TeamworkChange is hard.  If you have ever worked with launching new projects, creating new teams, or just trying to rally people around a new idea, you understand the challenges that teams go through.  Today we are going to discuss the paths that teams go through as you lead them towards high performance.  If you want to create a winning team, it all starts with first understanding of the natural ways that teams develop.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about how the movie “Moneyball” was an effective lesson in organizational change  and referenced the four stages of team development.

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing

This is from a model that was introduced by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in his 1965 article, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.”  There is also a fifth stage, called “adjourning” or “mourning” but we won’t get into that here.

When you understand this simple model and look for the clues in your own team’s development, you can grow through change much easier.  In fact, by understanding this model, you give yourself that slight advantage over others because when problems arise, not only do you expect them, but you welcome them.  Because you planned for it and it means you are moving into a new stage!

A Bit of Back Story

Many years ago, I was a project lead on the launch of new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software for the sales team as well as my training and development that I would be coaching them on.  In that project,  we harnessed the power of Tuckman’s four stages and mapped out a timeline for rolling out the change.  By understanding the way the group would react to the change, it was much easier to schedule as well as indicate the roles management would need to play to support the initiative.

Let’s discuss the four stages of team development:

1) Forming

In the initial stage, everyone gets acquainted with each other and the processes. Most of the team will be positive and polite, while some will remain anxious, as they don’t understand the direction or their specific role.  Reps will be tentative and managers will need to be directive and outline a clear structure.  This will be why test piloting on a small group will work well and create champions for the new systems.

Leadership Role:  Managers will need to be very visible through this stage because roles, responsibilities, and expectations may not be clear.  It is important at this stage to clearly articulate the vision and the overall strategy of the organization.  Keep showing the team the big picture as much as possible. Leaders will need to all be totally committed to seeing the strategy through to the end.

2) Storming

People will start to push back against the change and there will start to be negativity.  New skills are learned and resistance will happen, and this is often where most teams fail as they see this negative as a failure.  There will be conflict between members and their working styles.  There will be talk of just going back to old ways, and there will be some VERY vocal team members who step up.  This is where the bulk of support and training will need to be.  Look for team members to gossip, challenge authority, and jockey for position.

Leadership Role:   In this phase, leaders are put to the test as people begin to vocalize their displeasure about the change.  As a leader in the storming stage, you will need to stand your ground and back the strategy 100% while still supporting your team.  Get hands-on with training, get in the trenches, and show them what you expect.  Help clarify roles, deal with conflict, but keep the strategy moving forward.

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Four stages of team, Change, Organizations, Joe Girard
These stages MUST happen. Don’t resist! (Hover over the image to share) 

3) Norming

Teams will settle into the new system and start to feel more comfortable.  They will ask questions and trust will begin to become much stronger.  Team members have most likely resolved their differences, and some comradery around a job well done begins to emerge. There may be some cross over between storing and norming for some time, but overall, the team will get more comfortable

Management will need to be an active team member and be available to manage the day to day activities.  Goals should not be set too aggressively and focus should be on small victories and celebrating success.

Leadership Role:  The norming phase can actually be very dangerous as people perceive the lack of conflict as a success for results and begin to get complacent.  This is the stage where the leader must step up and challenge individuals to play to their strengths.  To begin to gain incremental steps forward.  This is where leaders need to be most visible and help their teams grow since they are receptive to ideas and training.  Capitalize on this stage.

4) Performing

Teams will begin to operate on high levels and there will be more room for strategic decisions.  Also, much more aggressive goals can be set as the team will have the capabilities and resources to achieve them.  Team members will require minimal supervision day to day and management will provide more leadership.  New leaders will emerge within the system who should be empowered to make decisions and some roles within the group can be shared

Of course, throughout all of this, there will be a constant need to monitor, evaluate, and adjust the system, full support will be needed to operate autonomously and avoid roadblocks.  This would need to be clearly communicated to all involved, but adjustments will be welcome and feedback should be open

At this phase it is easy to be part of the team and new members can onboard very quickly, which means there can be an active talent recruitment effort.

Leadership Role:  In the performing stage, leaders should be looking for new leaders to emerge from within the team. There is an opportunity to delegate and empower potential up-and-comers.  In this stage, leaders should concentrate on developing new talent and looking for ways to really enhance the abilities of the team members.


Can you see how powerful this model is?  In the training program we rolled out in March of that year, we planned for the storming stage to happen around September.  And wouldn’t you know it, people started whining, complaining, and pushing back completely.

When managers came to tell us it wasn’t working, it was actually fun, because we said, “This is great, you are right on schedule!  We only should have a few months of this stage before people settle in.  Go help them understand their roles and expectations better.”

And yes, change is hard.  And there is no perfect solution. But it all starts with understanding what you are up against, embracing the reality and pushing through to see your goals completed.  Don’t give up at the first sign of struggle.

Hope this helps!  Post your comments below on how you have seen this in action. Also, if you would like to see the CRM and sales training plan, let me know below and I will map that out as well.

Photo Credit: Lollyman via Compfight cc

Joe Girard
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