A Complete Guide to the Stages of Team Development

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 23 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Developing teams can be important for encouraging collaboration and teamwork to ensure the success of a project. There are typically five stages of the team development process that describe the team members' feelings, behaviours and actions. Exploring these five stages can help you understand how team members might feel, allowing you to identify management and leadership actions to ensure team cohesion. In this article, we list the five stages of team development and outline how to use your knowledge of these stages to lead and manage a team effectively.

What are the stages of team development?

The stages of team development are points in a team life cycle that define the feelings and behaviours of team members. Throughout each stage of a team's cycle, team members may experience different emotions, causing them to act differently. There are usually five stages during a team's development that cover a team's entire life cycle, from its formation to its ending. The five stages are forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. There are different variations in these stages, but they typically refer to the same periods of a team's cycle. Below, you can find more details on each stage:

Forming

This stage is the initial phase of team development. When developing a team for a project, you typically select the team members. Depending on who you select, the team members might meet each other for the first time. During this stage, team members typically feel optimistic and enthusiastic about starting a new project. They might also feel anxious, as they're unfamiliar with the other team members and don't fully understand their role in the team. Some team members may be quiet, but it's typically normal when first meeting as a team.

During this phase, team members may ask many questions. They typically ask these questions to gain more information about their role and the project deliverables. These questions are usually important, as they help to ease the potential anxiety some team members may be experiencing. It's beneficial to answer each question, regardless of its importance or relevancy.

Related: How to Build an Effective Team: A Step-By-Step Guide

Storming

The storming phase is usually turbulent, as some interpersonal conflicts may arise. At this point in the team's cycle, team members learn more about their colleagues and may disagree with opinions and processes. The team's focus might shift from their responsibilities to their inefficiencies or inadequacies. These feelings and experiences typically arise when team members don't meet the expectations and benchmarks outlined in the forming stage. While the storming stage can cause challenges and issues in the team, effective leadership and encouraged communication often resolve the issues and conflicts, ensuring a productive and comfortable environment.

The behaviour of team members during the storming phase typically resembles frustration. You might discover that team members disagree with each other. Some team members might also express their frustration with their responsibilities and team management. It can be helpful to understand that the storming phase isn't necessarily a bad thing. You might consider this stage necessary because it's where challenges and interpersonal conflicts emerge. This means you can resolve them during the early stages of the team's cycle. It's typically better for teams to identify and resolve conflicts before the project enters its busiest phase.

Related: What Is Conflict Management? The Ultimate Guide

Norming

The norming stage is when team members resolve conflicts identified in the storming stage. This is the norming stage because the team identifies and accepts new normalities. These normalities represent expectations, personalities and realities associated with the team and project. During the storming stage, team members might have preferred to work independently, as they're not familiar with other people's processes. During the norming stage, though, team members become more accepting of differences and welcome the opportunity for cohesion. The norming phase is essentially when the team starts to work together.

Team members' behaviours usually improve drastically from the storming stage to the norming stage. You may discover that team members are proactive in resolving conflicts and communicating with each other, as they realise the importance of teamwork and collaboration. The general working environment usually becomes more healthy and comfortable as well because team members feel comfortable enough to seek advice and help from their colleagues. It can be helpful to understand that the team can still regress to the storming stage if the project becomes more complex and challenging or unforeseen issues arise.

Related: 14 Reasons Why Teamwork Is Important In the Workplace

Performing

The performing stage is what you might consider the golden age of the team's life cycle. During this phase, the team typically operates at maximum capacity. They understand each other's strengths and weaknesses and use them to progress through the project. There are usually minimal interpersonal conflicts during the performing stage because team members resolved them all during the norming and storming phase. The team typically completes most of their work during this phase, as they're productive, efficient and cohesive. While this is the most productive stage of the team's cycle, it's usually important to be vigilant of complacency.

The most cohesive team behaviour is often present during the performing stage. Team members are typically more willing to conduct more tasks and responsibilities to help their team members. They may also have more motivation and dedication to performing their duties. You might discover that team members become more adaptable or fluid in their duties, as they're happy to help colleagues.

Related: How to Measure Productivity In the Workplace: Complete Guide

Adjourning

The adjourning or ending stage is the final phase of a team's life cycle. This can be a relatively unpredictable period, as team members' feelings typically vary based on their experiences throughout the project. If the team experienced the four stages detailed above, they may likely feel sadness or loss when the project is in its final phase. Some team members might feel excited about new prospects, while others may feel apprehensive about the uncertainty following this stage. There are diverse emotions during this stage, which is usually why effective leadership can be important for keeping the environment productive.

Similar to team members' emotions, their behaviour might vary as well. Some team members might feel distracted by their sadness or apprehensiveness. Other team members might become more productive, as their coping mechanisms are to focus on their responsibilities. Compassionate leadership is usually beneficial during this stage, regardless of the team's behaviour.

Related: What Are Empathetic Leaders? (Plus Tips and Benefits)

How to use team development stages successfully

Before exploring how to use team development stages, it can be important to understand that you don't technically use these stages, as they're not strategic steps or techniques. You use the knowledge outlined in the stages to ensure you manage and lead the team effectively. Here are several steps on how to use team development stages to ensure effective management and leadership:

1. Set clear goals and responsibilities

During the forming stage, employees might feel apprehensive about operating in a new team or conducting new responsibilities. To provide your team with comfort and reassurance, it's usually an excellent idea to discuss the team's goals, expectations and responsibilities. This gives the team an understanding of their duties and what they can expect throughout the team's life cycle.

Related: How to Utilise Goal-Setting Theory In the Workplace

2. Encourage communication

The storming phase is usually the most challenging stage, as there might be interpersonal conflicts and expressions of frustration or disagreement about processes. Encouraging communication between team members can often resolve these issues and disagreements. The more team members communicate, the more they understand each other. When team members understand each other, the team typically enters the norming stage.

Related: How to Resolve Conflict In the Workplace And Why It Matters

3. Emphasise expectations and deliverables

During the norming stage, team members start to work together, facilitating a cooperative and team-oriented environment. This is often a crucial stage of the team development cycle, where it can be important to remind the team of their responsibilities, deliverables and expectations. This can encourage the team to focus on the project, advancing the team into the performing stage.

Related: What Is Benchmarking in Business and Why Is It Important?

4. Implement training and development

During the performing stage, team members typically feel comfortable with their responsibilities and relationships with colleagues. This is excellent for productivity but can also cause complacency, which is usually where mistakes begin to appear. Consider providing your team members with training and development opportunities. These opportunities can challenge them and improve their expertise, which might reduce the feeling of complacency in the team.

Related: What Is Training and Development? (Types, Benefits and Tips)

5. Show your appreciation

Depending on the team and the project, the team might have been together for a substantially long period. When the project and team are in their final stages, there may be feelings of sadness. Showing your appreciation to the team members is usually crucial for maintaining morale and productivity in the environment. It can also help team members feel more positive about the end of the project, as they can clearly identify your recognition for their contributions and efforts.

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