Team Coach | Introducing The Life Cycle of Teams

One of the most influential models of the team developmental process is that of Bruce W. Tuckman (1965). He gave us a way to interpret and make sense of the various stages groups pass through on their way to becoming an effective team. Tuckman described this journey as five distinct stages:

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

At first glance the model suggests that teams will move through each of these stages in a predictable sequence however, in reality teams progress through these stages and remain at the different stages for varying lengths of time. Some teams can become stuck in a particular stage and fail to progress while others can regress to an earlier stage of development.

The Five Stages of Team Development

Stage 1: Forming

What does it look like?
Team members are reserved and polite, putting on their best behaviour to create a good first impression. Conflict is avoided at all costs because of the need to be accepted into the group. There may be a sense of excitement and opportunity, but also cautiousness and uncertainty about the future. Team members reflect not only on the tasks at hand, but also about each other. Initial ground rules are established as the team begins to discover how to work together.

The Challenge

The Team Dynamic

The Questions

Creating a purpose
and managing team membership

  • Exploring why we are together?
  • Testing to identify the boundaries of both interpersonal and task behaviours
  • Assessing other team members and the commitment
  • Evaluating potential risks and rewards
  • Establishing relationships with leaders and other team members
  • What are we supposed to do together?
  • Do I want to get involved in this?
  • Is everyone committed to this?
  • How can I contribute?
  • What will you expect of me?
  • What are the pros and cons of being on this team?
  • Who are these people?
  • Will we get along?
  • Can I trust you?
  • What will you contribute?

 

Stage 2: Storming

What does it look like?
Differences in opinion are more common and are expressed more openly. Conflicts emerge around interpersonal issues and task needs. Power struggles may emerge as leadership is challenged and factions begin to form. Team members compete for positions, challenge goals, the group influence and resist task requirements. Note: Many groups commonly stall at this stage.

 

The Challenge

The Team Dynamic

The Questions


Managing expectations
and team roles

  • Challenging the team’s purpose
  • Splintering into subgroups
  • Struggling for power and control
  • Resisting tasks and authority
  • Avoiding dealing with underlying tension
    and hidden agendas
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What’s the point?
  • Why are we doing it this way?
  • Why don't we do it that way?

 

Stage 3: Norming

What does it look like?
A sense of renewed optimism as the team begins to feel a sense of team identity. It experiences increased cooperation as roles and responsibilities become clearer and agreement on norms and expectations for behavior are reached.

 

The Challenge

The Team Dynamic

The Questions


Managing relationships
and task efforts

  • Implementing the team’s performance expectations
  • Re-establishing specific roles and operating procedures
  • Defining rules for problem solving
  • Clarifying processes for resolving team conflicts
  • Building team culture
  • Who does what and when?
  • How often will we meet?
  • How do we resolve problems?
  • How do we make decisions?
  • How do we handle conflicts?
  • What makes our team special?

 

Stage 4: Performing

What does it look like?
Reaching this stage is largely dependent upon the successful transition through the previous stages. The team knows clearly what it is doing and why. Relationships are strong and while disagreements may occur they are resolved quickly and positively. Roles become flexible and functional, and group energy is channelled into the task. There is maximum work accomplishment, interdependence, personal insight and constructive self-change.

 

The Challenge

The Team Dynamic

The Questions

Managing task completion,
evaluating results,
striving for improvement

  • Alignment
    Each person has an integral role in the team’s work

  • Accomplishment.
    People and the team as a whole are meeting and exceeding
    role and task expectations

  • Cohesion.
    Feeling like a “team”

  • Commitment.
    To each other, the team and to accomplishing the team’s goals. Loyalty and trust

  • How can we improve this?
  • Is there a better way?
  • What more can we do?
  • How can I help?

A team at the Performing Stage can either:

Return to the forming stage as group membership, leadership and the team’s purpose changes,

Decline into "dorming" stage as the group becomes complacent, or

Adjourn as the group successfully reaches its goal, completes its work and disbands.

The Stage of Phantom Performance: Dorming

What does it look like?
(This stage is not included in Tuckman’s original work it was identified by later writers)

Once the performing stage is reached, there is a risk that the team will neglect the task of maintaining commitment. This neglect will see the team slide gradually into the cosy dosey stage of Dorming. In this stage the team becomes complacent, satisfied by past achievements they are content to leave challenges to “someone else”. 

 

The Challenge

The Team Dynamic

The Questions

Avoiding this stage
by maintaining the commitment
and focus of the team

  • Complacency
    The team goes into cruise mode.
    A cosy togetherness ensures.

  • Preservation
    Self-preservation is the dominant issue.
    The team may be attempting to extend the life of the group

  • Mediocrity
    Lackluster performance eventually leading to a decline in the quality and quantity of task activity

  • Routine
    Comfortable routines are established and enforced i.e. don’t rock the boat

  • Have you followed the appropriate channels?

  • Why should we change?..
    (We’ve always done it this way.
    We’re doing alright as we are)

  • When’s lunch?

 

Stage 5: Adjourning

What does it look like?
Adjourning is typically related to the end of a project team however, its also relevant when the purpose and structure of team changes substantially due to sale, merger or a restructuring process. This stage can be particularly stressful where the dissolution of the team is unplanned. This stage involves the disbandment of the team, termination of roles and the completion of tasks. This stage is also referred to as 'mourning' given the sense of loss experienced by some team members.

 

The Challenge

The Team Dynamic

The Questions

Managing relationships
and task efforts

  • Conflicting emotions (sadness, anger, gratitude, happiness)

  • Uncertainty about how to end and their future

  • Grieving: Feelings of dislocation and loss

  • Team members deal with this stage in different ways:

Avoiding: Tasks, arguing over minor details or
past arguments resurface

Denying: pretending the team will continue,

Pollyanna: focusing only on the positive experiences

Acknowledging: facing the good, the bad and the ugly,
letting go and saying goodbye

  • What will I do now?

  • What will it be like now?

  • Shall I stay (with the company)
    or shall I go?

Reference: Bruce W. Tuckman, “Development Sequence in Small Groups”, Psychological Bulletin. 1965. In 1977 Tuckman (in collaboration with Mary Ann Jensen) updated the model to include the fifth stage – adjourning

The Creation Of A Team Part 1

This two part video uses clips from the movie "Remember the Titans" to illustrate the five stages of team development.

Part one follows the Titans as they travel through the Forming, Storming and Norming stages. (Yes, it's a movie but see if you can recognise the behaviours at each stage)

 

The Creation Of A Team Part 2

Part two shows the team coming together to Perform and closes with scenes of the team in the Adjournment phase(reflecting on their time together).

Where in the Life Cycle is Your Team?

Teams and good performance are inseparable: You cannot have one without the other. But people use the word “team” so loosely that it gets in the way of learning and applying the discipline that leads to good performance. Katzenbach & Smith

As a team leader your goal is to help your team reach the Performing stage and then sustain performance at this level.

1. Regularly assess the team’s dynamics and performance to identify the stage of your team's development.

2. Use this model to help you identify and understand your team's training and development needs

3. Consider what needs to be done to move the team towards the Performing stage

4. Involve your team in formulating and implementing their development strategy - to increase understanding, ownership and commitment.

5. Recognise the team's stage of development and adjust your leadership style and behaviour to meet the performance and relationship needs of your team

Posted: Saturday 12 October 2013



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