Phases of team development

Phases of team development

Before a new group or team actually becomes productive, it must pass through
4 phases: the orientation phase (forming), the conflict phase (storming), the
norming phase (norming) and the productivity phase (performing). The fifth and last phase is the departure phase (leaving). Bruce Tuckman was the originator of this concept. It was described for the first time in 1965. Employees and executive personnel can support the productivity phase considerably during the preceding phases.
Phase 1: Orientation phase (forming)
At the beginning of any group process, the group’s hour of birth so to speak, there is often a lot of insecurity. The members slowly start to get a feeling for each other. The situation is politely tense and impersonal. The team members expend a lot of energy consciously or unconsciously in clarifying the following questions:

  • What role do I have in the team; can I fulfill my usual role (boss, clown, outsider, etc.) in this team too?
  • Who ranks highest and what does distribution of power look like; who do I have to let myself be influenced by and who can I influence?
  • How much of my personality can I disclose at this stage?

During this phase, leaders can support their team by giving clear instructions and ensuring transparency in regard to the following questions: What are mutual and individual goals? Who has which strengths? Which methods will the team adopt in performing their tasks? What are the basic rules?

Phase 2: Conflict phase (storming)
After the orientation phase, the focus is put on the struggle for status in the
group. Clique formation and competition lead to subliminal conflicts and frustration; in some cases, the formal leader is even called into question. Besides the possibility that an informal leadership position might evolve, the attention of the team members is directed towards finding their own individual roles in the group.
Each role can only be occupied once. Storming manifests itself in long speeches, verbal exchanges, etc. Those who make a bid for leadership are the ones who are quick to make suggestions. If the others support these suggestions, the person who made them becomes the opinion leader. There can be no norming and hence no performing either without a relatively intense storming phase being carried out first.
Leaders can support their team during this phase through active moderation, mutually developed basic rules and clear messages, for example concerning responsibilities or confirmation of formal roles such as that of the substitute.
Phase 3: Norming phase (norming)
In this phase, questions and conflicts are clarified which arose during the
storming phase. Honest commitment to the ground rules and genuine feedback among team members form the basis for the productivity phase which follows. True team spirit and dedication to a mutual goal should evolve on the basis of clear roles and tasks. Respect and consideration of others are necessary for enabling the team to cope with future challenges with joint effort.
One important way in which you, as the leader, can support your team during this phase is by acting as a model for important group standards. Questions you might ask yourself are: How do I deal with violations of rules and evaluate deviations from the group standards (e.g. vis-à-vis outsiders)? Do I address differences constructively?
Phase 4: Productivity phase (performing)

The team works well together and mutual, desirable goals take the strengths of various team members into consideration. Well-functioning distribution of roles and tasks allow for mutual enhancement. The team is highly productive and is able to weather crises together. Conflicts can be resolved in an open, constructive manner. Mutual experiences in the past have strengthened group cohesiveness and built mutual trust. Energy and creativity are no longer expended for clarification of issues and orientation but directed towards dealing with problems and shaping solutions instead.
For leaders, it is now important to prevent regression to lower group levels such as the norming and storming phases. Changes in team lineup generate the risk that new members might reinitiate the struggle for assigning roles and call established group standards into question.

Departure (leaving)
No team remains unaffected by departure. Team lineups fluctuate, projects and commissions are successfully completed and employees develop new competencies.