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Creating and Developing High Performing Teams

The Link between Team Development and Success

As a leader, understanding how teams develop is critical to overall team effectiveness.  According to Psychologist Bruce Tuckman, teams and their members go through recognizable stages as they progress from the first meeting to creating a common and understood purpose and finally a unified group operating at peak performance . Recognizing these phases of development and how to lead through each phase will ensure you are leading your team to success.

Tuckman’s Model for Team Development

In the 1960’s Bruce Tuckman identified five stages of development teams go through to get to their highest level of effectiveness. He describes the stages as Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.  Approximately 10 years later, Tuckman modified the model to add a fifth stage called Adjourning. Tuckman used the model to describe how teams move from formation to peak performance. Leadership skills at each stage supports the team’s movement to the next stage of development, ultimately achieving the Performing stage more quickly.

The Five Stages of Team Development


During this stage, members usually arrive without much knowledge of the goals for the team and the work to be accomplished.   While typically excited about being asked to be on the team, they may be feeling anxiety and curiosity about these specifics, their role on the team, and how they will fit in.  They may question whether they have the knowledge and skills to contribute in meaningful ways. Leaders can expect many clarifying questions about roles and responsibilities in an effort to address these concerns.

The Leadership Role:

awarenessCreate time for the team to get to know each other. Ensure team members are clear about the mission and goals of the team and each person’s role in getting there.   Co-create and communicate a strong team vision. Provide clear structure,  roles, and direction. Understand the skills that will be required and share these. As the team begins to get comfortable, strong leadership will facilitate trust building.


Storming is the stage when many teams stumble due to predictable conflict. Different work styles between team members may cause frustration. Some may push the boundaries that have been set by the team during the Forming stage. Without clear guidelines, team members may feel overwhelmed with the work to be done and frustrated with the slow progress of the team. Conflict may arise when this frustration is directed at others.

The Leadership Role:

conflictTake charge and model the behavior you want to see. Encourage the team to refocus on the goals versus the confusion. Breaking goals into smaller chunks will help the team sense that they can achieve them. Encourage and listen to all views, be open to new ways of achieving the goals, and encourage other to do the same.

Redefining goals, roles, and tasks based on the input of others will provide renewed clarity and reduce the frustration and confusion.

NOTE: Tuckman cautions that transitioning from Storming to Norming can be slow as new tasks and assignments may cause team members to slide back into Storming before being able to move forward to Norming.


During this stage, team members will attempt to resolve  the conflict of the Storming stage and communication and collaboration will begin to replace the anxiety and frustration. You’ll notice team members asking for support and ideas from others as collaborative problem solving begins. And as communication increases, team members will feel more comfortable expressing their emotions and expectations. Acceptance and appreciation of other’s efforts and experiences replaces the frustration of difference work styles and opinions. Constructive feedback within the team is appreciated in this stage as members begin to feel comfortable with the team dynamics.

The Leadership Role:

cooperationCreate opportunities for everyone to be involved in meaningful ways.  A natural output of this is that  team members will learn from and assist one another. Shifting the energy from the stage of conflict (Storming) back to the team’s goals will increase productivity both individually and collectively.  Provide positive feedback and encourage this supportive behavior. Encouraging camaraderie positively supports the team culture – have fun and laugh often! As the team begins to settle into a rhythm, self-evaluation is possible and a productive exercise in order to get better.


Accomplishment and satisfaction with group progress is now visible. Roles and responsibilities become more fluid and members offer support, direction, and encouragement as needed. Differences are viewed positively and are now appreciated. Confidence in the ability of the team to accomplish its goals, commitment to the end result, and the competence of individual team members increases. The team will begin to measure its progress and celebrate successes.

The Leadership Role:

productivityTeam leads should be able to step back from a strong leadership stance as the team is beginning to self-direct.  Delegate task and decision making to the team, offering input when needed or to course-correct. Develop an environment where group problem solving takes place by taking advantage of individual strengths and encouraging collaborative work over individual work.


Projects are defined as having a beginning and an end (versus a process which is repeated over and over again). Teams will reach this final stage as the goals of the team are being completed. While team members may be satisfied with the work accomplished, they may also experience mixed emotions about work relationships ending. Not all members will be experiencing the same emotions at the same time, therefore team commitment and moral may decrease for some, while for others who remain focused on the tasks at hand, productivity may actually increase as they seek closure.

The Leadership Role:

separationAcknowledge the ebb and flow of emotions and be willing to talk with the team, collectively or individually, as needed.  Ensure all tasks and deliverable are completed. Provide
opportunities for evaluation of the team’s efforts, including lessons learned, to share with future teams. Host a closing celebration to acknowledge individual and team accomplishments and formally disband the team.

Strong Leadership Leads to Team Success

As the team lead, your role is to understand the overall goals and products required of the team and to maximize individual and team performance to achieve these. Being able to identify each stage of team development and understanding what is needed to move on to the next stage will ensure you get the team there as quickly as possible. Knowing your own leadership style and being able to flex it as necessary in each stage will lead the team to success.

HR can support!  Ask us about ways to help your team through each stage of their development or for support in problem-solving issues you are facing.  Email us at DevelopU@smu.edu.