The business of football
The business of football

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4.1 Team development

Many activities at work and in sport are carried out as part of a group or team. It is likely that you have experienced being part of a team that has functioned well, and also one that was dysfunctional in some way. The study of how teams function is often broadly known as team dynamics. The effective functioning of teams is vital to success at all levels in both sport and the workplace more generally.

The important point about teams is that if they function well they can influence and enhance individuals motivation. This is vital knowledge for anyone leading a team. But first you’ll consider your experience of the natural stages of team development.

Anyone who has coached or worked with a team of any sort will know that teams need to be allowed time to develop. Tuckman and Jensen (1977) identified various stages that teams may pass through as they move towards effective performance (Table 1).

Table 1 Stages of team development
Formingthe pre-team stage where people are still working as individuals
Stormingthe stage of conflict that many teams need to go through to achieve their potential. During this stage the team becomes more aggressive and challenges previously agreed or taken-for-granted rules and restrictions
Normingthe consolidating phase in which the team works out working procedures and the team starts to build its own identity and understand how to use the resources they have
Performingthe optimal stage in which the team works well with mutual trust, support and cooperation and strives to be even better by concentrating on learning and improvement
Adjourningthe stage when the team disbands and individuals move on

These stages illustrate something that occurs quite naturally in teams if managers let it happen – Tuckman and Jensen’s stages allow you to understand what stage a team might be in and not be threatened by it. However, consider the things that can affect this pattern: new members joining the team; the team leader continually switching things around (often a complaint in football teams); the leader not being comfortable with the conflict of the storming stage and trying to intervene because it feels threatening.

An interesting parallel in football is the arrival of new star players and the impact this can have on the rest of the team. Consider the contrasts between the experiences of the arrival of Fernando Torres at Chelsea, or perhaps Emmanuel Adebayor at Tottenham, or Mesut Özil at Arsenal. The expectation is that a star player will have an immediate impact but actually this might take time or even disrupt what is already a performing team.

Figure 7 Arsenal's Mesut Özil looks dejected as he struggles to make an immediate impact at his new club

Activity 5 Thinking about team development

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Think of a particular team of which you are or have been a member. Make some notes on the following:

  1. To what extent did your team reach the ‘performing’ stage of Tuckman and Jensen’s framework (Table 1)?
  2. Identify either what helped with team cohesion to reach this stage or what prevented team cohesion, thereby potentially thwarting the team’s ideal development.

Click on 'Reveal discussion' to read some of our thoughts.


A number of different actions and processes might be identified.

The following actions may be appropriate for helping the team move on from each of the various stages of development:

  • forming – helping members to clarify roles and responsibilities; helping the team develop a sense of identity; giving approval and praise for achievements
  • storming – encouraging effective ways of communicating within the team; letting development and dealing with conflict to naturally happen; empowering members to take responsibility for team decisions
  • norming – getting the team to define its own goals; encouraging the team itself to confront issues rather than turning to the team leader for solutions; enabling the team to coordinate its own work; encouraging creative and innovative thinking
  • performing – delegating responsibility to the team for monitoring and controlling tasks and procedures; encouraging team members to coach and learn from each other leading towards open communication and trust; enabling the team to evaluate its own work and seek to improve it.

You may also have identified how rare it is to work in a team that truly 'performs' and how fleetingly this can happen.

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