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3.1 Stages of team development

Teams normally go through different stages of development, from forming to disbanding. Note that the stages cannot always be clearly identified: this is likely to be the case if a team operates for a few days or if a team changes its membership. In the first case, there may be little ‘storming’ (explained below), and in the latter there may be a considerable amount of it.

Managing a team means managing it through the ups and downs of the team process from beginning to end. The idea of different ‘stages’ of team development is useful in understanding what the team needs and how best to provide support. The stages of team development were most famously described by Tuckman and Jensen (1977) as:

  • ‘Forming’: the pre-team stage where people are still working as individuals.
  • ‘Storming’: the stage of conflict that many teams need to go through to achieve their potential. During this stage the team challenges previously agreed or taken-for-granted rules and restrictions.
  • ‘Norming’: the consolidating phase in which the team works out how to use the resources they have to apply to the task.
  • ‘Performing’: the optimal stage in which the team works well and strives to be even better by concentrating on the development of the team, individuals and the task in hand.
  • ‘Adjourning’ (sometimes also referred to as ‘mourning’): the stage when the team disbands and individuals move on to other responsibilities.

Tuckman and Jensen’s team stages do not always follow this linear sequence. For example, if new members join during the project, the team may need to return, at least in part, to the ‘forming’ stage while ‘performing’ at the same time. A variety of other changes may cause ‘storming’ in well-established teams. However, the idea of team stages can be useful in anticipating what kind of support a team may need at a particular time.

Activity 4 Thinking about team development

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Thinking back to your own example of a team in Activity 1, did you experience any of these stages?

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It may be that your experience was not quite as simple and linear. One criticism of the Tuckman and Jensen model is that some of the stages overlap to a degree, and that groups can move backwards as well as forwards. For example, a team might be bonding well and then the team leader leaves for another job and a new, very different, person takes over. The team might go back to its norming or even storming phases.

The continued use of this long-established model may stem in part from its relative simplicity, and from the fact that the titles rhyme, making it easy to remember. It probably also tallies with many people’s experience, at least to a degree. It is useful to know that storming is normal as it may make this stage less stressful for team members. In addition, it may mean that team leaders allow time for groups to go through the early stages before expecting them to be fully effective.