How to use the 5 stages of team development (and build better teams!)
All groups are composed of individuals with different needs, communication styles, and working practices. When bringing those individuals together and engaging in team development, leaders will need to find ways to help everyone work together effectively and grow as individuals and as a group.
Helping a set of people progress from being strangers to becoming a cohesive, well-oiled team can be a tricky process but thankfully there are team development frameworks, activities, and exercises that can help!
In this post, we’ll explore Bruce Tuckman’s theory of team development while also offering practical advice, actions, and team building activities you can take to help your group grow and work together more cohesively. Let’s get started.
What is team development?
Broadly, team development can be understood as a framework or series of actions designed to improve the way a group works together.
The process of team development is often synonymous with the five stages of group development posited by Bruce Tuckman, which are: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. The idea is that every group or team goes through a process by which they get to know each other, find ways to work together after a period of adjustment, and set up ideal ways of working together before reaching their full potential.
Facilitating team development effectively means not only understanding the various stages of team development and identifying where your team is at within the process but also taking practical steps to progress to the next stage efficiently.
A note on the Tuckman model: in our experience, while the Tuckman model is a helpful framework for understanding how many groups change and grow, it is a theoretical model and does not always offer the most practical help to actually grow and develop a group.
While most teams progress through the stages of the Tuckman model of team development in a linear fashion, it is not inevitable. Without attentive leadership, well-designed processes, and teamwork, groups can become stuck in the earlier stages of the development process.
Effective team development is a combination of process, action, and growing the self-knowledge of everyone in the team. In short, knowledge of the Tuckman model alone is unlikely to help your group develop into an effective team. By going further and building better processes and taking specific actions to strengthen your team can you progress more effectively. Let’s dive in!
The stages of team development
In this guide, we’ll not only explore the stages of team development but also explore how you can move your team through them productively with practical tips, activities, and exercises.
Starting with Forming, we’ll then move through Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning, offering a breakdown of what to expect at each stage while also including some key actions you should take in order to support the development process.
Looking for a wider range of methods to help promote teamwork? You’ll find an assortment in our post on effective team building activities!
Forming is the first stage of team development and is where a team first comes together, gets to know one another, and becomes oriented with the goals and purpose of the team.
During this stage, team members can often be excited, anxious, or uncertain of their place within a team and will try to figure out their role in the group. The role of the team leader is especially vital during Forming, as group members will look to them for guidance, direction, and leadership.
Practically, a manager or facilitator can help progress a group through the Forming phase by facilitating exercises that can help the team get to know each other, clarify roles and expectations and build relationships that will help the team succeed.
Key actions to support Forming
- Help a team get to know each other
- Build relationships
- Clarify team purpose
- Set individual roles and expectations
Help a team get to know each other
All new groups get to know each other organically through the process of getting together and working as a team. That said, without direction and consideration, this process can be time-consuming, messy, or even frustrating and alienating for some team members.
In virtual teams, the need for activities to help teams get to know each other is even greater, as some of the usual spaces for mingling and forming bonds are unlikely to be unavailable to them. Let’s take a look at some activities designed to help teams get to know each other in the Forming Stage.
3 Question Mingle
For some groups, the idea of getting to know you activities elicits a collective groan. Overly prescriptive or unimaginative exercises can frustrate a team, particularly if it’s not their first rodeo. In this activity from Hyper Island, group members create their own questions on post-its and trade them with other group members as they mingle and break the ice.
At the end of the exercise, all the questions go up on a whiteboard to encourage further conversation throughout the day. By encouraging the group to take ownership of this part of the team development process, you can meaningfully impact the Forming stage.
All groups are built on relationships. During the first stages of group development, you can help a team come together by creating space to build relationships with get to know you games and deeper exercises around empathy, trust, and group dynamics.
It’s also worth noting that during the Forming stage, people are often on their best behavior, keeping their cards close to their chests and familiarizing themselves with the group before fully coming out of their shells. Effective managers will often take the opportunity to help people get to know each other in a safe environment and share themselves meaningfully.
9 Dimensions Team Building Activity
Effective relationships between team members goes beyond work. To truly get to know your colleagues and build strong relationships requires honest self-appraisal, deeper sharing, and clear communication. This activity is a great way of quickly and efficiently helping a team share themselves with the group and go beyond the scope of some standard activities. This team development exercise also helps promote self-appraisal and personal development, which becomes even more important as the team continues to grow and develop – it’s a great way to use the opportunity to get to know each other meaningfully.
Clarify team purpose
To effectively move forward with team development, a group first needs to understand their purpose and overall goals. Frustration or conflict can arise if the group doesn’t agree on or understand the reason for the team’s existence and how success will be measured. Being sure the team is aligned on team goals early on means that you can develop as a group swiftly and efficiently.
Team Canvas Session
The team canvas session is a complete framework to help teams align on their goals, values, and purposes, and also help everyone find their role on the team. By methodically approaching this process with a step by step framework, you can not only move your group through the whole Forming stage but be productive while doing so. One of the other benefits of the team canvas is the creation of a living reference point that can also serve as the basis for further growth – online or offline!
Set individual roles and expectations
The Forming stage of team development is where group members first get to grips with their roles and responsibilities within a team. It’s vital to remember that every team is made up of individuals, all with their own skill sets and specific interests: by engaging your group as individuals, they can each be more productive and engaged and contribute to the team’s success. Be sure to clarify individual roles and expectations for every team member early so that people can feel secure in what they’re doing and get started effectively.
Alignment and autonomy
After delineating the roles of everyone in the team, it’s important to clarify expectations for how they should work autonomously and together. This exercise is an effective way of clarifying how your team should work together while also setting clear expectations around personal responsibility, reporting, and individual action. Used alongside exercises that help clarify team purpose and culture, this activity can ensure everyone on your team is positioned for success.
The second stage of team development is Storming. Storming can be a difficult to manage part of the process, as it’s often where conflict, differences of opinion, and accepted norms can be challenged. At this stage, the group may begin to understand the largeness of a project or task at hand and become disheartened. Additionally, misalignment on goals and working practices can come up, creating clashes of personalities.
While Storming can be tricky for a group to navigate, it’s also an opportunity to surface issues, create solutions and learn from different ways of doing things. One vital thing to remember is that it’s important to accept that personal differences in working style or goal perception are part of being in a team. Only by discussing and working on those things together can you move forward and progress to the next stage of team development.
In our opinion, the severity of the Storming stage directly correlates with the effectiveness of your Forming stage – in other words, if you take the time to align a team and meaningfully get to know each other in the Forming stage, you can avoid some of the more unpleasant or time-consuming aspects of the Storming stage. Disagreements and differences of opinion will always happen when passionate and talented people get together – the key is to not get bogged down and find productive ways to navigate those differences.
Key actions to support Storming
- Improve team communication
- Agree on how to handle conflict productively as a team
- Articulate team and individual needs
Improve team communication
One possible misconception is that to move a group through the Storming stage, you have to prevent differences in opinion from emerging. The ideal situation here is not to avoid discussions and conflicts from happening entirely, but to ensure they are productive, respectful, and result in practical takeaways. This way, your group can feel safe to surface any areas of concern while also being sure to avoid making things too personal or getting bogged down in blame or the potentially messier parts of the discussion.
Team communication is key in ensuring that a group can move through the Storming stage while also not avoiding potentially productive discussions around working practices or different perspectives.
Heard Seen Respected
Empathy is one of the cornerstones of effective communication and in this exercise, encourage your group to ensure they consider how to make others feel heard, seen, and respected in future conversations. As with all the best activities for team development, this method helps improve team dynamics across the board: while it will be especially effective if your group is in the Storming stage, effective team communication is vital for any point in the group development process.
Agree on how to handle conflict productively as a team
All teams are made up of individuals with varying skill sets, perspectives, and needs. As groups work together, conflicts in thinking, approach, or working practices can and will arise. While conflict can be unpleasant, this often stems not from the fact we have differences of opinion but that our methods of articulating or responding to conflict can create friction or the feeling of being attacked.
As with any aspect of teamwork, it can be easy to fall into a pattern and not consider how you might improve your process until it becomes a problem. Having an agreed-upon method of raising concerns and discussing them productively is a great way to ensure that your group is prepared to handle such difficulties when they come up.
Group reflection is an important part of improving on how you collectively and individually manage conflicts. In this exercise, you and your group proceed from reflecting on how you’ve managed conflicts in the past to develop a shared set of guidelines for managing conflict in your team. By including the team in this process, buy-in and follow through on these guidelines is improved while also giving space for effective reflection on previous conflicts.
Articulate team and individual needs
Conflict can often arise if members of a team don’t feel as if their needs are being met by others on the team or the regular give and take of effective teamwork breaks down. Conflicts around how teams work together often come from misunderstandings in responsibilities or how roles interrelate. You can help a team move towards more effective working practices by ensuring every team member is able to articulate what they need from other members and leaders and be heard and understood in this process.
What I Need From You (WINFY)
Most teams are comprised of people from different disciplines, backgrounds, and skill sets. Particularly when people with vastly different roles work together, expectations around needs, dependencies, and how to ask for help can be very different. Avoid misunderstandings and conflicts in this area by using this exercise to help everyone in a group coordinate around what they need to succeed and find ways to articulate those needs effectively. Where this exercise also excels is in giving everyone in the group room to respond and find better ways to work together in practical terms.
Norming is the third stage of the team development process. This is where groups begin to settle into a working pattern, appreciate one another’s strengths and become more effective as a team.
In this stage, groups often become more comfortable asking for what they need in a productive manner and offering feedback on team and leadership performance. It’s important to remember that teams in the Norming stage may not yet have gotten everything right and still need guidance and consideration as they move towards becoming an effective team. It’s vital to stay alert to team dynamics and both individual and group performance – you may want to course correct or further strengthen certain aspects of how your team works together.
Key actions to support Norming
- Build team spirit
- Give the group room to grow
- Surface and analyze problems and opportunities effectively
Build team spirit
As your team settles into a more regular pattern, it’s vital that you continue to take opportunities to celebrate one another and keep team spirit high. Happy teams are productive teams and so taking the time to improve team bonds through the team development process can help improve overall efficacy. Whether this means doing virtual team-building activities, away days, happy hours, or taking structured time to bond the team, be sure to keep an eye on team morale and continue the good work you began in the earlier stages of group development.
Building team bonds and creating space for your team can be about simply having fun together, though structured time to give appreciation to your colleagues can be effective in not only boosting morale but improving motivation and communication too.
In this method, invite participants to write a few words of what they most value about their colleagues on a piece of paper before passing it along to the next person. After going around the circle, invite each person to share which comment they liked the most. By sharing what everyone values about each other, you can build self-confidence and team bonds that can help the group move from Norming to Performing effectively.
Give the group room to grow
One of the key ways to move from Norming to Performing is enabling your group to do their best work through refining processes and priorities and giving everyone space to grow and work on what most excites them. This might mean doing regular one to ones to develop and empower your team members or engaging in thoughtful group discussion around priorities and tasks.
Circles of Influence
A large part of giving your team members room to grow is by allowing them to focus on where they can have the most impact and refining priorities to remove or minimize extraneous concerns. Circles of Influence is a great method to help your group reflect on what affects them and the team and see how they can meaningfully impact what concerns or influences them.
While you will have discussed and considered team and individual priorities earlier in the group development process, this is an iterative process that should be revisited and improved upon as the team grows. Giving each team member the space to focus on what is best for both them and team can be a vital part of moving from Norming to Performing – so be sure not to rest on your laurels and keep pushing!
Surface and analyze problems and opportunities effectively
Moving from Storing to Norming likely means many problems or difficulties will have been surfaced and resolved. This doesn’t mean your team won’t see additional challenges or that there won’t be opportunities to improve.
In fact, moving from Norming to Performing often involves further refinement and reappraisal of working methods as your team grows and develops. Even on a limited-time project, taking time to analyze team effectiveness and working habits during the project is important in ensuring you can maintain productivity and course-correct where necessary.
Team Self Assessment
Self-assessment is an important part of the team development process and using a structured framework can help ensure a productive conversation that doesn’t overspill or create further conflict. This team development activity helps guide a group through a structured discussion by focusing attention on six different areas, surfacing any challenges, and then voting on what is most important to the group. The learnings from this activity can then be used to resolve issues, strengthen the group and help move the team from Norming to Performing.
The fourth stage of group development is Performing. This is the ideal team state any group or organization wishes to reach: everyone in the group is motivated and aligned on goals and purposes, is operating at peak efficiency and the team is moving towards success at full speed.
Sadly, without concerted effort and an awareness of working practices, many groups don’t reach this stage, and it’s important to remember that moving into this stage of peak performance isn’t guaranteed. The key thing to recognize as a manager or team leader is that you can positively affect this process and there are things you can do to help your team achieve this state throughout the group development process. Remember: all the work you’ve done during the Forming and Storming stages informs how you’ll effectively reach and operate during the Norming and Performing stage.
Key actions to support Performing
- Capture and document learning points
- Continue to build team spirit (yes, again)
- Encourage proactivity and autonomy
Capture and document learning points
When your team is performing well, it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and assume that things will remain at this high level indefinitely. As teams grow and change they can move back into the Norming, Storming or even Forming stages of the group development process.
Don’t worry – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! You might start a new project and mix up your team make-up or try new things that result in some conflicts in perspective but also allow your team to grow. While it’s important to accept that remaining exclusively in the Performing stage – particularly for long-serving teams – is unrealistic, it’s also worth remembering that this is the ideal state. As such, it’s vital you document learning points and strategies that have worked for you and your team while Performing so you can apply them again in the future.
I used to think…But now I think…
Reflecting on how perspectives and working practices have changed and been positively affected by individual and group effort can reveal great learning points for the future. Though this activity can be used as a debriefing exercise at the end of a project, it can also be effective at surfacing the positive outcomes of initiatives like moving a team from Norming to Performing. It’s also a great way of reinforcing how far you’ve come as a group and to celebrate how you’ve grown. By documenting the individual and group responses, you can begin to chart how attitudes have changed and improved and thus understand how you can do so again in the future.
Continue to build team spirit (yes, again)
We can’t stress enough how important it is to take opportunities to strengthen team bonds and ensure everyone in the group is given space to share and feel seen. While you might perform more structured appreciation exercises, it’s also vital your team has space to have fun together, especially in a remote environment where time to increase team happiness is more limited. Happy teams are often more productive and able to support one another both in and out of work: a vital ingredient to helping a team maintain effectiveness in the Performing stage.
Blind Square – Rope Game
Having fun together can be an often overlooked element of team development. Seeing your colleagues as more than their job roles is something that should happen in the early stages of the Forming process but it’s important to keep engaging these muscles. This method is a classic facilitation method designed to bring a team together to solve a seemingly simple task that teaches and reinforces the importance of planning, communication, collaboration and problem solving. Even as a team improves in performance, it’s vital to keep improving and engaging these skillsets in the name of better cooperation and team development.
Guess the Desk
Creating space for meaningful team building online can be tricky, but is arguably even more important for those people who work remotely and may feel especially distant from their colleagues. With this virtual friendly activity, encourage the members of your team to share their working set-ups in a photograph and guess whose desk is whose. Not only can this help your team feel closer to each other but it can also help share best practices and improve everyone’s remote working set-up too: ideal for helping your virtual team maintain peak performance!
Encourage proactivity and autonomy
A large part of moving from Norming to Performing is empowering the members of your team to do work that excites and engages them individually as well as a group. Even when a team is performing at a high standard, there are often opportunities for individual action and proactivity that can help maintain growth and keep everyone in a group happy. Remember that a group is strengthened as its individual members do more of what matters to them and are engaged in creating the change they want to see.
One of the stumbling blocks many individuals and groups face when making change is knowing how to start while also being intimidated by the potential largeness of the task. One of the key ways to influence proactive change in a group is to empower your team to make small but meaningful changes incrementally and experiment to find what works. With this method, you can invite your group to identify small changes they can make now and work towards better working practices as both individuals and a team.
The fifth and final stage of team development is Adjourning. This step was added to the existing model of group development by Tuckman in 1977. Most teams will arrive at the Adjourning stage naturally as a project comes to an end or a group is disbanded though as with the other stages of the process, approaching Adjourning thoughtfully and with a mind to making the most out of time spent together can ensure your groups success in future projects.
Key actions to support Adjourning
Find time to reflect and collect learning points
The end of a project is naturally a great time to reflect, collect final learning points and think about what you might improve or do differently in the future. For an adjourning team, this can be an important step in enabling further growth and supercharging future projects and ensuring everyone is well positioned for whatever they do next. Crucially, you and your team should find some way to share learning points through reflection and then document them effectively.
Purposeful reflection often means tracing the entire journey of a team or project and pinpointing moments of success, difficulty and change. With History Map, you can help your team consider all the major learning points of a project or time period while also celebrating highlights and bringing the project to an effective close. The creation of a shared resource for future sharing and reflection is also a massive benefit, especially for virtual or asynchronous teams!
Celebrate one another!
While it’s important to reflect on the development of the group and the finer points of a project or general working practices during the Adjourning stage, it’s also vital to take the time to celebrate team members as individuals. Personal connections and the relationships between the members of a group are a massive part of why a team succeeds and all the good work you’ve done together as part of the team development process should be reiterated and celebrated here!
Quick-fire appreciation exercises can be great for generating energy and fun during a retrospective meeting or reflection session. Bus Trip is a great method for helping a group meaningfully celebrate one another while also keeping things moving. In this exercise, invite participants to imagine they are seated in a bus together and give them just 45 seconds to share appreciative comments with the person sat next to them before the other person returns the favour. Rotate seats and in a short period of time, everyone has shared feedback, celebrated one another and likely had some fun while doing so too!
Tuckman’s model of group development can help you understand how a team might theoretically grow, but alone it isn’t sufficient to help your team succeed and meaningfully develop. Being conscious of the process is a great place to start, but it’s worth remembering that reaching the performing stage isn’t a given and many teams get stuck early on.
By combining the team development model with practical action and teamwork focused methods at each stage you can help your team move through the process effectively and better enable personal and group growth.
Over to you
Have you employed Tuckman’s stages of team development model when working with your own team? We’d love to hear about how you helped your team grow and what methods you employed while doing so! Get in touch in the comments section below and share your experiences with the community.
Thanks for the interesting article and I find these tips very helpful.
This is a great little workshop that I can definitely use. Thank you.