Module 4: Agile Team Dynamics & Leadership
5 Stages Of Teamwork
Just like individual relationships, teams move from an initial state of honeymoon to something deeper, well-functioning – unless they split up on the way. When team members learn to work together, they go through 5 phases. Those stages of teamwork are called forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.
When teams are first formed, members are often polite and pleasant, excited about the new task and new team. They are in a state of honeymoon.
In the forming stage, people familiarize themselves with each other and learn about what part different people play. The focus in this stage is typically more on the relationships than the task at hand.
Because of this, the team is often not very productive in the forming stage.
After some time, reality hits. The first excitement is over, and the weight of managing the task starts to weigh in. People are unable to uphold their overly polite and pleasant way of being. The task may seem less exciting now that we realize the difficulties and hard work required from all of us. In many teams, this leads to conflict.
It is easy to try to brush over the storming phase to avoid conflicts. Conflicts, however, can be important and productive for teams. Through them, team members challenge each other’s way of thinking and behaving. In conflicts, new perspectives and ideas emerge. Therefore, conflict is important for innovation.
The storming phase can be uncomfortable, and you might question the team and/or the task. But storming is a normal and essential phase. If you stick through the storm, chances are you will come out stronger on the other side. Especially if you are the team leader, your role in this phase is to remind everyone that this, too, shall pass.
When the dust settles after the storming phase, people tend to have learned important things about themselves, their team members, and the task at hand.
They learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and find ways of working together that help them overcome their differences. They enter the norming phase.
In the norming phase, team members build a common identity. They start to describe themselves as “us” and reach some sort of consensus about who does what, how, and when.
The norming phase is essential for teams to be able to perform. If a team gets stuck in the honeymoon phase, chances are members will only be polite but never really get to know each other or the task.
After norming, most groups can start performing. In this phase, members are confident, motivated, and familiar with each other and the task. They can work together towards a common goal.
Because people in the performing stage know each other and have a more precise understanding about who does what, the performing stage is typically when most of the work gets done.
The difference between a business group and a team is that the latter has a limited lifespan. Therefore, the very final, adjourning stage of a team’s development is when it breaks up.
For teams that successfully accomplished things and built a strong unit, this stage is sometimes characterized by a sense of loss. For less successful teams, it can be a period of grief and regret of all of the things that failed.
As a leader, you have the responsibility of helping team members cope with these emotions.
Some teams get faster to the performance stage than others. Others get stuck in storming or keep coming back to it.
Some teams even manage to get to norming and performing without any storming at all.
However, for most teams, recognizing these phases as natural elements of teamwork can help make the journey somewhat less of an emotional roller coaster.