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The Five Stages of Team Development – Every Team Goes Through Them! (Part I)

The first four stages of team growth were first developed by Bruce Wayne Tuckman and published in 1965. His theory, called “Tuckman’s Stages” was based on research he conducted on team dynamics. He believed (as is a common belief today) that these stages are inevitable in order for a team to grow to the point where they are functioning effectively together and delivering high quality results. In 1977, Tuckman, jointly with Mary Ann Jensen, added a fifth stage to the 4 stages: “Adjourning.” The adjourning stage is when the team is completing the current project. They will be joining other teams and moving on to other work in the near future. For a high performing team, the end of a project brings on feelings of sadness as the team members have effectively become as one and now are going their separate ways.

  • The five stages:
  • Stage 1: Forming
  • Stage 2: Storming
  • Stage 3: Norming
  • Stage 4: Performing
  • Stage 5: Adjourning

This post (Part I) covers the first two stages: Forming and Storming. Part II will cover Stages 3 – 5: Norming, Performing, Adjourning.

Stage 1: Forming

The “forming” stage takes place when the team first meets each other. In this first meeting, team members are introduced to each. They share information about their backgrounds, interests and experience and form first impressions of each other. They learn about the project they will be working on, discuss the project’s objectives/goals and start to think about what role they will play on the project team. They are not yet working on the project. They are, effectively, “feeling each other out” and finding their way around how they might work together.

During this initial stage of team growth, it is important for the team leader to be very clear about team goals and provide clear direction regarding the project. The team leader should ensure that all of the members are involved in determining team roles and responsibilities and should work with the team to help them establish how they will work together (“team norms”.) The team is dependent on the team leader to guide them.

Stage 2: Storming

As the team begins to work together, they move into the “storming” stage. This stage is not avoidable; every team – most especially a new team who has never worked together before – goes through this part of developing as a team. In this stage, the team members compete with each other for status and for acceptance of their ideas. They have different opinions on what should be done and how it should be done – which causes conflict within the team. As they go progress through this stage, with the guidance of the team leader, they learn how to solve problems together, function both independently and together as a team, and settle into roles and responsibilities on the team. For team members who do not like conflict, this is a difficult stage to go through.

The team leader needs to be adept at facilitating the team through this stage – ensuring the team members learn to listen to each other and respect their differences and ideas. This includes not allowing any one team member to control all conversations and to facilitate contributions from all members of the team. The team leader will need to coach some team members to be more assertive and other team members on how to be more effective listeners.

This stage will come to a closure when the team becomes more accepting of each other and learns how to work together for the good of the project. At this point, the team leader should start transitioning some decision making to the team to allow them more independence, but still stay involved to resolve any conflicts as quickly as possible.

Some teams, however, do not move beyond this stage and the entire project is spent in conflict and low morale and motivation, making it difficult to get the project completed. Usually teams comprised of members who are professionally immature will have a difficult time getting past this stage.

Is The Team Effective or Not?

There are various indicators of whether a team is working effectively together as a group. The characteristics of effective, successful teams include:

  • Clear communication among all members
  • Regular brainstorming sessions with all members participating
  • Consensus among team members
  • Problem solving done by the group
  • Commitment to the project and the other team members
  • Regular team meetings that are effective and inclusive
  • Timely hand off from team members to others to ensure the project keeps moving in the right direction
  • Positive, supportive working relationships among all team members

Teams that are not working effectively together will display the characteristics listed below. The team leader will need to be actively involved with such teams. The sooner the team leader addresses issues and helps the team move to a more effective way of working together, the more likely the project is to end successfully.

  • Lack of communication among team members
  • There are no clear roles and responsibilities for the team members
  • Team members “throw work over the wall” to other team members, with lack of concern for timelines or work quality
  • Team members work alone, rarely sharing information and offering assistance
  • Team members blame others for what goes wrong; no one accepts responsibility
  • Team members do not support others on the team
  • Team members are frequently absent thereby causing slippage in the timeline and additional work for their team members

Likely you can think of other examples of both effective and ineffective teams. Please share what you have observed or your personal experiences in the Comment field below.

Example of a Team Moving Through the Five Stages

Background and Team Members

A team has been pulled together from various parts of a large service organization to work on a new process improvement project that is needed to improve how the company manages and supports its client base. The team lead on this project is Sandra from the Chicago office who has 15 years experience as a project manager/team lead managing process improvement projects.

The other members of the team include:

  • Peter: 10 years experience on various types of projects, expertise in scheduling and budget control (office location: San Diego)
  • Sarah: 5 years experience as an individual contributor on projects, strong programming background, some experience developing databases (office location: Chicago)
  • Mohammed: 8 years experience working on various projects, expertise in earned value management, stakeholder analysis and problem solving (office location: New York)
  • Donna: 2 years experience as an individual contributor on projects (office location: New York)
  • Ameya: 7 years experience on process improvement projects, background in developing databases, expertise in earned value management (office location: San Diego)

Sandra has worked on projects with Sarah and Mohammed, but has never worked with the others. Donna has worked with Mohammed. No one else has worked with other members of this team. Sandra has been given a very tight deadline to get this project completed.

Sandra has decided that it would be best if the team met face-to-face initially, even though they will be working virtually for the project. She has arranged a meeting at the New York office (company headquarters) for the entire team. They will spend 2 days getting introduced to each other and learning about the project.

The Initial Meeting (Stage 1: Forming)

The day of the face-to-face meeting in New York has arrived. All team members are present. The agenda includes:

  • Personal introductions
  • Team building exercises
  • Information about the process improvement project
  • Discussion around team roles and responsibilities
  • Discussion around team norms for working together
  • Introduction on how to use the SharePoint site that will be used for this project to share ideas, brainstorm, store project documentation, etc.

The team members are very excited to meet each other. Each of them has heard of one another, although they have not worked together as a team before. They believe they each bring value to this project. The team building exercises have gone well; everyone participated and seemed to enjoy the exercises. While there was some discussion around roles and responsibilities – with team members vying for “key” positions on the team – overall there was agreement on what needed to get done and who was responsible for particular components of the project.

The onsite meeting is going well. The team members are getting to know each other and have been discussing their personal lives outside of work – hobbies, family, etc. Sandra is thinking that this is a great sign that they will get along well – they are engaged with each other and genuinely seem to like each other!

The Project Work Begins (Stage 2: Storming)

The team members have gone back to their home offices and are beginning work on their project. They are interacting via the SharePoint site and the project is off to a good start. And then the arguments begin…

Peter has put up the project schedule based on conversations with only Mohammed and Ameya on the team. Donna and Sarah feel as if their input to the schedule was not considered. They believe because they are more junior on the team, Peter has completely disregarded their concerns about the timeline for the project. They challenged Peter’s schedule, stating that it was impossible to achieve and was setting up the team for failure. At the same time, Sarah was arguing with Ameya over who should lead the database design and development effort for this project. While Sarah acknowledges that Ameya has a few years more experience than she does in database development, she only agreed to be on this project in order to take a lead role and develop her skills further so she could advance at the company. If she knew Ameya was going to be the lead she wouldn’t have bothered joining this project team. Additionally, Mohammed appears to be off and running on his own, not keeping the others apprised of progress nor keeping his information up to date on the SharePoint site. No one really knows what he has been working on or how much progress is being made.

Sandra had initially taken a side role during these exchanges, hoping that the team would work it out for themselves. However, she understands from past experience managing many project teams that it is important for her to take control and guide the team through this difficult time. She convenes all of the team members for a virtual meeting to reiterate their roles and responsibilities (which were agreed to in the kick-off meeting) and to ensure that they understand the goals and objectives of the project. She made some decisions since the team couldn’t come to agreement. She determined that Ameya would lead the database development design component of the project, working closely with Sarah so she can develop further experience in this area. She reviewed the schedule that Peter created with the team, making adjustments where necessary to address the concerns of Donna and Sarah. She reminded Mohammed that this is a team effort and he needs to work closely with the others on the team.

During the virtual meeting session, Sandra referred back to the ground rules the team set in their face-to-face meeting and worked with the team to ensure that there was a plan in place for how decisions are made on the team and who has responsibility for making decisions.

Over the next few weeks, Sandra noticed that arguments/disagreements were at a minimum and when they did occur, they were worked out quickly, by the team, without her involvement being necessary. Still, she monitored how things were going and held regular virtual meetings to ensure the team was moving in the right direction. On a monthly basis, Sandra brings the team together for a face-to-face meeting. As the working relationships of the team members started improving, Sandra started seeing significant progress on the project.

To be continued….


The Team Handbook, 3rd Edition (Scholtes, Joiner, Streibel), Publisher: Oriel

Note: This book is a fantastic resource for all teams!

Encyclopedia of Informal Education:

Managing the Project Team (Vijay Verma), Publisher: PMI

Next post: The Five Stages of Team Development: Part II