Wouldn’t it be great if a team started out as a fully formed, high performing team; everyone got on, helped and supported each other and, functioned like a well-oiled machine. How many teams are really like that when first formed? The reality is teams tend to develop gradually, navigating a few bumps in the road on the way, and evolve over time. Bruce Tuckman published his very useful Four Stages of Group Development model in 1965 outlining the phases a group will work through before they become a fully functioning team, and these still happen to be highly relevant today. He named the stages:
When a team or group first forms there tends to be an introductory phase where members of the team will ask each other questions about skills, backgrounds and interests. At first, team members are likely to feel anxious, apprehensive, shy or nervous. There is a tendency for people to be overly polite, want to make a good first impression and for care to be taken not to ‘rock the boat’. You may even have people asking themselves what they have signed up for and what they are doing there!!! This is absolutely normal at this stage of the team’s development.
Questions will also be asked within the team about the goals they will be working towards, the timescales of the project, ground rules and what responsibilities individuals within the group will have. This stage of team development is very much focused on the people within the team more than the project and processes, so it is likely that the team won’t be very productive at this point!!
This phase is not dissimilar to a first date or the first day of college where individuals are keen to find out as much as possible about the other people they will be spending time with.
This second phase sees individuals settling into the team and as a result there is bound to be conflict!! Team members become aware of other’s personal characteristics like finding out that someone has the annoying habit of putting an empty milk bottle back in the fridge or likes to listen to the same song every morning, on repeat!! Frustration is going to set in and, at this stage, people must either learn to embrace others flaws or end the relationship.
Individual team members will be jockeying for position within the team, trying to prove they can do that task either quicker, better or more cost-effectively than the next person and this can result in boundaries being pushed. Individuals can also start to feel comfortable within the team and, therefore, will begin voicing their opinions and disagreeing with other’s views.
Whilst this stage can sound like an absolute nightmare, avoiding it will only make matters worse as the conflict will escalate into a potential riot!! It is best to recognise that conflict will happen and to resolve it early on and know that this is a completely natural stage a team will go through as it develops!
Moving into this phase means it is likely that you are making it out the other side and there will be light at the end of the tunnel! Of course, the empty milk bottle in the fridge will still be frustrating but individuals will start to admire the knowledge and skills of other team members meaning that they will be prepared to suffer their flaws (and let’s be honest, we all have them). It is at this stage that team members will begin to appreciate each other’s strengths, value each team members’ contributions and respect the authority of the team leader (at last!).
At this point it is likely that the team will begin asking each other for help and providing welcomed, constructive feedback. There will be a consensus within the team about the goals they are working towards and how they plan to get there.
Teams who reach this stage deserve a medal, or at least some recognition for making it this far as it is quite an achievement. The team will now be working together, without friction, to achieve their goals. The team have gelled together, and it will feel like an easy team to be part of.
There may still be disagreements within the team, however, the good news is that they will be positively resolved within the team without there being too many major dramas and differing opinions will tend to be seen as a positive
All teams strive to reach this stage, but many fail to overcome conflict, therefore, they don’t make it.
A fifth stage
In the 1970’s Tuckman added a fifth stage to his model that he called ‘Adjourning’. This stage occurs once the task or project has been completed and the team disbands. This can be a difficult time, particularly if close relationships have been built and it is essential that the team are supported to celebrate their achievements (honestly, not every team makes it here, so celebration is a must!!).
Whilst teams are working through the four stages of Tuckman’s model, leaders will also work through phases where they will be required to demonstrate different leadership styles:
(Hersey & Blanchard, Situational Leadership Theory, 1972)
At various points throughout the team’s journey, leaders need to be able to anticipate the appropriate leadership style to use and judge the point at which they can begin to withdraw their support from the group. The difficult part of this decision-making process is that teams may not work through these stages in the linear fashion that Tuckman’s model suggests, they may well ‘loop around’ in their development and ‘yo-yo’ between stages.
Leaders will benefit from receiving training on how to develop and manage a team effectively to enable them to navigate their way through these stages.
The important point to be made is that all stages are necessary (and inevitable) if a team is to grow, face challenges, tackle problems, find solutions and deliver results.
If you would like information on our bespoke team building sessions to help the team fast track through the stages or training that is available for leaders and managers, please get in touch with one of the team who will be happy to help or visit our website http://www.power2progress.co.uk/
Our next blog will focus on Situational Leadership and the merits of adapting approaches to leadership depending on each individual situation.