As we work to build a collaborative team, it’s important to remember the stages of team development proposed by Bruce Tuckman in his seminal 1965 work in the Psychological Bulletin,1 later revised and expanded upon in 19772 and 2001,3 and widely referenced in leadership development courses. I first heard of his stages of team development when I attended advanced leadership training offered by the Boy Scouts of America. Tuckman’s theory is that every group moves through four stages on its way to becoming a high-performing team. By recognizing these stages, we can adapt our leadership style to the needs of the team.
At the beginning, everyone is excited about being a part of the team. Even though they aren’t sure how things will turn out, they know it will be a great experience. At this stage, the team is characterized by high enthusiasm and low productivity. While the team forms, the role of the leader is to give clear direction, set out the goals and objectives, and help the team members understand exactly what the leader expects them to do.
Once the team gets some experience working together, the members inevitably start to disagree on direction, scope, vision and so on. Factions may form as the group loses track of the big picture, communication becomes strained and trust erodes. The job of the leader is to help the team work through this important stage, allowing members the space to express their different opinions and to “clear the air.”
As issues are addressed and resolved, the team’s morale begins to increase. Trust builds, productivity rises and the team begins working together toward the common goal. At this point, the leader should draw out the opinions of all members and leverage the diversity of the team. As conflicts arise, the leader must take quick action to deal with the issue and maintain the positive climate.
The final stage is marked by high productivity and enthusiasm. The team is collaborating to meet the original goals and objectives, and the members are excited to be on a high-performing team. Communication is open and trust is high. In this stage, leadership is shared as the team works toward exceeding standards and continuous improvement.
Every team moves through the four stages of development, and may slip back a stage or two as new challenges or opportunities arise. Being resilient, laying aside ego and working together will allow the team to meet the challenges and emerge stronger than when they started.
- 1. Tuckman, Bruce W. “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Psychological Bulletin 63, no. 6 (1965): 384–99. ↩
- 2. Tuckman, Bruce W., and Mary Ann C. Jensen. “Stages of Small Group Development Revisited.” Group & Organization Management 2, no. 4 (1977): 419–27. ↩
- 3. Tuckman, Bruce. “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal, no. 3 (2001): 67–81. ↩