team development

Understanding the 5 stages of team development

The Bailey Group | May 5, 2022 | Blog | 8 minute read

Tight, cohesive teams are at the heart of a well-functioning organization. Of course, it takes time and resources to bring individuals together and equip them with the skills needed to collaborate effectively and get work done together.

The 5 stages of team development created by Bruce Tuckman almost six decades ago serve precisely that purpose. Each of the 5 stages — forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning — detail a framework for the maturation of teams to give leaders and team members alike a useful and convenient structure to ensure proper development.

The Tuckman model has a long track record of usefulness. Let's take a deeper look at what makes it so effective in helping teams develop:

The fundamentals of the 5 stages of team development

Importance of team development

Human beings are social creatures. That much has been known for a long time. Unfortunately, many organizations don't reflect that reality, and in the absence of healthy team environments employees tend to work in silos and get things done alone versus collaboratively.

More than ever, as organizations increasingly realize the business value and necessity of teamwork, the creation of collaborative workplaces has shot to the top of many organizations' priority lists. Close to half of executives who responded to a Deloitte survey believe better collaboration will help them increase employee retention.

As the world of work increases in complexity, customer expectations change on a near-daily basis, and as work models continue to hybridize, teamwork has become one of the basic building blocks for organizational success.

By far, well-oiled teams are more effective than any single individual could ever be. They're better able to complete large-scale, complex tasks; they can pool ideas and build upon them; and they utilize resources much more efficiently. All of this helps drive productivity, efficiency and innovation in an era that demands quickness and adaptability in the face of change.

Tuckman's 5 stages of team development

That's where the team development model comes in. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman devised his now-famous model in 1965, using his understanding of group psychology to explain how individuals build relationships and coalesce into a group. The Tuckman model has been used by organizations ever since to help them manage team development and create well-functioning organizations.

Let's walk through each of the 5 stages of the Tuckman model and take a look at the goals your leadership team should strive for at each phase.

1. Forming stage

At the forming stage, there is a substantial degree of nervousness and uncertainty among the team. Team members tend to approach each other and their duties cautiously, so there is usually a lack of conflict and almost no risk taking. Individuals also tend to work alone and are hesitant to collaborate, leaving a serious lack of teamwork and camaraderie.

Goals at the forming stage:

  • Break down barriers and encourage team members to get to know one another and interact frequently.
  • Define the team's structure, purpose and goals so team members understand their responsibilities and the ground rules.
  • Create open lines of communication between leadership and team members.

2. Storming stage

Eventually, team members get comfortable with one another and shed some of their apprehension from the previous stage around voicing their opinions and voicing their perspectives. As working styles become apparent and hierarchies are established, team members might start to butt heads. The storming stage is often characterized by disagreement and even open conflict.

Goals at the storming stage:

  • Establish effective conflict resolution techniques to prevent tension from causing deeper damage.
  • Create a culture of open dialogue that ensures all issues are raised and nothing goes unchecked.
  • Introduce a system of rewards and consequences to reinforce the ground rules identified during the forming stage.

3. Norming stage

Successfully navigating the storming phase leads naturally to norming, during which conflict begins to subside and a consensus around key issues emerges. Individuals accept and settle into their roles and demonstrate a greater willingness to collaborate with their colleagues. During this stage, the team develops a stronger group dynamic and sense of shared purpose, helping to drive productivity and effectiveness.

Goals at the norming stage:

  • Provide constructive feedback to all team members to ensure continuous growth and alignment with team objectives.
  • Remove certain elements of the team's structure to encourage individuals to take greater responsibility.
  • Continue creating opportunities for collaboration and teamwork to maximize the creativity and camaraderie present at this stage.

4. Performing stage

At the performing stage, the team has reached the full state of its maturity and development. Individuals collaborate seamlessly, and they are fully committed to (and have internalized) the team's mission and purpose. Conflict resolution is well established and constructive, and the team has developed a high capacity for independent performance and productivity.

Goals at the performing stage:

  • Continue to encourage collaboration and teamwork by reinforcing the norms that have been established to this point.
  • Measure individual and team performance to track progress and identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement.
  • Minimize concerns around the potential for the team to lose momentum or dissolve by managing change and future expectations.

5. Adjourning stage

Permanent teams (versus project teams) never reach the fifth stage of the Tuckman model. For others, however, there does come a point at which the overarching goals and mission of the team have been accomplished and it's time to disengage. The team won't simply break apart, however, and there can be a great deal of grief shared among team members who are apprehensive about severing the bond they've created.

Goals at the adjourning stage:

  • Ensure all tasks and responsibilities are fully completed and there are no lingering issues to be resolved.
  • Measure both the team's and each individual's overall performance to quantify all contributions.
  • Recognize key successes and accomplishments and reward good work.

The advantage of the Tuckman model

The ultimate benefit of proper team development is it enables team members to gradually get to know each other, building the capacity to do important work together and ultimately achieve a shared set of goals. The process of building personal rapport between individuals before anything else happens is a critical step to long-term team success. Without having those personal relationships undergirding their professional ones, teams are prone to tension, conflict and failure.

More than that, the Tuckman model gives each team leader an intuitive framework to help them understand their role at each stage of the development process. They can use this to properly set priorities, benchmarks and goals, helping them make adjustments when needed and support their teams in their progress.

What makes the Tuckman model so successful?

Team development typically follows the above five stages in a linear progression. However, it's possible for teams to undergo a serious change that causes them to revert to an earlier stage. For example, a high volume of turnover in a short period might cause the team to return to the forming stage and start again.

Despite this, the Tuckman model is useful because it has proven to be a highly effective framework for teams at all levels of the organization. Here's why it works so well:

  • It's easy to remember: Tuckman deliberately gave each step in his team development framework simple names that followed a rhyming pattern. That makes each step much easier to recall.
  • It's widely adopted and used: The Tuckman model is used by numerous organizations spanning a wide variety of industries. That means individuals are likely to encounter the same team development model when transitioning to new jobs or companies.
  • It just makes sense: The Tuckman model is straightforward and intuitive. Individuals don't have to memorize complicated concepts to fully grasp it. Once they've gotten a sense of it, they find that it neatly maps onto their own understanding of the best way to build teams.

The Tuckman model has been around for a long time, and that means there have been plenty of opportunities to test it. Decades of psychological research have affirmed the effectiveness of the 5 stages of team development, and organizations continue to find value almost 60 years after its creation.

How does the Tuckman model compare to other team development models?

The Tuckman model is one of a number of other team development models organizations use to enhance their performance. Other common ones include:

  • T7 model of team effectiveness.
  • Hackman model for great performance.
  • Lencioni model of team dysfunction.

It's important to note that while other models focus on a particular aspect of team development, they don't usually address team development as a whole. The Tuckman model is unique in its comprehensiveness — it aims to cover the full process of the formation of teams, and there are currently no models that serve as direct alternatives to the Tuckman framework.

Strategies to help expedite your team development

At The Bailey Group, the Tuckman model sits at the heart of the team development process we utilize in helping our clients to bring teams together and move to high-performance quickly. Using the Tuckman model as a guide, we're able to help leaders advance in their team development by building a healthy awareness of the 5 stages and an appreciation for the compounding effect of healthy teamwork. We give them the tools they need to set realistic goals and expectations at each stage of team development and transform their teams into high-functioning, independent units.

Building a solid foundation for team development requires that leaders have the right skills and outlook needed to expertly manage team development and ensure proper progression from one stage to the next. Some leaders don't have the requisite skills needed to fulfill their responsibilities, and that's where leadership development coaching can play an important role.

Some of the critical skills we help every team leader develop to enhance their approach include:

Empowering individuals through team building

It's critical that leaders understand team development is a process that doesn't happen overnight. It requires time, attention and patience as team members work through each of the 5 stages and build a sense of trust and companionship with their colleagues. Leaders who have a good grasp of the Tuckman model are able to properly position themselves within their team's overall development and ensure that meaningful progress is happening.

Our team of coaches and consultants will work with leaders at either the team or individual level, depending on their needs. When it comes to team development, however, we do find that it's most effective to work with the team as a whole because we can observe team performance and individual behaviors holistically and better pinpoint areas of focus.

Regardless of how we personalize our leadership coaching, we're committed to helping leaders unlock their full potential. Ready to get started? Check out our blog for more leadership insights, and reach out to our team to schedule a free consultation.