According to educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman, when people come together to form a team, they go through a predictable pattern of behavior to achieve the work or activity. Watch closely and you can see them move forward (and backward) through these five distinct stages:
- Forming – what’s to be done by whom
In the “forming” stage, team members feel moderately eager with high expectation, and they feel some anxiety regarding where they fit in and what is expected of them. They typically test the situation and the central figures, particularly the team leader. They depend on authority and hierarchy to give them a sense of place and structure, and need to find a position for themselves.
The tasks facing the team leader at this stage of development are ones providing orientation and creating structure within which the team can operate. They must define goals, provide direction, and roles for team members as well as determine the tasks and required skills.
- Why am I on this team and how will I fit in?
- Can I trust these other people?
- What will I get out of participating on this team?
- What are we supposed to accomplish?
- What authority do we have?
- What skills and talents do we have and need?
- What changes will occur?
- Storming – problems arise from differences
During this stage, members experience a discrepancy between their initial hopes for the team and the reality of working together. They discover they have differences in perceptions, values, styles, and personalities. A team leader must not suppress this conflict, but manage it as an opportunity for growth and change.
They feel dissatisfied with their dependence on authority and become frustrated. This might express itself in anger around the goals and the leaders style. Members compete for power and attention.
At this stage, the leader must focus developing the skills of the members, define clear goals, and clarify the task at hand. This is when team development training should take place and removal of emotional blocks and barriers.
- Who will handle conflict?
- How do individual team members respond to conflict?
- How can we turn conflict into creative energy?
- What types of conflict are we likely to have with other teams?
- How can we keep departmental politics out of the team process?
- Norming – establish expectations of one another
Here is where the team members begin the process of trust, share responsibilities and control and begin to use a common language to express concerns.
The team leader’s role here is to continue to focus on deepening skills and understanding of the role of the team. They must provide the parameters around the team’s span of control, the degree of empowerment and what power is reserved. Here the team will provide self-criticism and the leader begins to give up their authoritarian control.
- How will we make decisions?
- How will I be treated by other members?
- What’s the “cost” (in time, in extra work) of membership in this team?
- What can we expect of one another and of the organization?
- What happens if someone gets angry?
- Do we need to achieve consensus on everything?
- What will we do if a member doesn’t contribute or do assigned tasks?
- Performing – focus on important issues and high volume of quality work
Characteristics of a high-performing team are typified by feelings of excitement about participating in team activities. Members exhibit high confidence, a willingness to work together and an ability to solve problems. They feel positive about past successes and now want to probe even deeper into more complex issues.
A leader must help the team avoid “group think,” when members become overconfident about decisions, and stifle internal dissent.
- What is the ideal model for our team’s functioning?
- How will we monitor team achievements?
- How can we help the team achieve continuous improvement?
- How will we deal with authority?
- What personal needs of members must be met?
- How can we be sure we’re making good decisions?
- Ending – the conclusion of the team’s work
This can range from permanent disbandment, to the departure of just one member from a team that will continue to operate. In this stage, members may deny the depth of their concern about the upcoming change. A leader should address the issues and try to keep morale up.
- Will we be as good a team as before?
- How can we get over feelings of lethargy and loss?
- How can we bring a new member or leader into the team in a productive way?
When members are gained or lost, the team often returns to the forming stage, but its progression to the producing stage usually goes faster than the original team building effort. Carry-over team members have already developed teamwork skills and techniques to help expedite the process.
For the team you are working on today, what stage do you believe the team is in? And at what stage are you personally in? As long as the team is aligned and moving through the stages, you’re good to go. The challenge is when you get stuck in one stage. Much like a car stuck in the mud, you’ll need an extra shove to get your team moving again!
Kristin Arnold is a professional meeting facilitator and international speaker who is passionate about helping leaders and their teams think things through, make better decisions and achieve sustainable results. The Extraordinary Team’s approach to building high performance teams combines consulting, coaching, training and process facilitation within the context of working real issues.
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