I recently experienced the “honeymoon phase” and the subsequent “post-honeymoon” phase in a new team and this reminded me of the natural phases a team goes through to become a high-performance unit. Bruce W Tuckman, American educational psychologist, identified the five phases a team goes through as forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.
As a leader it is useful to understand these phases – especially the current phase in which your team is finding itself – so that you can take the appropriate steps to assist the team to move towards the performance phase.
Let’s look at what happens in each phase as well as what the leader’s role in each phase should be.
The team members get together to form a team. Feelings of excitement about meeting new people and new challenges are usually present. They could also experience feelings of uncertainty and anxiety about what will be expected of them. However, the overarching mood is positive. This can also be called the honeymoon phase. A good team leader will use this positive energy to mobilise the team by clarifying the roles and create opportunities for the team members to get to know each other.
The team has started to work together and the members are more comfortable in their roles. Next, team members with different viewpoints and working styles are in conflict and have heated debates. This can also called the post-honeymoon phase. This conflict can be explicit or sometimes “undercover”.
See the article How to understand yourself and others interpersonally on how to understand different interpersonal styles.
The role of the leader is to facilitate these conflicts in a way that ensures that the team reaches agreement while the diversity adds richness to the outcome. Making sure that the team has regular meetings will give them a place to voice and discuss differences.
The team starts to function together, with major personality and positional differences discussed and resolved. This is called the dust-has-settled phase. In this phase, the leader should ensure that the team is mobilised by confirming roles and delivery timelines.
Team members start to perform in their roles, and there is interdependence among each other. The same diversity that caused the storming is now assisting the team to be creative and productive. The leader can play a major role in acknowledging the team’s performance and in giving recognition where it is due.
This is the end of the reason for the existence of the team. The team will now either be resolved, or team members will regroup into new teams. This is called the mourning phase. Celebrating the successes and reviewing the lessons learnt is a way to acknowledge the team members’ contribution. This will also help to prepare them for their roles in their new team.
In real life, teams go through all of these phases to a greater or lesser extent. It is triggered by changes to the team, for example when a person joins or leaves or when the goals of the team change.
Sharing this process with the team can give them insight into the feelings they might be experiencing during the various phases of team development.
As someone once said: “A single moment of understanding can flood a whole life with meaning.”