You can’t expect a new team to work well together at first. Sadly, the reality is that there will be teething problems during the first days, weeks and months of a team working together. As much as you would like to hit the ground running with your new team, a period of adjustment is needed until the team is able to work effectively.
This model was first proposed by group dynamics researcher Barry Tuckman in his 1965 paper Developmental sequence in small groups. He found there were four stages in the lifecycle of teams as they mature and develop in ability. In addition, Tuckman later added a fifth and final stage. The team needs to experience this process of relationships establishing and undergo changes in leadership style.
This process is inevitable to ensure the team grows, copes with challenges, tackles problems, finds solutions, plans work and delivers results. It often happens naturally as team members learn new skills, for instance by studying leadership courses. The stages are:
Forming. The team depends on the leader for direction and guidance. It is unclear at this point what the aims of the team are and what individual responsibilities are. The leader should expect to answer questions about the team’s purpose, objectives and external relationships. Processes are ignored and members test the system.
Storming. Team members compete among themselves for position. Clarity begins to emerge but some uncertainty remains. Cliques and factions begin to form which leads to mistrust and resentment. Power struggles are played out which leads to team members becoming distracted by relationships and emotional issues. Compromises must be made in order for progress to take place.
Norming. The team begins to adjust to their new normal. They begin to agree and respond well to the leader. Responsibilities are clear and decisions are made by mutual agreement. A sense of community and commitment pervades the group; they begin to participate in fun, social activities. The team discusses its working style and develops processes. There is respect for the leader and some leadership is shared by the team.
Performing. The team knows what it is doing and why it is doing it. There is a shared vision and team members are able to do their work without interference from their leader. They focus on over-achieving goals and follow criteria which had been agreed upon. Disagreements do still occur but now are resolved positively. Team members work well together.
Adjourning. Teams often reach this stage naturally. Project teams only exist for a fixed period and permanent teams may be disbanded due to organisational change. There may also be a number of resignations and reappointments. The team members who like routine and dislike change will find this stage difficult – especially if their future is unclear.