or if a team is disbanded, team members who worked together will go into a small mourning period. Group members may have a hard time working with other groups as they had strong group dynamics with their previous team.

This is also the time in which teams can celebrate everything they have achieved together. Take the time to reflect on your achievements and remind your team why they’re doing what they do. This is also a great opportunity to recognize and praise the talents of specific team members.

How to help your team through the stages of group development

As you build a new team, keep the stages of team development in mind so you can help individual team members reach their full potential and collaborate together effectively. While there’s no one right way to support your team, try these four strategies to boost your team's cohesiveness. 

Read: The secret to great group dynamics

Establish your team's mission early

Whether you’re building a new team or working on a specific project with cross-functional partners, it’s important to establish your team’s mission early on. Setting a goal, even before you start working together, ensures that everyone is on the same page and moving towards the same goal.

Depending on your team, set:

  • A general mission statement. For example, a content team’s mission statement might be, “To create content that engages and educates our target market.” 

  • A project goal. For smaller, cross-functional teams, use your main project objective for your team’s mission statement. For example, a cross-functional team between web development and marketing may have a project goal of decreasing page load time to 1.5 seconds. 

  • Team roles. For example, if you’re working cross-functionally, the individuals from one team are assigned the role of reporting back to their team what they’re working on. Another individual may be responsible for managing status updates. 

In addition to establishing your team’s mission or goal, it’s also important to set roles for individual team members. As you add people to the team, pay attention to what qualities and skills you’ll need to complete the project. As roles solidify, it’s important to make those responsibilities clear and distinct so that everyone knows who is doing what by when. If you haven’t already, consider creating a RACI chart to let each team member know who’s responsible, accountable, contributing, and informed for a specific initiative.

Clearly set expectations for communication

Early on in your team formation, establish a clear communication plan. A communication plan is an outline of how your team is going to communicate important information to key stakeholders. Clarity on the various avenues of communication allows team members to effectively get work done, understand their roles, and know where to find the information they need about work. Establishing a communication plan can help you do all of these things in a way that’s easy for your team to follow. 

Should a conflict ever arise, your team will also know what steps to take to get this conflict resolved. Strong communication skills are the backbone of conflict resolution. With a clear communication plan in place, your team will know how to discuss their issues with the rest of the team in a constructive manner. 

Read: 12 tips to effective communication in the workplace

Play to your team members' strengths

The individual roles your team members play are incredibly important to team performance. These roles could be the official title they were hired to do, or the role they fit into naturally within the group dynamic.

As the team leader, delegate responsibilities and assign roles based on each team member’s strengths. Some people are natural leaders, while others may take a backseat on leadership but have strong ideas when it comes to strategy and planning. The individual strengths each member brings establishes a sense of teamwork, as everybody plays a part. If you notice a few team members not participating, the easiest thing to do is to prompt them for their thoughts and ideas. 

Confront conflict in a healthy manner

It can be tempting to avoid conflict, but doing so doesn't help team building. A team that works together to resolve issues will trust each other more. They can rely on each other to do the hard work they were hired to do, despite any differences that arise. 

Conflict resolution is a way to establish an honest and judgment-free workplace. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to set the standards for how your team will work together to resolve conflicts. An easy way to do this is to regularly give candid feedback in a 1:1 setting and offer suggestions on how team members can improve. If you need to address larger conflicts, make sure that the issue stays between as few people as possible to prevent gossip from spreading amongst the rest of the team.

Read: The best conflict resolution strategy you’re not using

Help your team reach their goals with strong leadership

A strong team leader is the backbone of every high-performing team. Without strong leadership, teams may struggle reaching the performing stage. By developing your own leadership skills, you can model collaboration best practices and help your team reach their fullest potential. 

Read more about how you can become a strong leader with Asana's leadership resources.

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