Talent Perspectives

Understanding (and initiating) Real Team Development

Ross Statham, Editor, Talent Perspectives

October 1, 2019


Team development isn't an art.  It's a science!

I've come to recognize that it's not just a "model," but it's an analysis-- an accurate observation as to how teams form, and if led and developed properly, how they develop into a unified and highly performing TEAM.

I was first introduced to the stages of team development by the Scouting organization over twenty years ago while attending leadership training for their adult leaders.  (At the time I serving as a Scoutmaster and Executive Board Member for the Scouting organization.)  I could immediately see the value, and in short order I began to put it to work in my own life- including at work.  I later became a volunteer leadership development Course Director and led the teaching of this model to others.  I was impressed then, as I still am today, with its simplicity and power.  

This model explains the stages that any high performing team MUST go through before it can become a high-performance team.  Any leader needs to understand these stages so that they can plan and act accordingly- and to help their team move through all of them in order to become a high performance team.


"Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing"

First, let's recognize that a team can be as small as two people, or as large as-- well, large.  But two things become painfully obvious to those who put teams together and who seek to develop and improve teams:

  • New teams don't perform well when they first come together

  • Existing teams are usually thrown off through the addition and subtraction of team members

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first proposed the phrase "forming, storming, norming, and performing" in his remarkable 1965 article, "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups."  In this article, he used this phrase to describe the path that almost any teams follows on its path towards high performance. (Later, he added a fifth stage, "adjourning" which is logical.)

If you're not familiar with the model, get familiar with it.  It applies to businesses, schools, non-profits, partnerships, sport teams-- you name it.  If you understand the model and guide your team through all stages, it will help you to be a more effective team leader.  If you teach the stages to your team, it will help you to move them through all stages more quickly and easily.


1.  Forming:   Short analysis: "High enthusiasm, low performance."

In this stage, most members of the team are enthusiastic and positive.  Some are nervous, as they yet don't understand expectations, skill sets or perhaps even the mission.  Some are excited about the task ahead-- some are not.    The leader in this stage must play the dominant role, since duties and responsibilities are not yet fully understood or even practiced.  In short-- lots of hand-holding and communication from the leader.

Unfortunately this stage can last a while-- so it's up to the leader to move people from this stage as soon as possible.


2.  Storming:  Short analysis: "Low (or lower) enthusiasm, low performance."

First, recognize that the need to "storm" needs to be communicated by the leader to the team-- they need to understand that storming, if conducted politely and properly, is the way that high-performing teams learn about each other, learn about working styles, learn who has the skills to do specific tasks and in short-- learn to communicate and build trust through controlled conflict.  Unfortunately, some teams fail at this stage- especially if not properly led by the team leader.

Storming can occur due to conflicts over natural working styles, personalities, cultures, jockeying for position/dominance, and often times because roles were not properly identified and clarified by the team's leader.  Some people may feel overwhelmed by personality clash, or workload, or by less than clear communications.  Some may be uncomfortable with the task at hand, and some may be uncomfortable with the approach used by the team's leader.

Some may dig in their heels, and some may experience high levels of stress-- especially if they don't the support of established processes, or have strong relationships with colleagues-- which often occurs within new teams.

Leaders should recognize that storming is healthy, but should be controlled by doing the following:

  • Communicate to the team the four stages, and explain each.  Let them ask questions as a group.

  • Explain that they will storm, that polite and positive storming is healthy, but that things will be uncertain and may cause them to be stressed or uncomfortable during this stage.  Explain that this is the time to learn more about the strengths and abilities of other members of the team, and that all should keep an open mind.

  • Be watchful and attuned to aggressive or impolite communications between team members and don't allow it to continue.

  • Let them know how they're doing through group feedback.

  • As their leader, continue to play the dominant role, and seek to stay fully on top of where they are.  Listen carefully and observe.  Lots of hand-holding and communications continue.


3.  Norming:  Short analysis: "Higher enthusiasm that before, performance increasing"

We're starting to come together-- but we're not there yet.  This is when people start to resolve their differences, appreciate colleagues' strengths, listen to each other, begin new relationships and friendships, and start to respect the abilities and authority of their leader.

As the team comes to know one another better they may start to socialize, ask one another for help, and come to learn who to go to for specific things that need to be accomplished.  Team members begin to have a stronger commitment towards the team goal, because now they're starting to feel like a member of the team.

Sometimes new tasks may pop up here that cause fresh storming to re-appear, but this is normal and healthy-- if controlled carefully.

Leaders should:

  • Ask the team if they think they're norming yet, or if they're still storming.

  • Be attuned to signs that they are starting to work together, and communicate to them what you're observing

  • Be attuned for those on the team who are still struggling; some will move to this stage more quickly than others.

  • Be watchful and attuned to aggressive or impolite communications between team members and don't allow it to continue.  Praise and reward those who are starting to work well and to trust their colleagues.

  • Let them know how they're doing through group feedback.

  • As their leader, try to take a less dominant role, but stay fully on top of where they are.  Listen carefully and observe.  Less hand-holding, but full communications continue.


4.  Performing: Short analysis: "High enthusiasm, high performance"

We're there.  The team is moving with no or little friction towards achievement of the team's goals.  The team, structures, infrastructure and processes that you and they have put into place are working well.

For you as leader, you can now start to delegate, and can concentrate on developing and aiding your team to even higher performance.

For members of the team, they like what they're doing and feel comfortable in their roles.

Ideally, you can lose or insert new members of the team (especially with larger teams) and it won't hurt the team's overall performance.

You don't have to tell them they're "Performing."  They already know it!


If you found this article to be helpful, please let me know- and share it with others. All the best!......Ross Statham, Editor

Talent Perspectives: Insights for Busy Professions is a series of brief articles that help build winning teams, provide insight on talent and provide organizational development ideas.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are (C) Dogwood Services Inc.


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