The Road to a High Performance Team info graphicThe benefits of a high performance team are clear, but the key question is how of you get there? In the 1960’s, a psychologist named Bruce Tuckman developed a model of the stages of team development. Over the past 15 years, I have found this model to be very compelling and an effective description of how teams evolve.

Tuckman suggests that teams move through four stages of development – forming, storming, norming, and performing. These four stages provide a team leader with both a road map as well as a diagnosis of current team status.

Our infographic provides information on both what each stage looks like, as well as the leader’s role and mode of functioning within each phase. One note, it’s easy to over estimate your team’s current position. In fact, many business teams are stuck in the ‘Forming’ stage even though they have been working together for months or even years!

Forming

In the first stage of team building, the forming of the team takes place. The individual’s behavior is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, and avoid controversy or conflict. Serious issues and feelings are avoided, and people focus on being busy with routines, such as team organization, who does what, when to meet each other, etc.

This is a comfortable stage to be in, but the avoidance of conflict and threat means that not much actually gets done. The team meets and learns about the opportunities and challenges, and then agrees on goals and begins to tackle the tasks. Team members tend to behave quite independently. They may be motivated but are usually relatively uninformed of the issues and objectives of the team.

Storming

Every group will next enter the storming stage in which different ideas compete for consideration. The team addresses issues such as what problems they are really supposed to solve, how they will function independently and together and what leadership model they will accept. Team members open up to each other and confront each other’s ideas and perspectives. In some cases storming can be resolved quickly. In others, the team never leaves this stage. The maturity of some team members usually determines whether the team will ever move out of this stage.

The storming stage is necessary to the growth of the team. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict. Tolerance of each team member and their differences should be emphasized. Without tolerance and patience the team will fail. This phase can become destructive to the team and will lower motivation if allowed to get out of control.

Norming

The team emerges from storming with one goal and a mutual plan for how to achieve it. Some team members may have to give up their own ideas and agree with others to make the team function. In this stage, all team members take the responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the team’s goals. The danger here is that members may be so focused on preventing conflict that they are reluctant to share controversial ideas.

Performing

It is possible for some teams to reach the performing stage. These high performing teams can function as a synergistic unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. By this stage, high performing teams are motivated and knowledgeable. The team members are now competent, autonomous, and able to handle the decision-making process without a great deal of supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channeled through means acceptable to the team.

Leaders of high performance teams are almost always participative. The team will make most of the necessary decisions.

Even the most high performing teams will revert to earlier stages in certain circumstances. Many long-standing teams go through these cycles many times as they react to changing circumstances. For example, a change in leadership may cause the team to revert to storming as the new people challenge the existing norms and dynamics of the team.

In case you missed it, take a look at part one of this article – Characteristics of High Performance Teams.