The Stages Teams Go Through

Many companies have realized the benefits of using teams to address key business issues. Whether it’s a team charged with solving a specific problem, implementing a new system or developing new products or processes, companies are finding that teams generally can provide better results than individuals can. The expression “none of us is better than all of us” rings true time and time again.

In last month’s column, I discussed some of the characteristics that make a team successful. In striving to achieve a measure of success, it is important to recognize that teams typically evolve through four separate stages. The “Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing” model of team development, first proposed by Bruce Tuckman, describes the stages that teams inevitably will encounter. Each of these stages can be summarized as follows:

Forming—Often referred to as the “honeymoon period.” During this stage, the team meets to get to know each other, learns about the assigned task, sets basic ground rules, identifies challenges and develops objectives. This is the stage in which team members begin to share their knowledge and experience while observing the behaviors of those with whom they will be working.

Storming—Often the end of the “honeymoon period.” During this stage, disagreements will surface as members compete to have their ideas adopted. Conflict begins, and this can be a very uncomfortable period for team members. Sometimes, the storming stage will be brief, as conflicts are easily resolved. However, in some cases the storming stage will linger, sometimes for long periods of time if there are differing perceptions about decisions made. In the worst-case scenario, the storming stage does not end, and the team ultimately fails to achieve its objective. The storming stage is essential and will either lead to a stronger team that has found a way to effectively resolve differences, or one that ceases to exist.

Norming—Assuming the team gets past the storming stage, it will enter the norming stage. Team members are less defensive and may even change their behavior for the good of the team. “Hidden agendas,” if there are any, are exposed during the storming stage, so there is more openness and even an eagerness to share in the norming stage. Although disagreement is allowed (and even encouraged at times), it is controlled in a way that will lead to better team decisions rather than frustrating standoffs. There is a willingness to accept responsibility and buy-in on team decisions.

Performing—The final stage is one in which teams operate in a highly effective manner. Team members have learned to depend on the skill and experience of their teammates. Group norms are employed to resolve disagreement quickly, rather than relying on outside assistance. Decisions are reached by consensus, and everyone realizes they are equally responsible for the success or failure of the team. Performing teams truly function as a unit rather than a group of individuals.

So how do you tell what stage your team is in? In some cases, the answer is obvious based on the results the team has achieved since its inception. In other cases, it may not be so obvious, so an evaluation of some type is needed. There are a number of formal evaluations available on the Internet to assist with your evaluation (simply search “what stage is our team in”). Once you identify your team’s development stage, you can either reinforce the actions that are making the team successful, or take steps to alter team behavior. To improve team performance, consider the following characteristics of high-performing teams and adopt as many as you can (as soon as you can):

• All team members come to meetings prepared, and assignments are completed on time.

• All members of the team really listen to each other, and everyone respects the ideas of others.

• Team members offer ideas in a concise manner and seek feedback from others.

• The team sticks to its task and avoids unrelated issues that can put it off-track.

• Everyone on the team has an opportunity to voice opinions and offer suggestions.

• Decisions are really made by consensus.

• The team periodically evaluates its performance and looks for ways to work more effectively as a team.

It is a fact that teams have proven to be effective in getting things done in companies of all types and sizes. The first step toward reaping the benefits of a cohesive, high-performing team in your company is to recognize the stage in which your team currently operates.