For most people, successful teamwork doesn’t come naturally. In simple terms, teamwork is a group working collaboratively to achieve a common goal. It requires that each individual has a certain level of self-awareness and empathy to function effectively as a team. Many businesses hold evaluations to address teamwork components that either appear to be hindering or progressing a project. Ideally, a team that works well together delivers high-quality output.
Of course, every individual is unique, and it can be challenging to place differences aside that may exist between teammates to arrive at a solution that works for everyone. The emphasis on teamwork for success is not a new concept. Teamwork is so crucial to the workforce that psychologist David Tuckman dedicated a large portion of his research to it, resulting in his 5 stages of team development to highlight the natural progression of a team.
Tuckman breaks down the process of teamwork that project groups seem to experience in one form or another. According to him, groups will move through 5 stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. His paper “Development Sequence in Small Groups” written in 1965, only included the first four stages, to which he later added a fifth stage. While this work dates back to the 60s, its information is still relevant today. He created the 5 stages of team development to provide a framework for team leaders and teammates to understand teamwork.
This stage is when team members come together for the first time. Specific members may already be well-acquainted, but as this marks the beginning of a new project, the experience will still feel fresh as the project will bring out further strengths and weaknesses in each teammate. Teammates might be unsure of the project’s purpose, and the project’s specifics might require some fleshing out at this stage. As teammates are uncertain of what lies ahead, they might be enthusiastic about getting started or anxious and nervous. Usually, the team leader will set the tone for the project by demonstrating good energy and positivity. The forming stage does not end after the kickoff meeting. It lasts until the colleagues become more familiar with their teammates.
While the forming stage sees colleagues coming together and figuring each other out, it does not mean smooth sailing from there. Personalities may clash, which can lead to disagreements on how to handle specific tasks in the project. Disputes can result in conflict and tension in the group. As facing these types of challenges will likely happen, there should be a process set up for dealing with them. Otherwise, if these issues continue without being acknowledged, it could lead to the team crumbling and not reaching their objective, and teammates might become frustrated, which can hinder their progress and output.
This stage occurs after teams are habituated, and the kinks are sorted out. After working through differences, the team is on the path to attaining a state of flow. The team leader recognizes strengths and weaknesses and begins to accommodate those factors by assigning tasks accordingly. Trust has likely solidified at this stage, and teammates feel that they can easily approach others to ask for help. Further, they are comfortable offering and receiving constructive feedback. This stage marks the beginning of a team uniting.
Originally the final stage, performing looks like the team reaching its full potential by collaborating and dealing with issues efficiently as they arise. Every teammate understands their purpose and can carry out the necessary tasks on their end to meet the project’s collective objective. Differences between teammates continue to be used as enhancements rather than hindrances. Teammates also become more fluid in that their skills might start to overlap into other tasks to assist other members. In short, the group functions as a cohesive unit to work towards individual and collective goals alike.
Usually, this stage occurs at the completion of a project. Teammates may feel a sense of pride or apprehensiveness as they move on to their next project, having to repeat the 5 stages over again. This stage allows for teammates to reflect on their growth and skills gained that they can apply to their next project.
Criticisms of Tuckman’s Theory
Like any theory, the 5 stages of team development are not perfect and most certainly not comprehensive. As mentioned, Tuckman added a fifth stage to account for the importance of a project’s completion stage. However, more steps need to be implemented to reflect the increasingly complex projects embarked on by companies.
Additionally, it’s important to note that the 5 stages of team development are not necessarily achieved linearly — teams may move up a stage or go back a stage throughout the project until its completion. For example, some groups can miss the performing stage yet hit the storming and adjourning stages. This could look like a project that successfully reaches its objective at a minimum but does not reach its full potential.
Lastly, these 5 stages were created for small teams, and teams today on a single project can be much larger, so much so that some team members never end up interacting throughout the entire project. Tuckman’s storming stage only addresses group strategy sessions — yet much that occurs in storming happens outside of the group sessions among individual teammates.
A project might be able to make it from start to finish, but in order for a project to reach its maximum potential, it’s crucial for there to be a strong team in place. An excellent team means increased productivity. Using a time tracking software like actiTIME can help evaluate a team’s productivity by revealing where most of their time is being spent and on what. It’s important the majority of a teammate’s time is being dedicated to one of their strength areas. actiTIME will make these evaluations simpler by presenting the data right there for you so that your team can work on what they know best to deliver the best possible results.