Taking a Project Team Through the Four Stages of Team Development

Posted by Brad Egeland

This article continues on Mr. Lewis’ description of the four stages of a project team’s development.  This information comes primarily from his book entitled, “Fundamentals of Project Management.”

The forming stage

A newly formed team needs considerable structure, or it will not be able to get started.  A leader who fails to provide such structure may be rejected by the group, which will then look for leadership from someone else. A directive style of leadership is called for in the forming stage.

During the forming stage, members also want to get to know each other and want to understand the role each member will play in the team. The leader must therefore help team members get to know each other and to understand clearly the team’s goals, roles, and responsibilities. One error that may be made by very task-oriented leaders is to tell the team to “get to work,” without helping members get to know each other; such leaders tend to view purely “social” activities as a waste of time. It should be obvious, however, that it is hard to see yourself as a team when you don’t know some of the “players.”

Getting the team started with a kick-off party or dinner is one way to let members get to know one another in a purely social way, with no pressure to perform actual task work. If this is not feasible, you must find some mechanism for letting people get to know one another.

The storming stage

As the group continues to develop, it enters the storming stage. Here, people are beginning to have some anxiety. They start to question the group’s goal and wonder whether they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. The leader must use influence or persuasion to assure them that they are indeed on track. Members need a lot of psychological support, as well. They must be assured by the leader that they are valued and that they are vital to the success of the team. In other words, some stroking is needed in this stage. Usually, a selling or influence style of leadership is appropriate at the storming stage.

There is a tendency to try to skip this second stage, as we feel uncomfortable with the conflict that occurs. To sweep such conflict under the rug and pretend that it doesn’t exist is a mistake. The conflict must be managed so that it does not become destructive, but it must not be avoided. If it is, the group will keep coming back to this stage to try to resolve the conflict, and this will inhibit its progress. Better to pay now and get it over with.

The norming stage

As the team enters the norming stage, it becomes more close knit. Members begin to see themselves as a team and take some sense of personal identity from membership in the group. They are now involved in the work, are becoming supportive of each other, and, because of their cooperation, can be said to be more of a team than a group at this point. The leader needs to adopt a participative style with team members in this stage and to share decision making more than in the first two stages.

The performing stage

By the time a group reaches stage four, performing, it is a real team. The leader can generally sit back and concentrate on doing what-if analysis of team progress, planning for future work, and so on. This is a delegative style of leadership, and it is very appropriate. The team is achieving results, and members are usually taking pride in their accomplishments. In this stage, there should be signs of camaraderie, joking around, and real enjoyment in working together.

It is important to remember that no team stays in a single stage forever. If a team encounters obstacles, it may drop back to stage three. If this happens, the leader can no longer be delegative but must back up to the stage-three management style, which is participative.

The other thing that happens is that membership in project teams often changes. When new members come on board, you should consider that for a short time the team will fall back to stage one, and you sometimes have to take them back through the stages until they reach maturity again. It is especially important that you help everyone get to know the new member and understand what his role will be in the team. This does take some time, but it is essential if you want the team to progress properly.

Information for this article was derived, in part, from James Lewis’ book entitled, “Fundamentals of Project Management.”

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