What Stage Is Your Team In? ( Team Composition Series 3/3)
Teams go through different phases and stages. Dr. Bruce Tuckman published his 4-stage model in 1965 — Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing and added a fifth stage, Adjourning in the 1970s. The theory explains the predictable and evolving formative periods most teams experience. As a leader, your job is to recognize what stage your team is at and think about the right interventions to move them along the team development continuum to reach peak performance and achieve more than they thought possible.
Let’s jump into Tuckman’s five stages:
Stage 1: Forming. When a team first assembles, there can be excitement, they may not be sure how things will turn out but some know it can be a great experience. People spend time getting to know each other and understanding each other’s best attributes. Respect is granted where you listen to others and share your thoughts, some may offer some goodwill and trust.
There should be a high dependence on the leader for guidance and direction during this phase. Instead of being reactive to problems that come your way, the leader has the responsibility to be proactive and help their team think about what systems and processes are needed to build a foundation for their best performance.
Here are some crucial questions the leader should reflect on and be able to answer to some degree before getting input from the team and co-creating the collective culture and structure:
· What is the team’s purpose? Why are we here and what are we meant to do? What is the vision that inspires people to jump out of bed every day to partake? What have our stakeholders commissioned us to do? What value are we depositing into the world?
· What are the team goals, objectives, and KPIs? How can we turn the purpose and vision into a quarterly roadmap?
· What are everybody’s roles and responsibilities, and how can we best contribute? How can we share that information so everybody knows other people’s job descriptions and so they know who to turn to for assistance?
· What are the expectations and agreements that will govern our best work? What are the ways to weigh in and offer best practices and processes to enhance communication and coordination? How do we want to create psychological safety so we can take risks and reach peak innovation? You can lay out the best way to handle conflict and the process for decision-making get feedback and collectively agree on what would be best for the team.
· What are the style differences? How can we improve our understanding of individual preferences, strengths, and weaknesses, and increase our knowledge of working with different types of people? This one does not need to be fully developed and can unfold as the team moves through the stages.
Stage 2: Storming. In this phase, team members begin to show their entire colors, and conflict typically arises as there are clashes between work styles, beliefs, values, relationships, and personalities. Decision-making is more complicated as people become more comfortable challenging each other and the leader. As team members vie for positions to establish themselves in relation to other team members, they second guess coworkers and wonder, “I thought I trusted you, but now I’m not so sure.” If progress is not being made, they have more questions and concerns, assert their opinions and compete for power and attention. If the team is too big, subgroups and cliques form, and there may be power struggles and blaming of others. If not handled well, many teams do not move beyond this stage; they stay underperforming, and it turns out to be a relatively disappointing experience.
Leaders can play an essential role in pushing the team forward. They can normalize conflict and seek to resolve it productively instead of shying away from it. For example, when a co-worker says or does something that’s not aligned with the team culture, step in and ask them to explain their approach and how it matches with the team’s purpose or culture. You can revisit the original agreements about having an open and safe forum to exchange and pressure test ideas, even if not in alignment with others. Leaders can then allow team members the space to express different opinions and “clear the air.” If you do not put ideas on the table, you cannot do anything about them. They can establish and reinforce processes for effective communication, efficient meetings, solving team issues, and building trust to get teams to see that solving these interpersonal challenges is worth the investment. Leaders can coach members to take ownership of the success of the team and help them design the changes they want to see. Leaders can ask how each member wants to be a resource for others’ development. They can reconfirm the vision and get people excited to focus on critical collective goals where the intensity of the emotional and relationship issues is overshadowed by something way more meaningful that will have a substantial impact.
Stage 3: Norming. When you understand that conflicts can arise and resolve issues amicably, you get rewarded with a genuinely healthy working relationship in the norming stage. Roles and responsibilities are clear, accepted, and appreciated. The team builds on processes and understands effective working styles. Big decisions are made by group consensus or another more effective method agreed upon by the group. More minor decisions may be delegated to individuals or small, self-organizing teams within the larger group as responsibility and ownership are distributed. There is a rhythm of addressing issues and appreciating differences and strengths as people work toward a common goal. The impact is that morale and productivity increase, trust builds, commitment and unity strengthen and care for each other, and the work grows. There is general respect for each other and the leader. The team may engage in fun social activities and people are generally set up to do the work that everybody agreed upon.
Leaders can create success in this stage by empowering behaviors that allow people to be on the same page, giving and receiving feedback for development, sharing leadership responsibilities, and managing change collaboratively. At this stage, groupthink can seep in; there could be the temptation that members could feel that they need to get along to go along because there is the fear of going back to the conflict stage when things were not fabulous. The leader can be on the lookout for this unhelpful development and invoke processes to draw out multiple perspectives and normalize productive disagreement, leverage the strengths of each, take quick action, settle conflicts, and maintain a positive, productive climate.
Stage 4: Performing. This is an incredible work experience where you are thriving on multiple levels producing excellent results, and having great relationships; it is a 1 + 1 = 3 type of equation; it’s an intoxicating feeling. The team is more strategically aware; knows clearly why it is doing what it is doing. They have a high degree of autonomy as they go after the shared vision; they tend to overachieve and collaboratively make decisions with the leader. Even with a high degree of freedom, they know they can depend on each other at any point. Disagreements are resolved within the team positively, and necessary changes to processes and structures are made by the team regularly to serve the evolving needs best. They are comfortable asking for help and offering it because it is about the team-first approach, and there is a level of safety where people can bring their authentic selves, both their successes and struggles.
A leader can foster this successful stage by allowing even more flexibility in team roles, so people feel like they are being challenged. Leaders can create future leadership opportunities, offer development and support to help people achieve their career aspirations. Leaders can leverage the learning and spark additional team creativity to attain new heights as they collectively advance. Leaders can also pay attention to momentum building and stalling moments. Daniel Pink also offers some interesting research about midpoints, which is the phenomenon of how teams tend to lose steam mid-project. With this knowledge, leaders can offer galvanizing interventions to work with this dynamic to keep the momentum unbroken.
Stage 5: Adjourning. This was added by Tuckman two years after his initial research. Adjourning is the team’s break-up, hopefully when the task is completed successfully, its purpose fulfilled; everyone can move on to new things, feeling good about what’s been achieved and ready to contribute elevated skills to their next body of work. From an organizational perspective, recognition of and sensitivity to people’s vulnerabilities is helpful, particularly if members have been closely bonded and feel a sense of insecurity or threat from this change.
Leaders can mark the occasion and adequately reflect on all the excellent work capturing each person’s contributions and making them feel proud for being a part of a memorable experience. They can create hope for the future that they have skills and abilities and effective work practices that they can transfer to their next project.
As a leader joining a new team, it is useful to find out what stage your team is in because if you enter their high-performing stage and treat them like they are in the forming or storming stage, they will be unhappy. It’s helpful to begin with a lot of listening and observation so you can spot where they are. You can ask questions such as — what’s happening on the team, where is everybody, what are the best aspects of this team that you want to leverage going forward, what tweaks would you like to make, if any, to do even better work, how can I be most helpful to advance the team? Instead of thinking you have the right diagnosis, they can tell you what they want without knowing the details and history. Once having a deeper understanding, you can co-create the work together so all parties have a stake.
These five stages can progress and regress depending on team makeup, leadership, and client work changes. When that happens, it is helpful to revisit the forming stage, even briefly, so you can put together a clear roadmap that will add eventual speed to the process. Knowing where your team is and how to support them will allow them to do their best work.
Quotes of the day: Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is a success.” — Henry Ford
Qs: What stage is your team in? As a leader, how would you like to support your team? As a team member, how would you like to contribute? Comment and share with us; we would love to hear!
As a Leadership and Team Coach, I partner with leaders and teams to cultivate a flourishing team culture, contact me to learn more.