The Stage of Team Development and Forming the Team

One of the most widely spread definition of the word ‘team’ is this:

The team is a group of people who possess complementary skills and different characters, who feel bound by a common goal and who need each other to reach the goal.” This is a reference definition of a well developed and well formed unit. But how a working group gets to be a team, and what does the leader need to do for the team to achieve the best possible result?

The team management experts recognize the clearly defined consequential stages that a team grows through before it becomes an effective team. According to Bruce Tuckman, an American psychologist and a researcher of a thousand of US Department of Defence submarine teams, there are four stages of team building (see picture 1):

  1. Forming;
  2. Storming;
  3. Norming;
  4. Performing.

A group always evolves through these phases in order to reach the highest level of productivity. In the course of the team building process, the leader’s share of activity will go down, and the team’s share will increase. To speed up the team’s progression to the final production phase, we should realize what phase our team is going through now and be sure to make correct managing impacts at each step.

Let us take a look at what is going on at each phase, what can be done to get to the next phase, and what risks we will be facing if we do nothing.

The Forming Phase

What is going on in the group

This is the stage when the working group is formed, but it is not a team yet. If you take out a manager from it, the work is likely to go much slower or stop at all.

The leader’s prevailing position is characteristic of this stage. The team members are keeping apart and aside from one another. The group is not able to make decisions on their own accord, and thus, rely on the leader 80%. Apart from being responsible for all the assignments at this stage, the leader has to direct the team: to say what, when and why should be done.

The group receives all the tasks from outside and only takes responsibility for their part of work. At this point, every member of the group is polite and tactful. Everybody is trying to take their bearings, to understand the rules of play, and along with that, to keep in mind their own interest. The focus of attention is on the best settling into the situation, acknowledging formal and informal directives, attempts to understand self and others in a new environment. The group has little interest in the common goal.

Risks

If the team get stuck at the first stage, it is clear they will not arrive at the final stage where the productivity is the highest. A lot of time will be spent on the group work supervision. There will be a need in hiring efficient managers who will spend hours on formulating the tasks while the fulfilling of the routine and current tasks will cause no difficulty. However, it is not worth expecting that the team will deal with new decisions, creativity or innovation.

What can be done to arrive at the next stage

  1. Fill out a team canvas as a group.
  2. To hold a classical teambuilding event: for example, go together for a paintball game, a team cross country run, or invite a facilitator who can work out a teambuilding activity specifically for your team.
  3. To hold a “when I work at my best or at my worst” session, so that the colleagues can verbalize their cooperation with one another and make it clear what resources and support they need for it.

The Storming Phase

What is going on in the team

This is one of the most troubled periods in the team development. The team members have got to know each other better and start to front for their position and viewpoint. Mutual discontent is mounting up, different views of the declared directives and rules are manifested. The role of the leader is more and more forced out by the team as it is constantly examined for expertise.

Frequent questions asked by the team:

Why are you our leader?

Why are we doing it?

Why am I responsible for it?

The team members start testing one another — they need to know what each of them is really capable of and who is in whose minigroup. Scandals and rows come into being if they have not agreed on the rules of communication or are in drama. More details about drama in the team.

At this stage, it is very important for the leader to make a team environment where anyone can ask the most unclear or improper questions. This stage is important because people know each other better and want more freedom in making own decisions.

It would be a mistake if the leader tried to settle up all the conflicts at this stage by him or herself. Also, it is not worth choosing an authoritarian leadership style. The team might sabotage and reject the formal leader of this kind.

Risks

This is the most difficult period for both the team and the leader. If a good communication is not set up, the conflicts are highly likely to arouse. Without being able to provide Feedback, people will burn out emotionally, feel no involvement into the work and lose motivation. If this stage is not overpassed, the employees will get to leave the team. It is very difficult to keep working in such situation. Sometimes, the team that has reached the Storming stage rolls back to the first stage and becomes a working group again. It can remain in this ‘preserved’ state for a very long time. From time to time, it would hop into the Storming stage to go through conflicts and get back to the Forming stage. In this case, the leader may remain the same, but the employees will overgrow such working group and leave it. The projects that such team can work on will grow very slowly if they can grow at all, both in quantity and in quality.

The leader’s mistake would be to put the conflicts into the public eye for the sake of patching it up or try to settle conflicts autonomously through enforcing bans. It is insecure to hold teambuilding activities at this point as it would only fuel the internal conflict.

What can be done to arrive at the next stage

  1. To hold personal conversations with the conflict participants privately in order to understand what is going on for the person and what they want to happen. Usually, a company HR or an empathic enough person who is not in the conflict takes on the role of the listener.
  2. To invite a facilitator who, in small groups with only conflict participants, can help cope with the conflicts. During the Storming phase, such sessions can help break the barriers that have already occured in the places of active contact.
  3. At this point, it is also important to teach people to communicate in the correct way and to give Feedback, to explain in the dialog format who has what role and what the responsibilities are.

The Norming Phase

What is going on in the team

After overcoming all the previous conflicts, the team works out a code of rules and regulations for the further work. The team retain more than 50% of power, they start to realize their own strengths and make their own decisions. The leader steps back to the position of observing and taking control of the result. It is now that you can ask the team to assess the problem solution: how fast it will be done, what resources they will need, etc. The team can see the common goal and take on the initiative. At this stage common rules are worked out that all the team members interpret as fair and acceptable.

Risks

If the team is not assisted in their further development, it is likely to roll back to the Storming phase where the team members will turn on each other again, make up ‘interest’ groups based on ‘who are we making friends against’.

What can be done to arrive at the next stage

  1. To hold a ‘when I work at my best or worst’ session. It will help to clarify and consolidate the rules that have been established in the team. Even if you did arrange such training at the Forming stage, it is important to run it once again to acknowledge the changes in the interaction that have taken place.
  2. Facilitation sessions for team communication skills training can also help to move on to the next stage.

The Performing Phase

What is going on in the team

The team stands on its own feet more and more firmly. The leader becomes kind of a visioner who takes account of the general vision of ideas and goals. The manager is developing the team strategy, and the team themselves regulate all the tactical tasks. They make decisions on their own, they know what they need to reach the goal, what assignments to do for it and in what terms they can do it. The team can decompose large tasks into smaller ones. It is them who decide if they need support and additional resources for completing a certain task. The team members trust each other. The working problems are solved in an informal and flexible way, showing a great interest in it. In general, all the participants have accepted and share all common goals. The team becomes completely autonomous.

Risks

The main risk at this phase is a new team member arrival as this is when everything gets back to the first Forming stage. However, it does not take long to get to the Performance stage again if the interaction inside the team is well set.

What can be done to arrive at the next stage

  1. It is also good for this stage to keep on holding a ‘when I work at my best or worst’ sessions from time to time as the result will always be different at every stage of the team development. As the team is growing, the understanding of how each member of it works in the given environment differs.

It is important to notice that with any new team member arrival the whole team begin to build interaction from the first Forming stage.

If you want to know what stage of development your team is going through, we can offer you a questionnaire service with a consequent analysis and recommendations. Write to our email and we will send you the details.

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