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Good teams are created by good team development. Here’s how to support your teams through the 5 stages.

Every organisation relies on great teamwork and it’s important to support our teams to work together effectively. Critical points for team development are when you’re onboarding new team members into an existing team, and when you’re bringing a new team together to achieve a particular project. 

A famous model by Tuckman and Jensen outlines the five stages of team development:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing
  5. Adjourning 

This  model was published in the late 1970s, and as with every model and research there’s been some criticism. But it’s still often referenced and resonates today.  In this post I’ll outline the five stages and I invite you to reflect on how you support your team members to move through different stages of team development. But before I get into the five stages in detail, there’s an important pre-step: self-assessment 

Pre-Step: Self-Assessment

Whether you’re bringing a new person into your organisation, or you’re putting a team together for the first time, I think it’s really important to start with some form of self-assessment so that everyone can understand themselves better, and also how they can interact the most effectively with their other team members. 

‘start with some form of self-assessment so that everyone can understand themselves better’

I’m not going to go through this in detail today. But my previous post Dos and Don’ts of Using Psychometrics for Workplace Development will give you some ideas on different types of assessments that you can use. At Amplify HR we love the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), which is the whole-brain thinking assessment. But there’s also DISC, and there are free assessments out there, though use some caution in selecting a reputable one. 

What you want is something that everyone can use as a mirror to themselves. This also gives everyone insights into other team members, and gives you tools in how to speak to each other in the team. 

‘Psychometric assessments give you tools in how to speak to each other in the team’

So for example, if we’re using whole-brain thinking, we may say, ‘hey, I need to get to the blue quadrant right now’. It just gives us a common language and enables everyone to work more effectively before tackling the five stages of team development.

Stage 1: Forming

As you can probably guess this is the stage when we first start a team. We don’t always get the luxury of starting a team, but this stage may also be the start of a new project, a time when a new employee comes on board, or a new manager comes on board.

In the Forming stage our team members are not too sure about what’s going to happen. They might be optimistic, but a little bit anxious. There might be a sense of ‘let’s wait and see how this all goes’. 

In the Forming stage our team members are not too sure about what’s going to happen.

Usually at this stage, we don’t have a very clear idea of our goals. And we’re still getting to know one another. Some team members might not even know why they’re there. For example, if they were invited to join a meeting or a committee, they may not be sure about the purpose of their role. 

In the Forming stage we need to address these points:

  • How are we helping people get to know one another better? 
  • What intros are we doing? 
  • How are we onboarding brand new staff? 
  • Do we have a team charter? And if not, should we establish one?
  • Do we know the way that we want to work together? 
  • Do we all have clear expectations about what this team is trying to achieve? 

Stage 2: Storming

In the Storming stage, the team is typically very eager. But they may get impatient if things aren’t happening in the way they should be. Conflict can arise because people have different ideas about how to get things done and how to achieve goals. They may still have differing opinions about what the goals are in the first place. Instead of noticing that we’re a team, we might start to notice the differences between us, rather than the common ground. 

This is the stage when we need to put the group ahead of our own personal interests. And for some people that can be really difficult. So the way that we can support people through this Storming stage is by modelling the right behaviours.

We need to ensure that we have a shared understanding, that we think of ourselves as a team, and we’re clear on what we’re trying to achieve. We need to emphasise that everybody in the team is valuable and contributes. 

At this stage it’s important to separate the problems from the people. So if somebody says, ‘I’m really frustrated because Ali is not doing XYZ’, we can reframe that to ‘I’m really frustrated because XYZ isn’t occurring, I need to go and talk to Ali about it’. 

And if you have developed a team charter, which are your ground rules, this is a good time to start referring back to it. You can ask, ‘how do we work through these problems respectfully, according to what we’ve agreed upon in our charter?’. 

Although I’ve mentioned there can be conflict in this stage, conflict can be healthy. It’s good for people to be able to voice their ideas and frustrations. There’s a lot of research into psychological safety, about how to help teams to achieve it.

Stage 3: Norming

As the name suggests, at this stage we start to normalise things and think, ‘we’re in this as a team’. And things become a little bit more social. 

The downside is that as we are Norming, we may fall into groupthink. So it’s important to put some mechanisms in place to avoid this. For example, in meetings, do we have someone who will play devil’s advocate and ask ‘what are we doing here?’ or ‘is this the right thing to do?’. 

There are teams that never get to this Norming stage, they keep going between Forming and Storming. This can happen if you have a high turnover and you don’t have support mechanisms in place to support your team to move through to Norming. 

It’s important that your team gets to Norming because there is more cooperation at this stage. You understand each other better. But you want to make sure that you’re not just assuming that because you’ve gone from Forming to Storming, that you’ll automatically reach Norming. It’s not necessarily that linear. 

You can support your team to transition to Norming by:

  • observing the behaviours of the team 
  • conducting quick surveys or post check-ins with the team to learn what’s happening
  • making sure that people stay focused on the team objectives
  • ensuring that you’ve put psychological safety measures in place, so people feel free to speak up, to disagree, and to let you know their ideas

Stage 4: Performing

At this stage the team is more mature, and people understand their roles and responsibilities. The goals for this stage include creating opportunities for the team members to have more input into what they’re trying to achieve. Teams at this stage are more self motivated, so the leader is able to be much more hands-off.

Now, when this team development was originally put together, Performing was the final stage. But it was recognised that something was missing, we can’t just go through Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Maybe you have seen teams do that, but I haven’t.

Often teams will get stuck going back and forth between Forming and Storming. And if you’re lucky they go on to Norming and Performing. But getting into Performing does take time because you need to build trust in those relationships

And every time you bring a new team member into the team, the team might slip a little bit and move back to the Forming stage again. But if you’ve got everything set up, if you’ve got the support mechanisms in place, you should be able to move through these four stages much faster

Stage 5: Adjourning

The stage that was missing, which was added later was Adjuourning. What does that mean? Essentially you’re saying goodbye. Perhaps a team member is leaving, or the team is being disbanded for some reason. 

Maybe it’s just that that project is finished. Or maybe it’s that so many people have left the team that it doesn’t really exist anymore. So you’ve restructured and people are going into different teams. The type of Adjourning you embrace is going to depend on what is happening with your team. 

If it’s someone leaving the business, then you absolutely should be letting everybody know that the person is leaving. That might sound simple, but it’s amazing how many businesses miss that step. And it’s important to thank them for their contribution. If it’s a team that’s being disbanded, maybe the project’s finished, then you should have a celebration. 

Whatever form it takes, you also want to make sure that you’re continuing to look forward. It’s really good to recognise people and to celebrate what’s happened. But we want to make sure that we are also looking forward and asking ‘what’s the next stage for this team?’. Or if someone’s leaving the team, ‘what are our plans to replace that person or to have that work done differently?’. 

The Takeaways

Using that overview of Tuckman and Jensen’s model, take a look at your onboarding and offboarding processes and ask:

  • How effective are they? 
  • Do they consider the five stages of team development? 
  • What mechanisms do you have in place to enable your team members to better understand themselves, and others? 
  • How are you supporting teams when they’re first formed? 
  • How are you supporting their managers? 

Don’t forget that professional and personal development are ongoing processes. So even if you did some staff development a few years ago, you’re definitely going to have new people in the organisation, as well as people who may have just forgotten what they learned back then. 

So it’s well worth making development opportunities available to staff, and it can be quite fun as well to have a team workshops where everyone learns more about themselves and their fellow team members. 

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