Bringing a group of strangers together as a team that is expected to achieve results can be a daunting task. Conflicting personalities, different agendas, and our individual quirks all require the skillful navigation of a team leader. Thankfully, groups tend to go through recognisable stages of development and each stage benefits from a different approach to leadership.
The Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model of group development that’s often quoted in the workplace was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in the 1960s. He later added a fifth, lesser known stage, known as adjourning. Each stage is outlined below to help you recognise them, along with tips for leading the team through the group development process.
In the early stages the team will be unfamiliar with each other and on their best behaviour. They’ll tend to be polite, eager to make a good impression and possibily a bit anxious. Time will need to be spent getting to know one another and understanding each others roles and responsibilities. During this stage the team leader will need to be quite directive – taking the lead, providing clear and consistent direction and responding quickly to needs.
Once the team have got to know each other a little better, conflict and different working styles are likely to surface. Individuals may start pushing against boundaries and jostle for position within the group. The leader’s job here is to build trust, encourage understanding of each other’s strengths, and resolve conflict. It is likely your leadership will come under challenge. Remain positive and mindful that it is just part of the process.
At this stage conflict resolution leads to a more cohesive group and anxiety levels fall. Your role as leader is respected and the group appreciates each other’s strengths. At this point you can begin to step back and encourage others to take more responsibility.
In the mature state a group works together well, showing interdependence and focus on achieving the team’s goals. As leader you can delegate much of the work and dedicate your time to developing team members and focusing on other areas of work.
For many teams, such as those formed to complete a specific task, there will be a point where the goals are achieved and the team disbanded. At this point it is important to celebrate successes and mark the ending.
Some teams never make it beyond the storming stage. Others yo-yo back and forth between forming and storming. It’s important you assess regularly where your team sits and adjust your management approach accordingly.