You can’t just group employees together and expect them to perform efficiently. Synergy takes time, patience, and effort. Educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman proposed that teams go through five stages of development to become a cohesive and productive unit: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.
Each stage allows members to get to know each other and work together, and this familiarity morphs the group into a high-performing team that communicates and collaborates to achieve a common goal, while improving employee satisfaction.
The Five Stages of Team Development
Here’s a breakdown of Tuckman’s five stages of team development, including signs to look out for at each and how to help your team progress to the next.
Stage 1: Forming
The forming stage is a period for team members to get acquainted—with each other and with a common goal. At this stage, people take on the behavior of strangers; they act overly polite toward each other, and there’s a mix of uncertainty, curiosity, and excitement in their behavior. Since team dynamic is still unclear, members will look to a team leader or a dominant figure for guidance.
At this stage, it’s important to clarify individual roles, team structure, long-term goals, ground rules, and expectations. To do this, you can hold a team orientation for everyone to learn about each other. Here, you can also discuss the purpose of forming the team, as well as the expected workflow and timeline to achieve it. The forming stage is mostly social, so you shouldn’t expect high levels of performance yet.
Stage 2: Storming
The storming stage is the most crucial—and most difficult—stage because it establishes how a team deals with conflicts. At this stage, boundaries and expectations set during the forming stage may be broken or challenged. Team members, upon getting closer, also begin to become frustrated with each other. Tensions arise and, inevitably, conflict occurs.
To get through the storming stage, it’s important to realign your team members toward the common goal and to reinforce individual roles. Conflicts should be dealt with constructively and any doubts or frustrations toward the team and the tasks at hand should be addressed.
Some teams try to skip the storming stage by avoiding conflict and ignoring problems. But dealing with these difficulties early on is essential to foster a healthy team.
Stage 3: Norming
At the norming stage, conflict has been generally resolved, leading to higher productivity. Team members become more communicative and collaborative, and they should be comfortable enough to help each other out, give constructive criticism, and talk out problems. The roles are respected and people work with the established team dynamic toward achieving the team’s goal.
That said, harmony in the norming stage is still precarious. Difficult tasks and unsolved conflict can regress the team back into the storming stage. But with proper conflict resolution management and good decision-making skills, it will be easy to bring the team back up to norming.
Stage 4: Performing
The performing stage is marked by synergy. Team members are working in sync toward the same goal. They are self-reliant and confident, and everyone holds team members accountable for their work, trusting in each other’s skills in achieving a common metric for success.
Not all teams reach the performing stage, so if yours does, make sure that you sustain the productivity through consistency. Perform check-ins and encourage team members to stay focused. You’ll want to keep that momentum going until the end.
Stage 5: Adjourning
A team is at the adjourning stage when its goals have been reached. The workload diminishes, some members are relocated, and the team eventually disbands.
It’s important to acknowledge this stage by celebrating the success of the team and giving people the chance to debrief from the project or say goodbye (the latter is especially crucial for those who are sad about the experience ending). You can also take this opportunity to get key learnings from the project to apply to the next one.
Importance of the Five Stages of Team
Learning about the five stages of development is useful for business owners, employers, managers, and team leaders. You can use it as a framework to guide your team into becoming a high-functioning unit.
This is especially crucial if you’re leading a remote team that doesn’t have the same opportunities for connection as traditional teams. By understanding each stage, you can create opportunities to progress employees and workmates onto the next level, improving the overall dynamic and work ethic along the way. Hiring a virtual assistant may be a smart choice for assistance on implementing your strategy.