Highly performing teams are what we all strive for. Working in a close-knit, professional group is a much nicer and rewarding experience than working with people who don’t get on, don’t communicate and don’t function as a team.

But how do we lead teams from that dysfunctional state where they are little more than a group of people in the same room to a fully operational, highly performing team?

Dr. Bruce Tuckman has the answer.

Actually he found it quite a long time ago.

Tuckman’s team development model came out in 1965 and it’s a helpful way to understand the steps that a team goes through on its journey to be successfully high performing. It started out as a four-step model and he added the final step in the 1970’s and to be honest that rounds it out, making it a really useful model for project and short-term teams.

Understanding the model is helpful for people in a leadership role, whether you are a first-time leader or an experienced leader taking over a new team. Being a good leader means helping your team navigate through this journey and the first step to doing that is understanding what they are going through.

You’ll be a better leader for having a basic understanding of team dynamics, which can set you apart from your peers in a competitive business situation. Here’s our quick guide to Tuckman’s team development model and how you can use it to help your team up their performance quickly.

1. Forming

In the Forming stage the team come together and understand each other’s’ potential contribution to the team. You get to know each person as an individual and start to see what expertise they bring to the group.

In this stage, the leader’s job is to quell any fears about their position in the new team, set objectives for the group and make sure that, if there are deadlines, everyone understands and knows about them. Great communication is essential at this point and iMindQ, a mindmapping tool, can really help focus everyone on what is important.

This is where you’ll have to put your emotional intelligence skills to the best use, so that you can listen (and really hear) what is going on in the team as they come together in the early days.

2. Storming

The next phase that your team will hit is Storming. You’ll know when it happens. As a leader, you’ll be constantly dealing with conflict.

The team members will be trying to work out where they fit in the team and how they slot into the informal hierarchy. They will be attempting to exert their authority and you’ll have to do that too.

It might sound like a difficult time – and it is – but it’s really valuable because if you can get through this you’ll have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. The shared experience of hustling through this phase will also make the team stronger by default, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.

3. Norming

During the Norming period, the team gets into the flow of work. There’s a rhythm to what’s being worked on. The team builds trust and sets up working practices to enable future success.

By this point you’ll be able to see that most conflicts, especially those between individuals, have been resolved and the team is comfortable working together. Their way of dealing with differences 

is more mature so you’ll see them handling conflict in a different way.

As a leader, this is the point where you’ll have to step in and encourage all the signs of team bonding that you see. You may even want to run some team building exercises to foster the level of performance that you are seeing now and to help the team move to the next stage.

4. Performing

Performing is what you’ve been waiting to get to. While the Norming phase is fine, and the team is working well, a highly performing team is in this stage.

During Performing the team is doing its best work. They trust each other. Handoffs are easy and slick and the processes are in place to underpin it all.

You’ll find the team is far more empowered and self-motivated in this phase. They are highly engaged with their objectives, so they’ll need less managerial direction around the what and how and more leadership to cover off the ‘why’ and to set their work in the bigger organizational picture.

Don’t get me wrong: leading a team in the Performing phase of development is not a hands off job. You’ll see them be innovative, creative and flexible and your role is to harness that into a strong team identify with shared goals. Your role at this point is to help your team be great.

5. Adjourning

The final step – the one Tuckman added afterwards – is about what happens when the team is disbanded. You might also hear it called the ‘Mourning’ stage, but that’s only reflective of what it feels like to leave a high performing team. You probably won’t mourn leaving a team that’s not performing well and where you don’t feel like you fit in!

During the Adjourning stage the team is wound up. This can happen for a number of reasons:

·         A business restructure, where the team is disbanded or split up.

·         The end of a project.

·         When the purpose of the team is no more.

I’m sure you can think of other reasons relevant to your organization.

When a Performing team is disbanded it can be a very difficult time for people, especially if they have been part of that team for a long time.

As a leader, your role at this point will be to help people transition to their new roles or projects, encouraging them to build on their successes from your team and learn the lessons of success.