The Four Stages of Team Development

If you started your small business on your own, you only had yourself to consult and collaborate with. In some ways, maybe that was easier, but in other ways it was probably holding you back. After all, as business consultant and motivational speaker Ken Blanchard said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” So if you’ve decided to hire a team, you’re adding brainpower to your business, which can only help you grow! 

But now the question becomes, how do you get “all of us” to work together as a cohesive team? This is an important question that sometimes gets overlooked, but just assuming that hiring people and giving them a common goal to work towards will automatically make them a “team” won’t always work. Fortunately, there is a decades-old theory about team development that can help you understand the process by which teams come together, so you can get your employees to collaborate more effectively.

chart with teamwork statistics

The Importance of Teamwork

By now, most of us have heard someone laughingly say, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” But you know what? As silly of a saying as it is, it’s true. For your business to succeed, it’s crucial that you foster the most effective team dynamics that you can. The importance of teamwork can’t be understated – for example:

  • 86% of employees and executives cite lack of communication or collaboration as the reason for workplace failures
  • Highly bonded teams show a 21% increase in profitability 
  • 88% of employees say that workplace dynamics is important for achieving business goals
  • Companies and organizations that communicate effectively are 4.5% more likely to retain the best employees
  • 37% of employees say “working with a great team” is their primary reason for staying in their job

It turns out that building a strong team can help your business grow, as well as help you avoid failures and keep the employees that you rely on. Sounds good! So what does having a successful team look like?

What Is a Successful Team?

Successful teams usually share attitudes towards the following things:

  • A mission – Everyone on the team has a clear understanding of the goals you’re working towards
  • Commitment – Everyone on the team is “all in,” or willing to put in the time, energy, and attention necessary to achieving the goal
  • The 3 R’s – Everyone understands the rules, roles, and responsibilities associated with the team
  • The process – Everyone has agreed on how communication, accountability, and decision making occurs within the group

We would add to that final point that the communication, accountability, and decision making processes need to be effectively managed – so you, as the leader of your team, need to understand how to get them to that point of agreement and harmony.

Four Stages to an Effective Teampeople sitting in a circle with work attire on having a conversation.

It might sound easy on paper: you’ve got individual team members, who are each valuable to your common goal in their own way, with their own unique set of skills, all working towards the same end – rowing the same boat, so to speak. But balancing individual and common goals can be difficult, as can simply getting different people to gel into one group. 

Think back to your school days: were you ever put into a group to work on a project? If you were, you probably spent the initial stages of the project just staring at each other, or even working out tensions between different members and their different ideas. But, hopefully, you eventually knew what to expect from each other and how to coordinate your tasks and use your individual skills. In many ways, the business world is no different: you’ve got to get your individuals to move past those stages of uncertainty and develop into a team. 

In fact, research supports the theory that teams go through definitive stages as they develop. The most famous model of this comes from psychologist Bruce Tuckman, who in 1965 laid out his four stages of team development. Knowing these 4 stages will help you build a more high-performing team. The stages are:

  1. Forming: Your team has just been introduced, and they’re probably being polite and hesitant with each other, but are excited about getting started. Don’t worry if this stage is focused more on the people than on being productive and getting work done – it’s still very important! What you need to do during this crucial stage is:
  • Facilitate introductions
  • Highlight each member’s skills and background
  • Lay out project goals, timelines, ground rules, and individual roles
  1. Storming: Well, the honeymoon is over. The politeness of the forming stage has worn off, as has the initial excitement, as the realities of the task at hand set in. Personalities might clash, disagreements might come up, but all of this is normal. In fact, if your team seems to be avoiding conflict at all costs, you should actually step in and try to recognize and resolve any problems bubbling below the surface before they blow up. This stage can also be very positive, though, as team members are now more openly sharing ideas – just be on hand to manage competition between team members as they try to find ways to stand out. people sitting at a table with books and papers all around
  2. Norming: Ah, now your team is starting to settle into a groove. Team members are starting to notice and appreciate each other’s strengths. They might still have disagreements, but responsibilities and goals are clear and respected. Each member works more efficiently because they have learned how to share their ideas and listen to feedback while working toward a common goal. If you need to deal with any disagreements in this stage, it will probably be much easier, but know that conflict might still arise. Don’t forget during this relatively smooth and productive time to check in, and make sure everyone takes some time during the day or week to refocus on the big picture.
  3. Performing: If your team has reached this stage, you’re into smooth sailing and can pat yourself on the back. Now’s a great time for you to focus on your own tasks, because your team is now confident, motivated, and familiar enough with the project and the other members that they require minimal supervision. What you need to do at this stage is remind your team to check in with each other, but you should stay out of their way if possible. Frequent, unscheduled questions or meetings about what they’re working on will only serve to waste time and make them lose their focus. Let them work on growing your business, and allow yourself to focus on that, too!

Seeing a team work together in a highly effective manner is a beautiful thing. But don’t be fooled – that doesn’t just happen. It takes work, and, as the leader of your small business, it is your job to guide your team towards the “performing” stage of team development, so they can achieve their personal goals, the collective goals of the team, and so that you can focus on growing your business. Understanding Tuckman’s Stages can go a long way toward turning a group of employees into a team!

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