Team Development

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Stages of Team Development

I am sure you are all familiar with Tuckman’s theory of team development. It is a well-discussed and applied theory about the states of team development first published in 1965.

Getting a group of people to work together isn’t always an easy task but is important for success. The Australian workplace culture especially, is very team orientated, focusing on the collective efforts and working together to achieve an outcome.

Understanding team dynamics and the team development process is important for leaders and managers.  Tuckman’s theory suggests that every team goes through four distinct stages of development.  He believed (as is a common belief today) that these stages are inevitable for a team to grow to the point where they are functioning effectively together and delivering high quality results.

Here is an overview of the stages and what the team might look like as they progress through each stage:

Stage 1: Forming

The "forming" stage takes place when the team first meets each other.  You may have had a team shuffle, be welcoming new team members or forming a new team.  Team members are introduced to each other, share information about themselves and start to form first impressions of each other. They learn about the team they are in or joining and the objectives and goals as well as starting to build and understanding of what their role will be within the team and how they contribute to the overall success and key deliverables.

During this initial stage of team growth, it is important for the team leader to be very clear about their expectations, including team and individual KPIs and how the team contribute to the bigger picture.  The team is dependent on the team leader to guide them. For more information on setting expectations read our September blog: http://www.aprg.com.au/blog/2018/9/27/setting-expectations

Stage 2: Storming

As the team begins to work together, they move into the "storming" stage. This stage is not avoidable; every team - most especially a new team who have never worked together before - goes through this part of team development.  In this stage, the team members challenge each other as they work to understand how they fit into the team, working to gain acceptance of their ideas and skills.  It can cause conflict as they have different opinions and want to share their expertise and experiences and why their ideas should be accepted.  It’s a tussle for authority, trust and belief in the individuals experience and expertise. 

As the team goes through this, the guidance and support from the leader is important.  The leader’s role here is to set the boundaries and coach and support; establishing the platform for the team to allow them to explore and learn how they will solve problems and function together as a team.  It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that this is done in a positive and professional manner that provides support and opportunity for the team.  This can be a difficult stage for the team to go through and requires hands on coaching and support from the leader.

This stage will come to a close when the team becomes more accepting of each other and learns how to work together to achieve objectives. At this point, the team leader should start transitioning some decision making to the team to allow them more independence, but still remain involved to coach, guide and manage any conflicts or issues that arise. The leader’s role is critical through this stage and successfully guiding the team through this phase will set them up for success.

Stage 3: Norming

When the team moves into the "norming" stage, they are beginning to work more effectively as a team.  The team have developed a way of working together that respects each other's opinions and value their differences. They begin to see the value in those differences. Working together as a team seems more natural. The team members begin to actively seek each other out for assistance and input as they work towards a common goal. The team leader supports the team members to work collaboratively, sharing skills and strengthening the depth of the team.

Stage 4: Performing

In the "performing" stage, teams are functioning at a very high level. The focus is on reaching the objectives and goals as a group. The team members have gotten to know each other, trust each other and rely on each other. They know their individual contributions and how to utilise the strength and experience of their peers.

Not every team makes it to this level of team growth.  For a leader, this is a significant win and now the team require a leader that is strong in their own beliefs and contributions.  For an insecure leader, this strength and success of the team can become threatening as the team is identifying problems and solutions independent of the leader.

For the secure leader, they will recognise this as a significant testament to the work they have done to build the team and will encourage the team to continue working and continue to invest in the people to grow and support them as they achieve new heights.  

The team is highly motivated to get the job done. They can make decisions and problem solve quickly and effectively. When they disagree, the team members can work through it and come to consensus without interrupting progress.  In this stage, the team leader isn’t required to be involved in decision making, problem solving or other such activities involving the day-to-day work of the team. The team members work effectively as a group and do not need the oversight that is required at the other stages.

It’s important to note that even in this stage, there is a possibility that the team may revert back to another stage. For example, the team may revert back to the "forming" stage if a new member joins the team.  Significant change can also revert the team back to an earlier stage until they are able to manage through the change.

Is the team effective or not?

On top of the stages and pinpointing the team through these, there are various indicators of whether a team is working effectively together as a group. An effective team looks like this:

  • Clear communication among all members

  • Regular brainstorming session with all members participating

  • Consensus among team members

  • Problem solving done by the group

  • Regular team meetings are effective and inclusive

  • Positive, supportive working relationships among all team members

Teams that are not working effectively together will display the following:

  • Team members work alone, rarely sharing information and offering assistance

  • Team members blame others for what goes wrong, no one accepts responsibility

  • Team members do not support others in the team

The team leader needs to take fast affirmative action to address issues and work with the team directing them to a more effective way of working together.

Strong leaders will take ownership for the success of their team, demonstrating trusting behaviours, setting clear expectations and working with the team members to understand the contribution to the overall goals. 

A team joined together on the “Why” will find success organically and deliver above and beyond expectations.