Mastering 5 Stages of Group Development with a Strengths Perspective

group development

Forming a new team is always associated with a certain degree of risk, which eventually determines the success of the project. The risk is that having talented high-performing individuals on your team does not equal having a high-performing team. 

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, a prominent researcher of group dynamics, suggested the theory, which explained much about team development. According to Tuckman, ever since the strangers are selected into a new team, the group starts going through 5 recognizable stages of group development – forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning

The Tuckman’s theory has received much acclaim and is now universally covered in all MBA programs.  

Why is this theory so much appreciated? 

Understanding of what to expect on each stage of group development and how to react to team dynamics is the key to making the team perform at its best at each stage. Using a strength-based approach, managers can further facilitate team’s transition to performing, which is the stage of maximum productivity.

5 Stages of Group Development

Before we come down to the review of the Tuckman’s model, there are two important notes to make. 

  1. There is no timing. There are no norms stating how long each stage should last; it depends solely on the team and its management. There is also no clear-cut transition between the stages. For example, storming and norming often overlap. 
  2. There are no guarantees. It is not a given that your team would come through all the stages. You cannot simply wait for the performing stage to come as you wait for your children to get out of adolescence. Actually, many teams stuck in the storming stage until they split or the project fails.

Forming

Forming is the first stage of group development. It is associated with uncertainty and anxiety about being accepted by the group. This anxiety makes the members be more polite and reluctant to voice personal opinions. Conflicts and controversy are avoided. Individuals try to figure out their own responsibilities, group goals and rules, roles and personalities of other members of the team. 

On this stage of development, the team needs much supervision and coaching. A team leader should focus on facilitating: 

  • the study of skills, strengths and interests of individual members;
  • understanding of project goals and timelines;
  • understanding of individual roles;
  • discussion and acceptance of group rules.

STORMING

Storming is the most challenging stage of team development characterised by a high level of conflicts and a low level of productivity. Individuals start to disagree and feel annoyed with each other. There is a fierce competition between personalities and working styles. Team members can start to question leadership, rules and norms, responsibilities, work evaluation criteria, remuneration system. A dominance group can also emerge in the team. 

While challenging, the stage is important for further development, as avoidance of conflict can result in piling up of problems and eventual blow up of emotions.    

A team leader should focus on : 

  • recognizing signs of covert conflicts and resolving over ones;
  • facilitating positive communication;
  • building trust;
  • explaining to the team the peculiarity of the stage to help them accept the current turbulence as normal and temporary.

NORMING

The name of the stage speaks for itself. This is the stage when people learn to collaborate and start bonding. Individuals start to respect each other for unique strengths and skills and feel less annoyed by the difference in their working styles and personalities. Disputes still take place, but they are easier to resolve. 

As a team leader, you should: 

  • manage performance providing constructive feedback regularly;
  • model positive behavior;
  • let the team try taking initiative and responsibility for moving forward; 

set up team building exercises that build trust and unity in the team.

PERFORMING

At this stage of group development, the team is characterised by a mature and stable structure. Members have a sense of unity and are committed to the common goal. They effectively deal with any conflicts and disruptions that arise. 

Members of the team are flexible, confident, and independent. The team works with little to no supervision. Coming of a new member of leaving of an old one does not affect the performance of the team as a whole.  

The role of a team leader on this phase of team development is limited to

  • delegating and ensuring equal and fair distribution of tasks;
  • facilitating development of individual members;  
  • being a visionary informing the team about new market  trends and emerging competition.

ADJOURNING

Adjoining is the final stage in the group dynamics when the team separates. It happens when the project ends, the company is restructured or all the team members feel they have outgrown the current project and want to start something new.   

The management of this stage is no longer about performance, it’s about the wellbeing of the individuals who might find it very hard to let go the established routine and close relationships they have formed with other members.  

A team leader can bring value out of adjourning  by:

  • helping the team celebrate success;
  • facilitating retrospection and reflection;
  • making everyone feel appreciated and valued.

Which Stage is Your Team In?

If you form a new team, the answer is simple.

But what if you have been invited to manage the team that has already been working together for some time? How can you know what stage it is in? 

Having read the description of the stages, you might already understand what signs to look for. Can you spot excitement, uncertainty and unusual politeness between the members of the team? Is there much conflict and competition? Do individuals display trust and unity

All these are good clues that will make you know.  

Still, your views may be subjective and not coincide with how other members of the team see the situation. Thus, it is better to discuss this question with the team. 

If there is a positive atmosphere in the team and members communicate well, hold an open discussion or a strengths team meeting. This will help team members hear the concerns of each other and suggest steps that will help them move to a new level. If individuals don’t show much trust or positive thinking, you may discuss the situation individually with each member or run an anonymous survey (in large teams).

Using Strengths-Based Approach to Bring the Best Out of Your Team

Creating balanced teams and having a clear understanding of key strengths of each of team member has a dramatic effect on the management of each stage of group development.   

The case is that individuals with definite strengths will facilitate group development on some stages and halt it on others. What is more, coaching the member of the team in the period, which is the most challenging for this person regarding his core strengths, will make him successfully overcome this stage. 

Let’s draw some examples looking at each stage of the group development from the strengths perspective.

FORMING

  • Individuals who are Philomaths (love learning and listening to others) and Storytellers, natural masters of communication, will help the team get to know each other more quickly;
  • Catalysts will help the team not to stay in the uncertainty for too long pushing the team towards more action.

STORMING

  • You can rely on Optimists and Problem Solvers to help resolve conflicts and the resulting issues in your team’s turbulent environment;
  • Time Keepers and Focus Experts will help the team not to lose track of the project tasks while the emotions are intense;
  • Commanders might help to make sure conflicts and dissatisfaction is not silenced; still, it might be necessary to coach them on conflict resolution and be ready to interfere in an open conflict;   
  • Support Peace Keepers during this period: while they will help the team to develop trying to reconcile individual members, constant friction will make them discouraged and emotionally drained.

NORMING

  • Empathizes can do a great job helping others recognize and appreciate the unique skills and strengths of each individual;
  • Members who have a Coach’s personality can help you model the behavior of some members so that they are ready to transition to the performing stage.

PERFORMING

  • When the team is already working effectively and everyone enjoys the routine, it is great to have a Brainstormer who will never stop thinking of yet better ways to reach the goal;  
  • Independent and self-sufficient Self-Believers will inspire others to take on more responsibility and help you build the culture of confidence and success.

Remember, the sun doesn’t always come after the storm; storming and ineffectiveness may become perpetual. Thus, do not rely on the laissez-faire attitude regarding your team. Analyse the place of your team in the Tuckman’s model and take a strength-based approach to manage further stages of team development. This will have a direct impact on the success of the project and the bottom line of the company.

Having a HIGH5 Team Strengths Report, you will be able to use core strength of your team to the common good and quickly progress to the stage of maximum performance. 

the team strengths report

Build unique personality profiles for your team to help them work more effectively together