The 5 stages of team development and how you can support it as a leader

The 5 stages of team development and how you can support it as a leader
March 11, 2022 Linda Murray

The great resignation has had a big impact on the workplace since the beginning. It has especially affected the structure of our teams. Team members have moved on and new ones have arrived. I think now is the right time to refresh our understanding of team development and how it affects us.

Dr Bruce Tuckman developed a model of five key stages teams go through in their development and evolution. You may be familiar with it but let’s take a closer look.

For each stage, I’d like you to first remember what it felt like – draw on your own lived experience of teams. Then, I’m going to ask you to step back and reflect on the kind of leadership you might need to offer to teams in each stage. 

Forming:

In the beginning, you took a while to find your feet. You had to work out where you fit into the team and the process. You had to build relationships and work out who was friends with who. There was probably some unwritten politics to discover. Everyone was on their best behaviour, checking each other out. 

What kind of leadership is important during the forming stage?

This is when you need to step up and become a hands-on leader. Your team depends on you for direction and guidance as they become clear on the job and their role in it. 

You will also be the one doing the introductions and explaining why each person has been chosen for the team – ensuring people know what skills and experience they have within the team. 

Storming:

After working together for a little while, you started to know the others. You felt ready to contribute. Members are ready to share ideas and vie for the dominant role in the group. You know each other well enough to drop the ‘politeness’ and show some personality. There might be a few disagreements and clashes of personality or opinion as the team starts to sort out a way of working together to achieve the goal.

What kind of leadership is important during the storming stage?

This is the stage where there might be team friction and some boundary-testing. Leaders need to be decisive and keep the team focused on the goal and the tasks. Ask for and listen to regular feedback. You’ll need your coaching skills here, to help members learn to work with each other, improve their communication and negotiate agreements. 

Norming:

By this stage, the team has found a way of working together constructively. Members have adopted their roles and can focus on getting the job done. By this stage, you knew your boundaries and had made some friends. You stopped worrying so much about the people and relaxed into doing the work.

What kind of leadership is important during the norming stage?

As a leader, you can take a small step back and let the team get on with the job. Your role should be to help them when they need it, with feedback, advice, and praise. At this stage, you need to facilitate the group rather than offer formal leadership. 

Performing:

When the team began performing well, you felt more confident in yourself and your ability to complete the project. People pulled together, supported each other, and achieved a level of trust. This is when the group consistently operates as a team, and not just a group of people. You are achieving results. This is when the team reaches peak performance.

What kind of leadership is important during the performing stage?

The team is performing well and manages itself efficiently. By this stage, your team needs minimal support from you. Your role is to “guide from the side” and be available if they need you. Remind them to celebrate their successes. 

Adjourning:

At some stage, the project will be complete. The team is no longer needed, and the group will disband. How did you feel at that stage? Apart from the elation of a job well done, there’s a sense of loss as team members move on to different teams. 

What kind of leadership is important during the adjourning stage?

This could be a difficult time for some team members, so your role is to help them reflect on their successes and personal/professional growth. Acknowledge what they have achieved and show this stage as an opportunity for new challenges.

If you can remember how you felt during each of those stages, you’ll know you need a different level of support from your leader each time. By understanding each stage (and remembering what it felt like) you can consider the kind of approach you need to take to move the team forward. How will you know what stage your team has reached? I recommend open communication and regular updates between you. 

If you want to develop more advanced leadership techniques and a deeper understanding of how teams achieve peak performance, our High Performing Teams Workshop is ideal for you. Download the brochure here or contact me for more information. 

Here’s to your successful team!

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