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Team Development Cycle – from Forming to Performing

The team development cycle is a process that a team goes through to learn to work together. It is composed of 5 stages:

Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning.

Teams are an essential part of projects. A great team will ensure your project is completed well and on time. In contrast, an ok team can mean delays, loss of quality, and a lot of additional work.

In many cases, the difference between such teams is the amount of time they have been working together and at what stage of team development they are.

team development cycle

While most teams progress through the development cycle naturally, by knowing what it is you can actually help them get out of sticky situations. So keep on reading to learn more about the team development cycle or scroll down for a visual infographic on the topic.

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What is team development?

Team development is a process of learning to work together.

Each time a new group of people is gathered to perform as a team, they have to find a way of communicating, define goals and learn to work together effectively. This is what we call team development. Depending on the team and amount of different personalities in the group, this process can be rather easy or quite difficult.

However, by recognizing the team development stages, we can help our teams solve issues and progress. By going through the development cycle, teams stop being a group of individuals and become a unit, all working together towards the same goal.

Team development stages

An educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman described 5 stages of team development – forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. The last stage was added a few years after the initial definition, as Tuckman felt there was a need to describe the deconstruction of the team as well as the beginning.

As they stand, the five stages represent a team development cycle. In an ideal case, the team linearly goes through each of them. However, if circumstances change, teams can go back and forth between stages instead of moving forward.

Here is more on each stage.

1. Team is Forming

The first stage of the team development cycle is Forming, and it talks about a new team getting acquainted.

This first stage of the team development cycle brings a lot of uncertainty. The team members must get to know each other and determine what they are trying to achieve and how they will start doing that. Thus, most team interactions in the Forming stage are social, helping the team get acquainted.

As the work process is not yet decided, the team is making little progress, and their progress is often riddled with errors. They must learn to work together before creating any true value. As such, the Forming stage is filled with uncertainty, and most team members seek guidance. If one or a couple of team members are willing to take on this responsibility, they are the most likely candidates for becoming the group leaders at the following stages.

Here’s a snapshot of what might be happening during forming stage:

  • Introduction and Icebreaking: The team gathers for an introductory meeting facilitated by the team leader or project manager. Each member introduces themselves, sharing their background, skills, and experiences. Icebreaking activities may be conducted to foster a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
  • Goal Clarification: The team leader outlines the project goals, objectives, and timelines. They discuss the importance of the project and its alignment with the company’s overall strategy. The team members ask questions to gain a better understanding of the project’s scope and expectations.
  • Role Assignment: The team leader assigns specific roles and responsibilities to each team member based on their skills and expertise. This may involve discussing individual strengths and areas of focus. The team members may also express their preferences and suggestions for roles they believe they are well-suited for.
  • Establishing Communication Channels: The team establishes communication protocols and determines the frequency and mode of communication. They discuss how they will collaborate, share information, and address any challenges that may arise. This could involve setting up regular team meetings, choosing a communication platform, and defining preferred communication methods.
  • Building Trust: As the team members start working together, they begin to build trust and rapport. They may engage in informal conversations, share personal experiences, and find common ground. Team-building activities or social events might be organized to foster better relationships and teamwork.
  • Forming Norms: The team members start to develop group norms and expectations regarding communication, decision-making, and accountability. They discuss how they will resolve conflicts, make decisions, and hold each other accountable. This stage is crucial for establishing a shared understanding of how the team will function.

Tip: If you want to support your team during this stage, encourage conversations about each member’s skills, backgrounds, and interests. Collaboratively establish goals, timelines, and ground rules.

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2. Team is Storming

Once the team members get to know each other, they move on to the second stage. Storming is the most difficult of the five stages, as the team has to learn how to work together despite their individual personalities.

As the team members already know about everyone’s individual skills and backgrounds, they must start searching for a way to collaborate and progress. In this stage, it is common for teams to have several divided groups, each of them with its own informal leader. Such groups are normally formed around different working methods or overall goals. However, the whole team must find a consensus on both to progress further.

Due to the contesting views, the team productivity either stays the same as in the Forming stage or decreases. It is important the team solves all the underlying issues so that it can improve productivity and avoid long-term problems in the future.

Tip: Help your team in the Storming stage by letting everyone have a say. Listen to all sides of each conflict and facilitate a middle ground that allows the team to move forward. Define the communication rules to help your team with any conflicts in the future and establish collaboration tools to facilitate the change.

3. Team is Norming

As the team works out the majority or all of their issues, they form a sense of unity and a common goal, thus entering the Norming stage.

With most of the issues being solved, the team starts to standardize their work practices and solidify roles. There are no more groups within the team and instead, they all work in a unit with a clear leader. Due to this, work efficiency increases and becomes the highest since the beginning of the team development cycle.

The Norming stage is the first indication that the team is going in the right direction, but the unity at this stage is still very fragile. The Storming stage is characterized by conflicts, power struggles, and a lack of clarity, which can significantly impact productivity and team dynamics. If new issues arise and the team fails to solve them, they can return to the Storming stage and thus reduce their productivity again.

Tip: Help your team in the Norming stage by setting individual roles for the team members and defining tools to deal with sticky situations. Recognize the value of everyone on the team. This requires open and honest communication, active problem-solving, and a commitment to resolving conflicts constructively.

Looking to learn more about project management? We have a guide prepared exactly for this purpose.

4. Team is Performing

As the team continues to work efficiently and is not anymore threatened by the appearance of new issues, they enter the Performing stage.

A team reaches this stage of the team development cycle as it matures. At this point, everyone is working together towards a common goal and producing predictable results regularly. If new issues arise, they no longer threaten the team’s performance but are dealt with constructively.

This is the golden age of any team and the goal of what you should aim for. It is marked by clear structure, unified goals, and, most importantly, steady results. There is no saying how long it will take for each team to get here, but you can certainly help your team move through the stages with previous advice.

Tip: Assist your team in continuing the great work by mixing the team roles. A high-performing team is made up of strong professionals that can share valuable insight into the process. Thus, do not be afraid to mix up their roles occasionally. For example, ask someone else to run the weekly meeting to get a different perspective and fresh ideas.

This can lead to new insights, improved problem-solving, and increased creativity within the team. Additionally, it gives the person who takes on the new role an opportunity to enhance their leadership and facilitation skills.

5. Team is Adjourning

At one point or another, every team reaches the endpoint and enters the Adjourning stage.

For teams that were gathered for a specific purpose, this final stage will begin as the goals will be reached and work will start winding down. Others may continue working but could lose several members, thus changing the overall team dynamics. Either way, this is a point in the team development lifecycle that the team as we know it ceases to exist.

Tip: Help your team navigate this transition by appropriately marking this stage. The Adjourning stage is often a bittersweet time for the team. While it marks the end of their collaboration, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on their successes and growth.

Therefore, consider holding an event or at least a short meeting to gather everyone from the team one last time and thank them for the job that has been done. By doing this, you will send them onto new projects with new energy and motivation.

Team development cycle infographic

So now you know all about team development and the 5 team development stages it follows. However, remembering all the information and advice may not be just that easy. For this purpose, we have prepared an infographic outlining 5 phases of team development. Save and consult it any time you need a reference in the future.

team development cycle

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Team development cycle FAQ

  • Do teams always follow the team development cycle?

    Most teams do. This cycle is a description of a natural team development progression and if a team continues to work together they inevitably will follow all of these stages.

  • Can a team go back and forth between stages?

    Yes. In fact, most teams do. It is natural for teams to go back and forth between the storming, norming and performing stages. It is the team managers job to understand the push backs and help them advance instead of regress.

  • Is it possible for a team to not reach the end of a cycle?

    Yes. If a team is poorly managed, have changing team members, or is disbanded early in the process, they will never go through all of the 5 stages.

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