Some theorize that high-performance project teams go through five separate stages of team development.


The Forming Stage

The first stage is called forming, and it occurs when the team first comes together. When a team is forming, they are focused on answering the following questions.

  • Why are we here?
  • What is my role in this endeavor?
  • Who are these other people and how will we get along?
  • What's the project leader like and how will he or she run this project?

6 stages of high performing teams

In the forming stage, team members are polite. They are waiting to see what will happen. What you will hear during forming is, 'Why? What? Who? When?' This stage in a project begins at the kick off of the project and it ends when people stop being polite and conflicts begin to emerge.

It's important to manage this stage carefully so that you can move quickly into the next stage: storming. If you're successful at the forming stage, the team will naturally move on to the next stage of development.

The Storming Stage

Right after the kick-off process, when people are feeling a little more comfortable with each other, and the realization of the actual challenges of the work sets in, the storming stage erupts and destroys the artificial tranquility of the group. The project manager will use a collaboration tool like Seavus' Project Viewer to keep everyone on the same page, but disagreements will likely still arise about what needs to be done and who will do it. Groups may divide into opposing factions. Listen for, 'I can't,' and 'That's not possible' to know you're in storming. The greater the stretch goals (goals that are difficult to achieve) for the project, the more vocal the storming stage will be. However, the more management support you have and the more meaningful the purpose of the project, the easier it will be to resolve the conflicts. Having a strong common goal for the project is one of the most important driving forces to resolving conflicts. As much as you might like to, you can't skip the storming stage. Storming is a necessary and useful stage if you want to create understanding, alignment, and ownership. This is when people merge their individual perceptions of how the project should be done and mold a group perception.

Storming may last through much of the planning process. It's healthy to have conflicts over what should be done and how it should get done, as long as those conflicts are brought to the surface and resolved. If you used team-based tools, like the ones outlined in this book, you can move through these conflicts quickly, building trust and respect as you go. You'll also be resolving the issues that stand in the way of gaining consensus on the project plan. Using a participative method as you work through storming will put you in good shape for the next team stage.

The Norming Stage

If the team resolves its conflicts, it moves on to the next stage of development called norming. By this stage the project's goals, roles, and boundaries have been clarified and accepted by team members. They have taken ownership and accountability for getting the work done. The project manager is closely tracking tasks through project management software and collaborating with the team through a tool such as Seavus' Project Viewer. You know you're in norming if you hear, 'I can . . . ,' 'I will.. . .' The norming stage usually emerges at the end of planning or in the beginning of the execution phase, depending on the complexity and controversy associated with the project and with your skills at working through the first two stages. In the norming stage, people get on with doing their own work. This stage comes as a big relief to both the project leader and the project team members.

In this stage, you'll need to hold regular team meetings so that team members can monitor progress and solve problems as they arise.

You'll also want to focus on your team skills, such as:

  • Holding effective meetings
  • Practicing active listening
  • Providing constructive feedback
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Making team decisions

The more team-based skills you have in your toolbox, the better you'll be at working through the norming stage. If you've done a good job up to this point, working through the first two stages of team development, and if you continue to work in a productive, participatory fashion during the norming stage, you may just reach the next stage of team development, where the highest levels of performance are reached. This stage is called performing.

The Performing Stage

In the performing stage the team becomes a true team, working in unison, supporting one another. The team, not the leader, manages the project. Team members make adjustments to keep the deliverables on track; they monitor progress and manage change. The team takes full ownership and accountability, not only for the project, but for the team dynamics as well. Key phrases are, 'We can. . . ,' 'We will.. . .' When you hear those things, you'll know you've hit the upper registers for achieving results.

Don't relax too much during the performing stage. You'll still need to attend to the project management process as well as managing the dynamics of the team, but these should be second nature to you by this point. Remember to recognize accomplishments and celebrate successes.

Not many teams make it to the performing stage. In fact, some teams never make it past storming. However, if you're one of the successful ones, then you'll have an additional challenge on your hands, namely, disbanding of the team and facing the mourning stage of team development.

The Mourning Stage

People don't like to leave a high-performing team because they feel good about themselves and what they've accomplished together. They have enjoyed being a member of a team and contributing to something larger than themselves. For most people, this is an infrequent experience that makes it difficult to let go. However, all projects by definition are temporary and so inevitably the peak experience must come to an end. At that point the team hits the mourning stage.

In the mourning stage it's important to both celebrate and to mourn. Celebration should have been a theme throughout the team process; otherwise you're unlikely to be in the mourning stage at all, but this is the time for a final celebration of the overall achievements of the team. Also, it's time for closure on the team process - saying goodbye to friends and associates. A closing ritual can be helpful to help bring a close to the project.