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How to Manage a Team at Different Stages of Development: Tips for Leaders

Marina Stasevich, Co-Founder of Sota and a Business Coach, gives advice for team leaders corresponding to different stages of a team's behavior.

Marina Stasevich, Co-Founder of Sota and a Business Coach

About the development of the team

How does a group of people transform into a team? While teamwork and collaboration matter, having great individuals isn't enough. Teams are not stable; they continuously go through different stages of development. There are numerous frameworks for team development. One of the most commonly-used models was created by Bruce W. Tuckman, and it outlines five key stages of a team: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Ending (sometimes referred to as Adjourning or Mourning).

Understanding these stages helps team leaders and members:

  • Manage the inevitable conflicts and changes during group development;
  • Move through the stages with awareness and compassion for each other; and
  • Enhance overall team performance and create a healthy team culture.

Let's break the stages down in simple terms to help team leaders steer their teams effectively.

Team development model

Forming Stage

At the start, team members are often excited about working together. At the same time, some of them may feel anxious about fitting into the team or meeting expectations. Lots of questions arise and team productivity might be low.

The key focus for team leaders at this stage is to onboard new members, create a clear structure, set goals, and align the team’s vision and values to build trust.

As a team leader, reflect with your team on these questions during the forming stage:

  • Who are we as a team and why are we here?
  • Do we clearly understand our roles and responsibilities?
  • Which goals and values unite us?
  • What inspires us?
  • Why is our work important?
  • Who benefits from it?
  • Which abilities and strengths do we bring to the table?
  • What are the ideal outcomes of our work?
  • Once we achieve these results, what’s next?

Storming Stage

At some point as a team leader, you may notice employees starting to push against the established boundaries. They may express concerns about goals, roles, efficiency, or ways of communicating within the team. They may even become impolite to each other, argue, or challenge your management style as a team leader. This is when initial excitement gives way to frustration and disagreements. How can the team resolve conflicts effectively during the storming stage? First, remember that conflicts are inevitable and normal on the path to improvement.

To address and overcome frustration: review goals, roles, and tasks; establish norms for how team members will express disagreement constructively; and support a culture of open feedback.

Additionally, consider the following questions:

  • How can we redefine goals, roles, and tasks to overcome frustration?
  • How do we prevent and solve problems effectively? What do we rely on to do so?
  • How do we give and receive feedback?
  • What do we do when someone breaks an agreement?
  • What is the best way to address the strengths and weaknesses of team members?
  • Why is each member important? What do team members gain from each other?
  • How do our differences make us a strong team?

Norming Stage

At this point, employees start to resolve their differences and align their individual expectations with the team's reality. Team efforts consciously focus on achieving harmony, meaningful communication, and an increased acceptance of diverse opinions. During the norming stage, team leaders can encourage constructive feedback, and evaluate processes and productivity.

Use your regular one-on-ones to encourage individuals to share their opinions of what’s going on and what needs to be done to advance.

Questions for team leaders to reflect on during the norming stage: 

  • How can we encourage meaningful communication with each other?
  • What initiatives can we pursue to promote and support the variety of opinions within the team?
  • How do we evaluate our processes and productivity?
  • What is the real strength of each team member?
  • Which skills and competencies do we lack? How can we access them by working as a team?

Performing Stage

In this stage, team leaders will notice peak performance: your team is in flow. Team members work hard, feel satisfied, share insights, and adopt a “can-do” attitude with an appreciation of differences that boosts overall productivity.

As a leader, you should make time for each employee's personal development. Discuss with your team the opportunities and resources that are available to them and what kind of support employees expect from you.

Reflect on these questions to advance further:

  • How can individual strengths be leveraged for collective progress?
  • How can roles become more fluid, with members taking on responsibilities as needed?
  • How do we know that we are moving in our chosen direction? How do we measure goals and criteria? How often
  • How do we recognize and celebrate our accomplishments?

Ending Stage

When projects come to an end, team members may feel mixed emotions — ranging from satisfaction to anxiety and sadness. Some people who developed close working relationships with colleagues may find this time difficult. The focus on tasks decreases because people feel uncertain about what’s ahead.

Team leaders play a big role in managing emotions, keeping team members focused on tasks for a smooth transition, and creating a meaningful closing celebration. Having positive shared experiences will make things easier if you work with some of the same people again in the future.

The questions that will help you to overcome the emotions of the adjourning stage include:

  • How can we manage conflicting emotions?
  • What tasks are crucial for a smooth transition?
  • What are the “lessons learned’?
  • How can we create a meaningful closing celebration?

Using the Team Development Model

One of the key roles of a leader is to help the team smoothly advance to the performing stage. Recognizing and understanding the stages can help leaders choose suitable development techniques. Follow the steps below to ensure that you're doing the right thing at the right time: 

  • Identify your team’s current stage.
  • Consider what you need to do to move on to the next stage.
  • Follow your action plan.
  • Regularly review where your team is and adjust your behavior and leadership approach accordingly.

Remember, the process may not be straightforward or linear — teams may go back and forth between stages. When new members join, for example, teams might go back to the "Forming" stage. A new business direction might require you to reevaluate your team roles and goals. Storming can break a team if you leave team conflict unresolved.

Continually reflect on which stage your team is at – and make changes to get back on course as necessary.

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