How to Use the 5 Stages of Team Development

Teams in the workplace grow, adapt and change as team members learn more about one another and how their abilities work together. Managers and employers can take advantage of each stage of team development to improve teamwork, communication, efficiency and effectiveness among core groups in the workplace.


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What is the team development framework?

The five stages of group development outline the main categories of how people create, resolve and overcome conflict. They were identified by psychological researcher Bruce Tuckman, who first published his team-building framework in 1965 in the Psychological Bulletin journal. It originally had four stages and was known as the forming-storming-norming-performing group model, but Tuckman updated the framework in 1977 to add a fifth stage to represent how the ending phases of a project impacts members of a team.


Why is team development important?

In the workplace, the team development framework can be a key part of the onboarding process for new employees as they integrate with company culture. It can also impact departmental dynamics and project teams that develop in response to changing company initiatives. Managers can use the team development framework to anticipate challenges and create more effective management strategies.

Related: How to Manage Employees


The five stages of development with examples

All teams naturally move through each step of the team development process when starting out and when restructuring. Here are each of the stages of development in order with examples of how they can manifest in the workplace:


1. Forming

The forming stage occurs at the beginning of a project or the introduction of a new team member into the workplace. In the forming stage, employees are testing the boundaries and dynamics of their new group while largely acting independently. They start to unify as a team by identifying opportunities, goals and issues, then discussing possible ways to approach their work. New team members can be optimistic and anxious about the outcome of the new venture.

Employers can facilitate the forming stage by planning introductions so that team members can get to know one another’s values, strengths and opportunities for growth. Structuring time for employees to learn about their team also makes it easier to assign tasks and organize project timelines in a logical and strategic way.


Example: “The Greenbriar Public Library hires a new group of interns every year to help facilitate educational programs in the community. They hold an orientation day where they explain onboarding procedures, meet supervisory staff and have icebreaker activities for the interns. Each intern has the opportunity to discuss their background in information science and education, plus what they want to learn from the internship. This allows team members to start relating with one another and thinking about possible ideas for future collaboration.

In addition to social familiarization, the interns receive their first assignment and instructions on the library’s policies and expectations. Librarians and educators check in with each intern regularly and host weekly meetings where they can discuss their progress and ask questions.”


2. Storming

After expectations are set and goals are established, the team has to test its new relationships in the storming stage where team members are comfortable enough to start bringing up conflicts and disagreements. During the storming stage, team members recognize where their personalities and working styles merge and clash. People are less concerned with making a good impression and fitting in and more concerned about accomplishing their goals and producing good work.

The storming stage of team development is the most challenging part of having a group work together. Managers need to have conflict resolution skills and recognize issues head-on to progress past the storming phase. Some disagreements are normal but they need to be managed to avoid impeding production and causing workplace hostility. The storming phase allows employees to learn how they can adjust their behaviors and expectations to create a mutually beneficial situation for everyone on their team.


Example: “The Greenbriar Public Library interns are starting to plan a weekly science storytime event and spend a lot of time together in the library office. The outreach intern starts getting irritated that the teaching intern submits their lesson plans at the last second so that they have to rush to contact teachers. These issues cause a period of tension and arguments until they are able to communicate and find middle ground.”

Related: Five Management Tips You Can Try Today


3. Norming

The norming phase is when patterns, habits and workplace rituals start to form within a team. Social norms in the workplace are the accepted behaviors and performance indicators that all members of the team agree to. The biggest defining factor in the norming phase is that each team member has respect for one another and knows the best strategy for approaching and overcoming disagreements.

As teams develop norms and level out their expectations, they clarify each person’s role on a team and their position on the team hierarchy. Some teams may move back and forth from the norming and storming phase as they discover different kinds of challenges.


Example: “The outreach intern approaches the research intern and explains how they have been struggling with not having enough time to do their work well, and they are able to communicate to determine a new schedule that works for both of them. Each member of the team recognizes that their group dynamic and collective success can only be achieved when everyone can adapt and compromise.”


4. Performing

Once a team has established a healthy and sustainable way to carry out tasks as a group, it advances to the performing phase where the team is efficient, organized and mature. The members direct workflow appropriately and are able to bring up potential issues, reliably resolve conflicts and embrace creative or unconventional ideas. During the performing stage, the team has high levels of commitment and dedication to their individual role and the overall purpose of their team.

Employers and business owners can generally be more hands-off in the performing phase because their team has a proven record of successful collaboration. Team members are confident and can quickly align their actions with the wellbeing of the team to help complete its mission. Encouraging team members at the performing phase of team development and helping them celebrate their accomplishments and contributions can drive consistent success for the entire duration of a project.


Example: “The library interns have become comfortable with the workflow and know exactly what they need to accomplish and when. They decide to work together on a new pilot program targeted at senior citizens and are able to plan the project and present it to the manager for approval independently. When events go well, they feel a collective sense of pride, and they’re progress-oriented when their projects don’t go as planned.”


5. Adjourning

Once a project ends or a company restructures to dissolve a group working together, teams enter the adjourning stage, also known as the mourning stage. Employees have completed most of their objectives and are reorganizing their responsibilities to prepare for a new team or new goal. When people know that their work is coming to an end, they can experience a change in productivity as a result of the impending change to their workflow.

Organization is especially important at this phase as each team member finishes all outstanding projects and deliverables. Employees should complete evaluations to guide their professional development and record lessons learned for future projects. This allows you to turn their expertise as a team into best practices for new teams to follow.


Example: “At the end of the year, the library internship ends and each intern prepares a report on their experience. They present the highlights of their programming at an end-of-year meeting where they recognize the biggest lessons they learned and their most successful events. The intern manager creates a report on how this group of interns made an impact on their overall goals and what they want to encourage or change for the next group.”


Strategies to improve team development

Regularly check in with your team to identify what phase of team development it is in and when the members start to transition into the next phase. Use the stages of team development to inform your leadership style and cultivate the strongest team possible by following these tips:

  • Revisit your mission. Remind your team why they were assigned to work together and encourage them to share in common goals.
  • Be consistent. Set ground rules and be consistent in enforcing them to guide a good standard of behavior.
  • Prepare to mediate. Team members may not be able to resolve conflict on their own, so prepare to act as a facilitator during challenges.


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