Leading Teams: Development Stages

There are several team models that suggest that teams go through a number of stages on the way to becoming High Performing. The models are summarized in the table below:

team stages

If we focus on the Tuckman-Jensen model, the stages are:

  • Forming: At the beginning the team members are enthusiastic, excited by the new team. They see opportunities. However, output is low because at the beginning they will not be clear about the team and individual goals or how the team will achieve its objectives. Therefore, the leader must provide lots of direction.
  • Storming: In the second stage, the enthusiasm dissipates as team members encounter challenges and become frustrated. They compete for attention and resources. Different working styles create friction. They feel incompetent and dissatisfied with their dependence on the leader. Output remains low. The leader during this stage needs to provide SUPPORT, giving direction and managing conflicts, whilst building motivation and confidence.
  • Norming: Dissatisfaction decreases as disagreements are resolved. People begin to understand each other’s preferred styles and strengths and weaknesses. The team begins to pull together. Output improves and the members are feeling positive about being part of the team. The leader needs to FACILITATE the team’s progress towards optimum effectiveness
  • Performing: the team is motivated, confident and productive. They feel the strength of the team and work collaboratively and independently. The leader’s role is to MONITOR.

This simple model has the virtue of revealing that teams are dynamic – they change over time – and a leader needs to respond with appropriate leader behaviours. In particular they are consistent with the leader being Directive and focusing on Performance at the beginning.

Lencioni adopts a slightly different approach to team development, identifying 5 Dysfunctions of Teams. I believe that our approach of focusing on Performance, People and Process will help you to avoid the 5 Dysfunctions. Nevertheless, since these dysfunctions are so common it may be useful to review them: forewarned is forearmed. Like a series of dominoes, each dysfunction gives rise to the next.

  • Absence of trust – the absence of trust creates enormous inefficiency as team members invest the time and energy in defensive behaviours, and are reluctant to ask for help from or to assist each other. Lencioni suggests that the leader should encourage the sharing of experience and draw out each member’s unique talents.
  • Fear of conflict – linked to trust, team members are afraid to challenge and provide feedback, settling instead for an artificial harmony. The team becomes less than the sum of its parts.
  • Lack of commitment – if team members feel unable to voice their opinions strongly then they will feel that their views are not fully represented and so they lack commitment. Productive teams make joint and transparent decisions; there may not be consensus but each person’s voice is heard.
  • Avoidance of accountability – when teams don’t commit, there is no accountability. If I don’t care and don’t feel responsible then I’m not going to push others to perform at their best.
  • Inattention to results – the team can only become results oriented when all team members place the team’s results first and this won’t happen without accountability.

Lencioni suggests that the primary role of the leader in overcoming these dysfunctions is to lead by example and set the tone for the whole team. This includes being the first one to be vulnerable, encouraging debate and conflict, making responsibilities and deadlines clear, setting the team’s standards and being clear on the team’s results.

“Successful teamwork is not about mastering subtle, sophisticated theories, but rather about combining common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human. By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make teamwork so elusive.”[1]


Team development stages have been observed in research and many people will attest to having experienced these stages. But not every time – the stages are not inevitable. They don’t just happen; there are causes and these are addressed through the leader’s focus on Performance, People and Process,

I believe that the models are simplistic. It is unlikely that all team members are in the same place at the same time – context, history, existing relationships, team competences, are they in their comfort zone technically etc. Thus there is not one blanket approach to all team members; each team member needs to be managed differently, paying attention to each individual’s

  • team competencies
  • team commitment, and
  • team mindset

jazz leader

 “Don’t try to ape any leadership model or team, because there’s no one right style for leading a team.

There are many different ways to create the conditions for effectiveness, sustain them, and help teams take full advantage of them.

The best team leaders are like jazz players, improvising constantly as they go along.” [2]

[1] Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

[2] Professor J Richard Hackman