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How teams work
How teams work

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3 Team formation

How do teams form? Are there any common patterns in the way in which they develop? It turns out that there are. In this section we shall discuss one of the more widely known models of team formation and development – Tuckman’s model (after the person who described it). This model is also frequently referred to by the stages of team development that it identifies: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.

Teams often come together in order to carry out a project or undertake a task that is too large, complex, or would take too long for one person to complete. While the team may be involved in producing a finished product or an end result, it can also be thought of as being engaged in a process that has a beginning, a middle and usually an end. The team is formed at the beginning of the project, it carries out the project, and at the end of the project it may or may not be disbanded. Teams rarely come into being fully fledged; they usually have to proceed through a number of stages of development before they function well together as a team.

These developmental stages can take some time to pass through before a group of disparate individuals begins to operate effectively together as a team. Unfortunately, time is something that many teams don’t have. They may have tight delivery deadlines imposed upon them, leaving little spare time for preliminary ‘ice-breaking’ activities to help team members to get to know one another during the initial stages of team development. In virtual teams, this lack of time is particularly unfortunate since it has been found that such teams often take longer to develop than teams that are collocated or can meet face-to-face (Lipnack and Stamps, 2000). One of the reasons for this is to do with the nature of the communication mechanisms used (electronic communication rather than face-to-face meetings, often using email instead of telephone calls or video conferencing). All teams can take a long time to develop if team members are juggling participation in the team with their normal duties and other competing priorities, rather than being assigned to a team as a full-time member. This situation, where team membership is part time, often occurs in virtual teams.