The 4 Stages of Every Team

By Katie Morroni

On a recent walk with a friend, she introduced me to the concept that teams of all kinds move through the same 4 stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

I admit, I was reluctant at first. All teams? Surely this couldn’t apply to everyone. But now I’m a believer.

It was brought to her attention at work, in a professional setting, but she mentioned it to me in suggesting that it applies to vocations of all types, too. She’s about to begin her formation with the Sisters of Life this fall, and spoke about how it could apply to learning to live, work, and pray in community with other women. But she went on to say how it also applies to marriages and families of all shapes and sizes, and to all individuals who find themselves as part of any team. (When you stop and think of it like this, we’re all on a variety of teams, regardless of our vocation.)

I began thinking that because it applies so beautifully to vocations, to work life, and to just about any situation I can think of, it would be worth sharing here with the CatholicHow community. Almost all teams move through these stages, and we continue to move through them again and again as transitions happen to our teams as a whole or to key members of the team as individuals. Consider: A new pastor joins the parish where you serve. A couple gives birth to their first child. A longtime, influential staff member leaves your place of work and is replaced by someone with a very different personality.

What follows is the text that my friend shared with me, authored in part by her colleague and professional advisor. It pulls from a number of sources, perhaps most extensively from Ken Blanchard’s book, High Performing Team. Emphasis is my own.

Have you experienced this in your teams? How have you navigated this process with success? Have you seen a team fail because it could not move past the storming stage? Post your comments below, or connect with CatholicHow contributors and readers on Facebook or Twitter.

4 Stage of Teaming Model

1. 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. Individuals are also gathering information and impressions – about each other, and about the scope of the task and how to approach it. This is a comfortable stage to be in, but the avoidance of conflict 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. Team members are usually on their best behavior but very focused on themselves. Mature team members begin to model appropriate behavior even at this early phase.

The forming stage of any team is important because the members of the team get to know one another, exchange some personal information, and make new friends. This is also a good opportunity to see how each member of the team works as an individual and how they respond to pressure.

2. Storming

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. Some teams will never develop past this stage.

Supervisors of the team during this phase may be more accessible, but tend to remain directive in their guidance of decision-making and professional behavior. The team members will therefore resolve their differences and members will be able to participate with one another more comfortably. The ideal is that they will not feel that they are being judged, and will therefore share their opinions and views. Normally tension, struggle and sometimes arguments occur. This stage can also be upsetting.

3. Norming

The team manages to have one goal and come to a mutual plan for the team at this stage. Some 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.

4. Performing

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

Supervisors of the team during this phase are almost always participating. 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.

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