Four Stages of Team Development
Developed by Bárbara Garelly
Self-managed project teams need considerable time to show up its real aptitudes. What a group is capable of achieving depends in part on its stage of development. The team’s effectiveness can be improved if its members are committed to evaluate their work and receive feedback. However, the most important aspect is that every team member understands their development as a team.
Although every group’s development over time is unique, researchers have identified some stages of team development that many groups seem to pass through. The most famous model is the Four Stages of Team Development, developed by the psychology professor Bruce Tuckman in 1965 . Tuckman proposed that all teams start somehow unproductive when they are first formed, and then they grow into a self-sufficient unit.
Although there have been other written variations from many authors, Tuckman’s stages of development – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing – are a helpful technique to recognise the team’s behaviour and feelings during the process. Identifying and understanding why changes occur is a key component of the self-evaluation process. This can help the team reach the state of high-performance.
Dr. Bruce Tuckman developed the Forming Storming Norming Performing model, which describes the way most teams approach high performance. In 1965, he published this theory in his article Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.
Tuckman’s theory provides an explanation to the development and behaviour of a team, how new relationships are created as it generates maturity and capability, and how the leader modifies his way to lead.
As time goes by, teams experience different changes. Because of this, Tuckman demonstrated that there are three key points that determine the team’s effectiveness. These are content, which relates to the work the team does, process, that focuses on how the team deals with its objectives, and feelings, which is oriented to relationships between team members. Tuckman’s analysis advises that most groups centralise only on the content part. He exposed that even really solid teams can have low efficiency because of ignorance to the process and feelings parts.
Tuckman proposed that there are four stages which describe the team’s life-cycle. The group dynamics change from low efficient and troubled to highly productive where the hard work leads to good resolution of the problems that arise. Tuckman’s theory states that these four stages are needed and crucial for a constantly growing group to confront new threats, deal with the upcoming issues, search for solutions, organise the work and bring up results. The stages are briefly explained in the next table.
Stage 1: Immature group
In the first stage, Forming, members try to get to know each other and search for agreement about what the group is seeking for and how should each one behave. This is also a situation in which it can be observed how each member works individually under pressure. In general, people’s behaviour is motivated by the desire of being accepted by the rest members of the group, without generating conflicts and trying that everything works as planned.
During the Forming stage, team members are enthusiastic about becoming part of the group and anxious towards the future work. It is also important to have in mind that they may be concerned about how well they will integrate the group and if their knowledge will be useful for the team.
Many behaviours can be observed during this stage. These mostly include members questions related to the teams interests and the uncertainty about which position they have inside the team. Members are highly motivated and behave adequately, but tend to work quite independently. They are more focused on themselves and usually this leads to ignorance of the problems and objectives of the team. For this reason, supervisors should manage the team during this stage.
The team focuses on defining their structure, the way they will work and the goals they will seek. This is extremely important in order to orient the members during the development process.
In this stage, some serious issues are avoided because the members only focus on aspects related to the team organization such as work distribution or group meetings. Also each member starts gathering the information necessary about the group task. Although it is really easy to stay in this state, avoiding the conflicts does not lead to “get the job done”. Anyway, it is an important phase for the team’s development because the team starts to agree on the objectives and to undertake the jobs.
Stage 2: Fractional group
In the second stage, Storming, it is observed that team members start to disagree about different aspects because they do not wish to proceed as the others want them to. These conflicts between members will derive on the rising of the most appropriate team leader although at first it might not be accepted by all members. During this stage, groups use to be especially susceptible.
As the team's project progresses to reaching the goals, members realise that their expectations were too optimistic. This may bring feelings of frustration towards the methods used until that moment. During this stage, members open up to each other and share their opinions, but feel that the rest judge them. This may lead to competence to consider different ideas. Team members will try to deal with conflicts in the best way they can and will observe how each one of them reacts to the opinions of the rest.
Throughout this stage, it is possible to observe that people’s attitudes will be poor comparing to the first stage. This is due to disagreements about objectives, project expectations or responsibilities of each member. Members may express their displeasure regarding the team’s limitations and other member’s way to work, as well as the team’s aim and organizing model. Some members will fix their attention to trivial issues to avoid fronting the real problems.
The team tasks during this stage are to be reconsidered. They should focus on the problems that are most important to find solution for. A good procedure should be divide big goals into smaller ones in order to achieve them step by step. Some other tasks, such as member skills or organizational conflicts, should be developed. In addition, the confusion experienced can be eradicated if the objectives, tasks and roles are well defined.
Some teams find it extremely difficult to leave this stage because members do not try their best to solve their discrepancies. A negative aspect is that the initial motivation is lowered and the conflictive situation can be destructive for the team. The group should reach a minimum level of maturity to be able to move on to the next stage. As well, they should establish a leadership model and accept it. This way, every team member will feel comfortable to participate in its development.
Stage 3: Sharing group
During the third stage, Norming, members become closer as they feel their friendship starts to grow. Group members come to a common understanding on which are the goals to achieve and how they should behave towards the rest of the group.
Members begin to solve their differences and set more flexible rules. Because of this, members will begin to feel more confident and will be able to express their own ideas more openly. Moreover, they will realize that it is important to have different opinions in order to obtain richer results. As everyone experiences acceptance of other group members, members start to feel welcomed in the team. The constructive criticism helps to develop a more cohesive group.
Members work hard to create a peaceful group. This is possible if they realize that having more useful communication is essential. In this stage, members are ready to make suggestions or ask the rest to explain the aspect they have not understood. Some jokes and nicknames appear during the conversations, which helps in the development of the members relationships.
The team becomes more productive in this stage because they start to concentrate on the goals. Members agree on the plan to follow to reach their objectives.
Although team members will have to desist on imposing their ideas in many occasions and agree with the rest, they are satisfied because this way the team will work correctly.
Stage 4: Effective group
The fourth stage, Performing, is when the real work is done. Depending on the kind of group we find, managers will have to make some decisions on this stage in order to ensure that the team is working effectively. Managers need to supervise the project and empower team members and assure that they have enough autonomy and responsibilities to make their own decisions.
Members during this stage feel satisfied with the team’s development. To this point, they are conscious of their own and the other’s strengths and weaknesses. They also have a common understanding about the methods used. Members feel linked to the team and perceive it as a unit “greater than the sum of its parts”. In general, they are really satisfied with the team’s effectiveness.
Members have a cooperative behaviour. They are able to avoid or solve problems during the process. Each member has several responsibilities and tasks depending on the necessities and more differences between members can be observed. However, this is used to strengthen the team’s work.
The team makes a notable improvement into the reaching of its goals. It is now when members are more devoted to seek the team’s objectives and when their real competences flourish. They should keep on working on the continuous development of the team. By expanding their knowledge and skills, the team can accomplish their targets.
Some high-performing teams achieve this stage because they work as an effective and self-managed unit. Members are capable to make decisions without external supervision. Some disagreements can happen, but never lead to conflictive situations. What is more, they are used to help the team to reach the state of high-performance.
When teams achieve the high-performance it may be a really enjoyable and rewarding experience. It is important that the team analyzes the product of their work. Many long-lasting teams suffer some changes that make them go back to previous stages, where they define new goals and react to the changes. This situation leads to high-effective teams that stay indefinitely in the Performing stage. However, this should not be the last stage of team development. It is necessary that teams focus also on the termination process in order to complete the project. For this reason, a fifth stage should be defined.
After some years of research, Tuckman and Mary Ann Jensen published their findings in the journal Group & Organization Studies, in 1977 . They developed a fifth stage and added it to the Forming Storming Norming Performing model. They called it Adjourning and described it as a period when team members can observe and evaluate the team’s accomplishments. Also it is characterized by the detachment of team members, which can be sometimes a difficult phase.
Stage 5: Disbanding group
This fifth stage, Adjourning, applies only to groups that are eventually dissolved. Usually this happens when a group completes a finished product. It is essential that group members understand the necessity of “unforming” the group to be able to fulfil the work and to move on. Some authors describe this stage as “Deforming and Mourning” .
Several feelings emerge because of the upcoming disbanding. Members may feel grief, because of the changes on their relationship with the rest of the group, and tension, because they do not know what they will have to accomplish in the future. But also they feel satisfied with their individual work. These contrary feelings will change the team attitude during this stage. Anyway they have to be aware of the variety of feelings they might experience in order to conclude their tasks.
Members can behave in two different ways. One is being concentrated on their task as a response to their sadness about the separation of the group, which leads to increasing of productivity. The other one is becoming less focused, forcing to a low productivity.
At this stage, teams have to accept the imminent transition. This will be possible if they focus on their tasks. They will have to complete any work that is left and make an evaluation of the team’s accomplishments. This last task is extremely important because they learn from their project and this can be used by future teams. In addition, it is important to make a celebration of the ending of the team’s existence as a formal way to disperse the group.
Although it can be a really stressful stage, it is necessary for all teams as a self-evaluation of the team’s progress and process.
Tuckman developed this theoretical framework based on some studies and previous literature. He stated that this was “a conceptual statement suggested by the data presented and subject to further test” . He observed that there were some limitations, because it is difficult to generalise. Thus, he stated that some empirical tests on real and laboratory groups were needed to confirm his hypothesis.
In 1971, Runkel et al. studied three groups of college students, between fifteen and twenty members. They observed that many behaviours described by Tuckman appeared during the process. This can be applied also for current teams, in the sense that Tuckman’s developmental sequence shows up during the life of the project.
Each team takes its own time to close the cycle, depending on many factors such as its size, the frequency of meetings or the external influences. Although we could think that groups should stay a larger period of time in the Performing stage, it is true that many groups spend the similar time in each stage.
Here we include some observations to keep in mind. No team can be fully effective unless it reaches the Performing stage. Some teams adopt Storming as their way to function, although this many times leads to unproductive work. Other teams never move from the Forming stage. Teams will have to be aware that they can revert to Storming if the Norming stage is not finalised. In addition, we shouldn’t forget that Adjourning is a very important stage on the team’s life. It is the best way to make sure that the project is perfectly completed.
- ↑ Using the Stages of Team Development, Judith Stein, HR web at MIT
- ↑ Developmental Sequence in Small Groups, Bruce W. Tuckman, 1965
- ↑ Bruce Tuckman’s Team Development Model, Rebecca Nestor for Aurora, 2013; Leadership Foundation for Higher Education
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited, Bruce W. Tuckman, Mary Ann C. Jensen
- ↑ Four (Five) Stages of Team Development – Bruce Tuckman, MC – Team Development
- ↑ Essentials of Contemporary Management (Fifth Edition), Gareth R. Jones and Jennifer M. George