The Stages of Group Development

Have you ever been a part of a high-performing team? A team that trusts each other so much that healthy debate happens often in order to determine the best path forward. A team that prioritizes group goals over individual goals leading to members who always follow through and are accountable to each other. A team that understands the need for a balanced lifestyle and so encourages each other spiritually and in friendship.

If you’ve ever experienced a team like this, was the team always this healthy? From day one, did you function cohesively? The answer is probably no.

Most teams have to develop and grow together in order to perform well. It takes time and opportunities to build trust, and so high-performing teams often go through recognizable stages. Bruce Tuckman, a Psychological Researcher of group dynamics, says that teams always go through predictable phases in order to grow. They are: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

Below is a description of each stage as well as one action that we recommend teams take in order to move into the next stage.

The Pre-Formed Team

  • Description: At this stage, a leader is discerning who to invite onto the team.
  • Action: Pray a Discernment Rosary for the individuals that you might invite to a book study or eventually to a proto-leadership team. (The makeup of teams often change over time, so it is okay to do a trial run.) Conversations with the Lord and those invited are a practical discernment, and so this rosary lets you hear from the Lord and provides a concrete way to pray about who to invite.

Forming

  • Description: At this stage, the team is just beginning to form and so there is a great deal of uncertainty about roles and personalities. At this point, there is often low trust and so members tend to avoid conflict and behave independently.
  • Action: Complete the Personal Histories Worksheet at a team meeting. People are more than just their assigned duties and knowing who people are often sets a firm foundation of trust for collaboration. This exercise will help members get know each other beyond their functional roles on the team.

Storming

  • Description: At this stage, as team members begin to trust each other, they are more likely to share honest opinions, and so conflict and tensions often arises between members. In order to grow beyond this stage, the team will need to understand each member’s working style and define acceptable behaviors.
  • Action: Complete the Conflict Profile Worksheet at a team meeting. Not all conflict is bad. Not all conflict styles are the same. Recognizing the styles of individuals in conflict and a shared ideal for healthy conflict can help teams move past false unity and destructive conflict to a healthy fruitful sharing of ideas.

Norming

  • Description: At this stage, team trust is high, and so resolving conflict is comparatively easy and results in greater intimacy. There is also a spirit of cooperation because the team is dedicated to their common goal. Often the team leader can even take a step back and allow the team members to take initiative and move forward together.
  • Action: Complete the Developing Group Norms Worksheet at a team meeting. Team norms tend to arise naturally, but they are always more fruitful when they are named at the outset and chosen with input from the entire team. Setting expectations early will also allow your members to flourish.

Performing

  • Description: At this stage, the team is truly united. Moral is high because each team member’s talents and skills are acknowledged and put to use. Because the focus is on common goals, members are willing to adapt to the needs of the group. Additionally, dissent is expected and through healthy conflict the team will often come to a decision together rather than needing to defer to the leader.
  • Action: Complete the “What’s Most Important Now” Worksheet & Leader’s Guide. At this point in it will be important to stay focused on team goals. Good ideas will proliferate, but tackling every good idea that comes along will keep the team from completing any of those ideas really really well. And so, the answer is often about doing less rather than more. If you want to see progress, the team will need to discern what is most important right now. This worksheet will help you identify steps toward your goal and the owners of each step.

The stages of team development tend to always go in this order, and they are also cyclical. As teams react to changing circumstances, they often revisit each stage. If your team can face each phase head-on, they will grow in effectiveness. So, keep these resources handy as you may end up reusing them in future.

As always, don’t hesitate to ask if you would like help with these resources. Contact Calvin Mueller for questions or help on applying these resources in your unique situation.

2 Responses to “The Stages of Group Development”

Thank you for the webinar for it was great to hear from everyone else. The breakout sessions were an eye opener and was nice to hear comments from everyone else.
Thank you for attaching the Discernment Rosary and the other worksheets for I will share them with my peers.
I have taught Religious Education for 20 years and have been a co-DRE for the past 3 years; co-chair the ladies guild for about 10 years;
I am also an EMHC and just darn busy with the church and I have a full time job. Anything information would be welcomed to get our feet on the ground for our priest really wants to have people involved and is great at welcoming people.

Thanks for the helpful workshop/webinar! The steps to forming healthy collaborative and high functioning teams will be great practical applications to the “idea” of collaborative leadership. While I’ve had the benefit of being on the ground floor of a Leadership Team at the parish level aided by being part of the Divine Renovation Network, some of the concepts took us a while to grasp and put into practice. The notion that every team will “get it right” from the start would be a good one to let go of, so your advice on this being a cyclical process is accurate.

It was good to hear these again, especially with our Evangelization team listening together, along with some practical steps of how they could look in various teams. A good reminder is that it takes time to get to and through some of these stages, so as leaders I would caution us about going too fast. Spend some time helping our teams identify and work through these stages with these practical steps as we work toward the non-negotiables of Healthy Conflict, Trust & Vulnerability, Balance of Strength.

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