4 The life cycle of a team
This section covers the stages that teams normally go through, 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 has changes in its membership. In the first case, there may be little ‘storming’ 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 in 1977. They are:
- ‘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 becomes more aggressive and 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.
Your role as a manager in supporting and encouraging the team through each of these stages is set out in Box 6.
Box 6 Team stages: the manager’s role
Your focus is to help the team members to get to know each other and put everyone at ease. Minimise fears, confusions and uncertainties by clarifying the goals, roles, responsibilities and relevant procedures. Discuss concerns and expectations: team members who have worked in teams before may bring specific expectations, worries or prejudices.
Listen to problems, provide feedback which acknowledges all points of view, and encourage the team to work towards shared goals. Attempts to suppress conflict are likely to disrupt team processes. The storming phase is really an opportunity to resolve conflicts and, if carefully managed, can help the team become more cohesive.
Ensure that rules and norms are arrived at by consensus and that they help the team’s effectiveness. Time given to the creation of new rules by which the team wants to operate will make later stages more efficient. Facilitate team cohesion and ensure that each team member identifies with the team’s purpose and values.
Evaluate team effectiveness by looking at individual and team efforts, satisfactions and successes. The team will be concerned with productivity, efficiency and potential. Praise the team for its successes. It is preferable to reward the team rather than individual team members in order to promote harmony and cohesion. Rewarding individuals can lead to competitiveness and hostility.
Adjourning (or mourning)
Provide feedback on how well the team has done, what team members have learned and how they are likely to cope with new challenges. If it is appropriate, encourage team members to maintain links with each other and develop their relations through new activities and projects.
Tuckman and Jensen’s team stages are not always so clearly defined. 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.