The Stages of Team Development

Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development

Bruce Tuckman introduced the concept of the “Stages of Team Growth” (calling it the stages of group development) in 1965. His model posited that all the stages were necessary in order for a team to grow, successfully complete their tasks, solve problems, make decisions, and reach their goals.

With some changes, the model continues to be widely used in conjunction with Six Sigma, Lean Process Improvement, Continuous Improvement, the Agile Process, ISO 9000, and Kaizen.

The 4 Stages of Team Development

The Four Stages of Team Growth are:

  • Forming: Coming together as a team
  • Storming: Strong emotion and conflict
  • Norming: Learning how to work together
  • Performing: Working well together as a team

The PowerPoint included in this article gives an overview of each stage and the behaviors that are often observed at each stage.

NOTE: Some experts add a fifth stage to this model known by different names (e.g., Ending, Terminating, or Adjourning).

Stages of Team Growth – PowerPoint

Process Improvement and the Stages of Team Growth

I first became aware of the concept in the 1990s when I was a Process Improvement Consultant (known at that time as a Total Quality Manager). Whether referred to as Process Improvement or Total Quality Management, understanding of the Stages of Team Development is extremely helpful in bringing together cross-functional teams of frontline workers who need to learn to collaborate.

Assessing what stage a team is in has helped me more effectively facilitate dysfunctional teams and help them move to and stay in the Performing stage. I find the discipline of studying and applying the methodology of stages of team growth to be very helpful.

As a consultant, I taught the Stages of Team Growth to hundreds of Process Improvement teams. Understanding the stages assisted the teams in moving through the stages more quickly. It also helped them:

  • Learn to talk about how the interpersonal component of the team was impacting their progress toward task completion
  • Normalize the emotions and situations that arise at each stage
  • Feel more comfortable with the team, and successfully navigate the periods when they were in the uncomfortable “Storming” stage

Your Leadership Coach Can Help You Apply Your Knowledge of the Stages of Team Development

If you have a Leadership Coach, the Stages of Team Growth would be a great topic to explore with your coach. Through working with your coach, you should be able to sharpen your skills:

  • Explaining the stages to your team
  • Identifying which stage your team is in
  • Supporting your team(s) in moving toward the Performing stage

Coaching is a great way to move from learning new leadership theories to applying them in specific situations (bringing them into the workplace).

What Types of Teams Do the Stages of Team Growth Apply To?

There are many types of teams, and, as far as I know, all teams move through the Stages of Team Growth, including:

  • Operational teams
  • Functional teams
  • Work teams
  • Leadership teams
  • Executive Leadership Teams
  • Matrix teams
  • Process improvement teams
  • Problem-solving teams
  • Cross-functional teams
  • Project teams
  • Virtual and Hybrid teams

As long as a team stays intact for a significant period of time, it will go through some or all of the Stages of Team Growth.

Teams Flow Differently Through the Stages of Team Growth

Every team will have a different timetable and roadmap as they move through the stages. Teams may skip stages and/or move in either direction through the stages.

Also, unfortunately, some teams never reach the Performing stage.

Events and circumstances that commonly move a team back to a previous stage or keep them stuck in a stage, include:

  • Assignment of a new project or task
  • Redesign of team member role(s)
  • A member leaving or joining the team
  • Getting a new leader
  • An absent or unavailable leader
  • A failure or large mistake
  • Changes in the business climate
  • A new upper management stakeholder
  • Becoming impatient with the process

Knowing how to identify possible causes for a team to move back to a previous stage or staying stuck in a stage (especially the Storming stage) and what to do to help a team move forward in the stages is a very powerful set of tools for supporting team growth.  Knowledge of the stages and how to help them move out of the Storming stage can help a leader manage team conflict.

Real Life Examples of the Stages of Team Growth

The Missing Manager Storming – Example 1

I was once called in to observe a manufacturing team stuck in the Storming stage manifested by frustration, anger, and unresolved conflict. Not surprisingly, this team was not meeting their quotas, which was adversely affecting their internal and external customers.

It was immediately obvious what was impeding this team: their manager had his door closed most of the time. If someone came to ask a question, he asked them to come back the next day (at a specified time). When he did meet with his employees, he would often break off the meeting to make a call or get a cup of coffee. Basically, he had a closed-door and closed-lip policy.

It eventually came to light that he didn’t feel comfortable that he knew the answers to his team’s questions, so he tried to avoid questions. In the end, his manager realized he didn’t have the technical expertise to run the team, so he was moved to an expert role, and one of the team members was promoted to manager. Not long after that change was made, this team was able to move to the Performing stage—demonstrated by a feeling of closeness within the team, the ability to anticipate and prevent problems, and individuals striving to be better team members.

The New Team Member Storming – Example 2

In another example, a long time high performing cross-functional process improvement team that I was facilitating abruptly reverted to the Storming stage. They were beset by arguing, defensiveness, and an inability to reach decisions after a new team member joined the team.

In this case, I helped the team return briefly to the Forming stage by:

  • Restating the team Ground Rules and ensuring all agreed to them
  • Fully defining the new member’s role
  • Redefining other team members’ roles based on the new team member’s role
  • Reiterating the goal of the team and reaching a consensus on it
  • Ensuring the new member understood the goal
  • Reviewing the plan to attain the goal

The team then skipped over Storming and Norming stages and returned to the Performing stage as before. In team meetings, the team displayed cohesion, camaraderie, the ability to give and receive feedback, and consistent progress toward their goals.

The Changing Roles Storming – Example 3

In a third example, I conducted some team building for the office staff of a large medical site. This team had once been a high-Performing work team.

In the past, patients had rated this site the highest in the Medical Group. But, more recently Patient Satisfaction scores had dropped. They had been stuck in Storming for months.

When we began our team-building event, everyone was quiet.

Some team members were glaring at other team members and some looked fearful or stoic.

It seemed that everyone was affected by the tensions in the team. No one was doing their best work.

I let the team know that their silence could indicate they were Storming.

I asked what might have happened six months ago to cause them to return to Storming.

More silence.  So I asked them to write their opinion of the cause on a Post-It note and hand it in.  I put the notes on a whiteboard and almost every note referred to the same thing: Corina and Angela were mad at each other, but no one knew why.

Corina explained that she was frustrated because Angela was stealing her patients. She felt betrayed by Corina and felt her great work wasn’t appreciated by their manager, John.

Angela explained that John had told her to take whichever patient was next regardless of the physician they were seeing. She was trying to help Corina, but her help wasn’t appreciated.

Team members chimed in and it was split, some on both sides.

Corina raised her voice, Angela raised hers more and said that Corina was unprofessional. Corina stormed off.

We closed the meeting, told the team we would meet again in two weeks, and asked them to reflect on:

  • What the conflict was truly about
  • How the team could get back to “Performing”

John was distraught. The intensity of the emotions made him uncomfortable. He was afraid that the team was beyond repair.

From Storming to a Happy Ending

I let John know that I believed he would see an improvement in how the team worked together after this blow-up.

It’s counterintuitive, but I often see teams recover and move back to Performing after a blow-up.

I asked John to meet with Corina and ask her to reflect on the topics that had been assigned to the team. Three weeks later, I returned to find a calmer and happier team. They had been able to discuss the issues openly and calmly in a staff meeting.

John also included everyone in redesigning and clarifying Corina and Angela’s roles.

The end result of the second meeting was an agreement on how to proceed and how to treat each other in the future: discuss hurt feelings instead of passive-aggressively showing their anger. Corina and Angela apologized to each other and even shared a hug.

From Storming to Performing

As you enhance your knowledge of the Stages of Team Growth and how to help your team navigate them, you will be able to build your team(s) into a higher performing team(s). Like with any skill, the more you exercise it, the more comfortable you will become.

As stated before, if you have an Executive Coach, they can help you stretch into using this new knowledge by designing actions to implement in your day-to-day work.

Be the Leader you’ve always wanted to be!

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With Our Consultations Coach: Vicki Rich, MBA, ACC (BIO)
With Our Consultations Coach: Vicki Rich, MBA, ACC