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Team Development Stages – Is your team performing?!

What do Manchester United, The Beatles and Google have in common? They love Pizza – period (come on, who doesn’t?). As much as we would love to attribute their record braking success to pizza, there’s much more to it: apart from a clear shared vision, the foundation for their success is a rock-solid team. Do you want to build a kickass team that drives the success of your organization? Then you must know about the five stages of Team Development!

And have a pizza day every now and then…

Teamwork in the new norm

The current COVID-19 situation has abruptly changed our lives. Many companies have quickly adapted to a working from home setup; many even announced the option to work from home indefinitely. Whereas this may seem like a progressive (and bold) move, it also creates uncertainties for employees and employers alike. There is an abundance of research comparing the effectiveness of virtual teams and face to face teams. Warkentin, Sayeed & Hightower (2017) found that virtual teams show inferior results in terms of communication, satisfaction, and overall performance. On the other hand there are probably as many reports that claim that virtual teams can outperform traditional teams (eg. HBR, 2012). No matter what side you’re on, there are two things for sure:

  1. Virtual teamwork will increase in the future

  2. You need to build a future-proof team

So it’s clear, now more than ever, that building a strong team (traditional and virtual alike) requires care and attention. But before you dive into sophisticated HR strategies and get excited about planning your team building trip to Hawaii, you need to get the basics right.

The Five Stages of Team Development

No team is born a team. Once you put a bunch of people from different backgrounds or departments together to work on a project or common goal, expect that there will be friction, frustration, and conflict before success kicks in. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman first defined four crucial stages in this process. Twelve years later he added one more stage.

  1. Forming

  2. Storming

  3. Norming

  4. Performing

  5. Adjourning (added in 1977)

The consecutive five stages describe the development of a team over time from a group of individuals to a team that acts towards a common goal.

1. The Forming Stage of Team Development

The first stage of the team development process is where individual team members are generally quite energetic, positive and full of energy to start working on the new project. Some might be nervous as they are unsure about their role and capabilities as part of the team.

To overcome some hurdles at the forming stage, it is important for team leaders or managers to provide a clear introduction to the team. The introduction should highlight the skills and capabilities of the individual team members and provide a clear path for the future.

2. The Storming Stage of Team Development

Brace yourself! The second stage of team development can get rough and could even potentially jeopardize the entire project. Team members now feel comfortable enough to openly share ideas and prove themselves in front of the rest of the team and the management. Many will also feel comfortable enough to stand their grounds and it is likely that conflicts will arise due to differences in working style or attitude.

For team leaders it is important to realize that the team consists of individuals that have different working styles and opinions on how the team should work. At this stage, it is imperative that the leaders of the team keep the project on track by providing a clear plan, facilitate communication and decrease unnecessary competition.

3. The Norming Stage of Team Development

In the norming stage of team development, the team has settled down and the individuals got used to each other. Potential conflicts and problems have been solved, everyone knows their respective role in the team and team members value and respect each other. Commitment to the team and project is growing.

Team leads beware! Although the sea seems to have calmed, there is always a chance that you’re sailing back into a storm: new tasks or unforeseen obstacles might create additional friction that alienate individual team members.

4. The Performing Stage of Team Development

According to a 2 year study by Google (2015), there were five key-traits that a high performing team has:

  1. Psychological safety: An individual can take a risk (speak freely) without feeling embarrassed in front of the other team members

  2. Dependability: The team is capable of delivering work on time

  3. Structure & clarity: Everyone knows what to do.

  4. Meaning of work: The team members can identify with the tasks they need to perform

  5. Impact of work: The team members truly believe in the impact their work has for others.

Google’s findings are in line with the performing stage by Tuckman. He describes the performing stage as a state where the team is in perfect sync. The team has spent enough time together to overcome plenty of challenges and obstacles to form a strong bond. Most of the work is completed in the performing stage as efficiency is at its peak.

If you want to reach the performing stage (or become a Google-approved team), as a team lead, you need to show a sky-high degree of consistency and persistence to ensure these key-traits are being developed. You need to regularly check on your team and provide support and guidance wherever needed to keep the momentum. The reward will be an A-Level, trophy-winning, champion team that solves every problem you throw at them.

5. The Adjourning Stage of Team Development

The project has been concluded and you and the team have time to reflect on the accomplishments and shortcomings. It is important to highlight the successes and identify where there is still room for improvement. As the end of the project might sometimes also be the end of the team as such, some coined this stage also as the mourning stage (maybe it also rhymes a little nicer?).

At this last stage of team development, it is important to provide a platform for reflection and feedback and support the individual team members in their journey to come.

How about your dream team?

Did you find yourself and your team back in one of the five-team development stages? Or do you feel that you are stuck in one of them? Knowing and understanding the theory behind team development is the first step in creating the team of your dreams. Of course, other factors such as management capabilities, tools applied, and company structure strongly affect team development.

Interested to know more? Stay tuned to get insights on how we at SoftwareQ successfully built our high-performing teams and why we believe Team as a Service for software solutions could avoid many headaches for you!


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