Team development happens in stages. It is necessary to know which stage your team is in to provide the most effective leadership. In most cases, the evolution of teams follows a predictable developmental pattern: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. A good analogy when discussing the stages of team development is to use the four seasons of nature. Each stage or season has unique attributes. For example, we know that during the winter season we can anticipate cooler temperatures, storms, and wet or icy roads. Given that knowledge, we adjust our clothing, carry an umbrella, and take other precautions, such as driving more slowly or cautiously.
The Forming Stage is the first stage of team development. Similar to weather seasons, there are clues in recognizing the Forming Stage. Some clues include people trying to identify how they fit into the team, uncertainty about their teammates or you, and lack of clarity as to the team’s mission and/or work expectations. In the Forming stage, the leader should adapt his/her style to the stage. This might include defining goals and roles for everyone, explaining why a team member was selected, facilitate team members getting to know each other, and explaining expectations.
Storming is the second stage of Team Development. It can be related appropriately to the Winter Season. Winter can be a turbulent time for nature and likewise Storming, for a team. During Winter, you will have extreme weather with rain, snow, and wind. For a team, this is the stage of turmoil where individuals may push the boundaries, challenge the goals and authority within the team, and experience frustration with teammates.
To navigate Winter, you may need to bring an umbrella or put snow tires on your vehicle, but you can still have positive experiences like skiing or having hot cocoa by the fire. For teams, it is not just about surviving these challenges but growing through them toward high performance. A savvy leader does things like help the team develop a team charter and rules of engagement, reiterating the goals of the team, and avoid unproductive conflict. I’ve seen many teams get stuck in the Storming Stage, especially without proper leadership guidance and care.
The third stage is Norming. We will relate Norming to Spring where we see some nice weather and new growth in our yard, but some storms too. Spring is the time of new growth in nature and within a team, this is when people have a greater appreciation and trust toward one another, they are more productive, and they have learned to navigate some of the challenges that may have derailed them previously. An effective leader will share some leadership responsibilities, such as leading meetings or other efforts; remove barriers to team performance; and secure resources for the team’s success.
The last stage of team development is Performing, and that is akin to Summer. During the summer, many crops mature, so there’s a great harvest. The weather is often ideal, and we tend to do more things with family and friends, maybe even go on vacation. For teams, the Performing Stage is when teams are most productive and get the best results. The team leader generally uses more of a consultative style of leadership where he/she works on higher priority tasks because the team can navigate most challenges; they leverage each other’s strengths; enjoy each other, often spending time together outside of work hours; and are more focused on getting results.
When you think of team development or the seasons, it is important to know where you are at, so you can make adjustments that help you be prepared, get better results, and have more fun. You wouldn’t want to wear snow boots during summer, or shorts in the dead of winter. As a leader, you need to know where your team resides in the stages of team development so that you can effectively lead and support the team. Not every stage requires the same type of leadership.
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For the Faith-Based:
In the Bible, we see Jesus go through the stages of team development with his disciples. He began with Forming as he called his disciples to follow him saying in Matthew 4:19, “…I will make you fishers of men.” We see Storming in Luke 9:46 when “… an argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.” Eventually, the season changed to Norming while the disciples were following Jesus and learning from his lessons. After Pentecost, the disciples were in the season of Performing as they were working to meet their goal of spreading the Gospel in a way that has had a global impact over the centuries.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Life happens in seasons as do stages of team development. There are seasons of obstacles and opportunities. Seasons of productivity and growth. Seasons when you are the leader and seasons when you’re being led. It is important to understand the seasons, so you know what season you are in and, as a leader, what needs to be done. Understanding that seasons change can keep us encouraged because we have knowledge that the difficult storming seasons won’t last.