The 5 stages of group development
Last updated on: May 30, 2023
No team is able to hit the ground running with a project at their first meeting. Instead, they go through a complex process that involves the 5 stages of group development, including:
- Performing, and
In fact, your team could consist of the best talent in the world. But, this means little if they don’t have a framework for working together — and that’s where the 5 stages of group development come into play.
In this blog post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about creating a high-performing team, including:
- What group development stages are,
- How this team development model increases cohesion,
- Which illustrative examples you can use every day, and more!
Without further ado, let’s get rolling!
What are the 5 stages of group development?
The stages of group development in organizational behavior and management comprise the theory of team development. In other words, it’s a group-forming model that consists of 5 distinct phases.
According to these stages of group development model, each group or team is likely to go through the following interconnected 5 phases during their joint work, including:
- The Forming Stage — characterized by team orientation,
- The Storming Stage — characterized by a power struggle,
- The Norming Stage — characterized by cooperation, integration, and unity,
- The Performing Stage — characterized by overall synergy, and
- The Adjourning Stage — characterized by a sense of closure.
Now, these 5 stages are vital to help you anticipate your team effectiveness. Simply put, that’s your ability to be efficient and productive with your work, both as individuals and as a group.
The diagram shows that the effectiveness of a team or group fluctuates over time.
In other words, the energy levels reach their ultimate low in the Storming Stage because the struggle to find the leader and build some structure creates frustration and mood fluctuations. That’s why this stage is often called The Power Struggle Stage.
In turn, the level of effectiveness reaches its peak in the Performing Stage, when team members use well-oiled workflows and communicate feedback effectively to make the project smooth sailing. This stage is sometimes dubbed The Synergy Stage.
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Who invented stages of group development?
The renowned Bruce W. Tuckman — a researcher at the American Psychological Association — established a 4-step model in 1965 in his landmark paper titled Developmental sequence in small groups.
In Tuckman’s words, the listed stages are obligatory for a team to:
- Grow and progress,
- Face challenges and problems,
- Find solutions for challenges and problems,
- Plan and tweak their individual and group workflows, and
- Reach their expected project goals.
Yet, this model was initially known as the “Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing Model.” Experts often refer to this original model as the 4 stages of group development.
In fact, Tuckman only added the fifth, Adjourning Stage, together with another expert, Mary Ann C. Jensen, in 1977. The newly crafted review paper was titled Stages of Small Group Development, Revisited — and it became what we today refer to as the Tuckman model of team development.
What industries benefit from Tuckman’s model
Anyone can harness the power of the 5 stages of group development in pretty much every scenario, including:
- Tech companies,
- University projects, and
- Home refurbishment.
Interestingly, the 5 stages of group development model can even be useful in the theater.
For example, a 2019 paper by an adjunct assistant professor at Queen’s University, Rebecca Stroud Stasel, found that some people feel a strong attachment to leadership. In fact, she argues that theater team members can “discover facets of themselves through leadership processes.”
Furthermore, Rebecca Stroud Stasel cites that people have natural, deeply seated tendencies for either leadership or following leaders.
In other words, any team setting that requires high performance can benefit from using this model.
As a result, we can conclude that the Tuckman model spans culture, politics, and any other social sphere of our lives.
The stages of group development with examples, explained
By implementing the 5 stages of group development, teams can reap vast benefits due to the clear-cut structure and step-by-step approach.
In fact, each phase plays a critical role in the team’s progress — whether in short, medium, or long-term goals. That’s where Tuckman’s stages of group development yield immense results.
Here, I’ll provide plenty of helpful examples for each of the 5 stages of group development, including:
- Performing, and
Let’s get going with the Forming stage.
Stage #1 — The Forming Stage
The Forming Stage is about team orientation.
Everyone is just getting to know one another. Likewise, they are overly polite to each other because they are looking to be accepted among this new group of people.
For the same reasons, they may also be a bit uncertain and anxious.
They are also overly positive about the project because it’s new — and new is always exciting.
At this initial stage, a glimpse of a future project leader may emerge. For illustration, the person with the largest knowledge about the project’s subject takes unofficial charge.
Yet, the position of this unofficial leader may also be occupied by the strongest authority figure in the team.
So, here are a few signs your team has entered the Forming Stage:
- You understand the purpose of the group,
- You understand the project goals,
- You’re talking about team members’ skills,
- You’re assigning tasks, responsibilities, and individual roles,
- You’re laying down ground rules about team management,
- You’re laying down some ground rules about team workflow, and
- You’re discussing team time management and project timelines.
In fact, a 2022 article published in the International Journal of Technology and Design Education has uncovered a few interesting aspects that can help any team on their journey from the Forming Stage to the Performing Stage.
For example, the same article’s author — Pınar Kaygan from the Art Academy of Latvia — has found that positive social relations and humor can play a major role in team success during all stages of group development.
Similarly, she has established that teams should use warm-up activities — like physical exercise and mind games — to ensure a smooth transition from the Forming Stage to the Norming Stage.
Now, let’s explore an example of a Forming Stage.
Example for Stage #1 — Forming
To illustrate the 5 stages of team development, let’s look at the example of Daisy, Adam, Daniel, and Stella. The 4 are part of a new team that just got onboarded in a tech company.
Their first task is to create a mobile app for their product. The 4-strong team meets and greets, eager and excited to make big things happen. But the initial enthusiasm quickly diminishes.
Daisy and Adam form an unofficial alliance. In contrast, Stella comes up with many proposals, making her an aspiring leader.
Daniel takes the backseat for most of the discussion — attentive but also afraid of the uncertainty that’s to come.
Anyway, the team creates basic guidelines, including design and coding tasks. Most of them feel confident moving forward, but that’s just on the surface.
Overview of the Forming Stage
To make things more tangible, here’s a brief overview of the behaviors, feelings, group needs, and leadership needs in the Forming Stage.
|Forming Stage overview|
|Behaviors||– Asking plenty of questions |
– Listening to what others have to say
– Avoiding controversy
– Forming of cliques
– Expressing politeness
|Feelings||– Positivity |
|Group needs||– Establishing ground rules|
– Creating team expectations and team process
– Figuring out team vision and mission
– Setting operational guidelines
– Designing tasks and goals
|Leadership needs||– Encouraging active participation|
– Agreeing on the necessity for team leaders and guides
– Providing structure, roles, task-direction
– Creating the conditions for confidence and optimism
Stage #2 — The Storming Stage
The Storming Stage brings about a power struggle.
So, team orientation is over — and team members are likely to forgo the politeness they exercised in the first stage.
Instead, they adopt an open exchange of ideas and opinions and learn about what it’s like to work together. This can lead to conflict, disputes, and competition, depending on their:
- Ideas, and
Sometimes, subgroups may form around particular opinions or authority figures. In fact, all these are clear signs that team cohesion has not happened yet. Unless the team is patient and tolerant of these differences, the team and project can’t succeed.
Now, here’s where you may wonder — well, if it’s such an unpleasant affair, can the Storming Stage of group development ever be avoided?
In all honesty, some teams may skip this step altogether, hoping to avoid unpleasant conflict and the clash of ideas.
However, you won’t get far with your project by sweeping vital questions and potential problems under the rug.
So, let’s list a few signs that suggest your team has entered the Storming stage:
- Dominant team members emerge,
- Less dominant team members find their way to the background,
- Questions about leadership and authority emerge,
- Concerns about rules, policies, and norms emerge, and
- Questions about evaluation and review emerge.
With that in mind, this is probably one of the most unstable of the 5 stages of group development.
To clarify how this step could develop, let’s explore a real-life example of the Storming Stage.
Example for Stage #2 — Storming
Now, this is where things get tense for Adam, Daisy, Daniel, and Stella as they set their plan into motion. The main reason for the uneasiness is their personalities and opinions clashing.
Stella called a lot of shots in the Forming Stage — so, she emerges as the dominant team leader in this stage. She proposes a clear schedule on who should focus on the user research for the UI/UX design for the app.
Similarly, Stella proposes who should take the lead on the first few lines of code. Yet, Daisy and Adam reluctantly accept her schedule because they think they could do a better job than Stella.
Team members show a lot more emotions than in the Forming Stage. Things reach a turning point when Daniel — the backseater — decides to voice his concerns. He uses assertive skills to:
- Assess the situation,
- Set clearer expectations, and
- Institute more effective ground rules.
Daniel’s persuasive remarks influence the team to turn the volume down. In fact, they make effective listening a priority, instead of scrambling to get more power for themselves.
The team now knows many of its weaknesses and is ready to take on the ultimate challenge.
Overview of the Storming Stage
To make the story more concrete, here’s a brief overview of the behaviors, feelings, group needs, and leadership needs in the Storming Stage.
|Storming Stage overview|
|Behaviors||– Fighting to become leaders |
– Noticing a lack of progress and less politeness
– Emerging of power struggles
– Detecting a lack of role clarity
– Arguing on team expectations and roles
|Feelings||– Anger |
– Mood fluctuations
|Group needs||– Establishing effective listening |
– Resolving disputes
– Reestablishing ground rules and roles
– Refocusing on the main goals
– Giving and receiving feedback
|Leadership needs||– Teaching how to resolve conflicts|
– Offering praise and support to team members
– Allowing members to assume more responsibilities
Stage #3 — The Norming Stage
The Norming Stage brings about a sense of cooperation, integration, and unity.
Of course, you can only move on to this more pleasant stage if you’ve addressed and answered all the vital questions from the previous, Storming Stage.
The team is already used to each other’s workflows, and most future disputes and conflicts generally become easier to overcome. The official (or unofficial) team leader takes a back seat much more than in the previous stages. As a result, the individual team members are given their chance to shine.
In some cases, the Norming Stage may often be intersected by the Storming Stage. It may even revert to it unless the team makes the effort to communicate problems — and then learn from these interactions.
Here are a few signs that show your team has entered the Norming stage:
- Group interaction becomes easier,
- The team becomes more cooperative on the whole, and
- Team productivity and group performance increase.
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Example for Stage #3 — Norming
Adam, Daisy, Daniel, and Stella are now mostly satisfied with everyone’s opinions in terms of the deadlines for coding and design tasks.
They feel more comfortable with each other’s work, so much so that in-person and online communication flows seamlessly.
The team even gets a name — “CodeKickers” — created by Daniel.
Lines between team members and the leader blur and everyone feels like they’re contributing to team routines. Daniel lends a hand to Stella to develop the aesthetics of the app.
Stella, Daisy, and Adam forget about their power struggles, and high-quality work quickly follows. In fact, Adam works together with Daisy to do a few sessions of user testing for their app.
The whole team looks more like a team and less like an accidentally assembled group of people.
Overview of the Norming Stage
To provide a better summary of the behaviors, feelings, group needs, and leadership needs in the Norming Stage, check out the table below.
|Norming Stage overview|
|Behaviors||– Achieving group harmony and high productivity |
– Assigning nicknames and creating inside jokes
– Emerging of more relaxed communication
– Solving problems and resolving conflicts together
– Developing team routines
|Feelings||– High level of confidence and trust|
– Assurance that goals will be achieved
– A sense that constructive criticism is desirable
|Group needs||– Group cohesion|
– Team members develop shared leadership skills
– Openness to offer suggestions and ideas
|Leadership needs||– Decline of strict structure |
– Promotion of intense team interaction
– Strong relationships continue to build
– Evaluation of productivity and processes
Stage #4 — The Performing Stage
The Performing Stage is what your team is after. In this stage, you and your team get to enjoy synergy — a state where work flows smoothly.
If your team has reached this level, you’re on a clear path to success. You have a mature, well-organized group now fully focused on reaching the project goals established in the Forming Stage.
So, team members have grown fully accustomed to each other’s workflows. They respect and acknowledge each other’s skills, talents, and experience. In fact, they trust that everyone involved will do their share of the work.
Bear in mind that not all teams reach this stage. Some may falter at the earlier stages, due to the inability to properly address differences between team members or address problems as they emerge.
Here are some signs that show your team has entered the Performing Stage:
- The organization in your team is now well-established,
- The structure of roles and responsibilities is clear, and
- The team has a tested, mature, and calm way of handling issues.
To get to the bottom of things, I sat down with Brian Townsend, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent, who was in charge of supervising and overseeing large teams. He claims that psychological safety is the number 1 marker of a group of people who make great things happen:
“A high-performing team is one where its members feel safe, can freely contribute, share opinions or concerns without judgment or fear of reprisal, can ask for help, report mistakes, and be themselves. Morale is higher, productivity is higher.”
With that said, let’s continue with our story.
Example for Stage #4 — Performing
With everything planned out, Daisy, Adam, Daniel, and Stella get to serious work.
At this stage, the 4-strong team makes things happen with plenty of empathy, and everybody offers a hand to the person in need. The unofficial leader, Stella, still delegates design and coding tasks to others, but this is more of a shared leadership model than a typical top-down approach.
Adam, Daniel, and Daisy come up with a funny game, enjoy long sessions of deep work, and create the perfect working environment.
Everyone’s pouring their heart and soul into the project. Yet, sometimes they have trouble tracking who does what just because everybody is so involved.
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Finally, the group of 4 get together once or twice a week to discuss their progress on the mobile app and chat about their lives. They’ve grown much closer since the day they first launched the project.
The deadline is quickly approaching, so they wrap things up, and shoot a few reports to upper management. Sadly, tension builds as the final stage looms large.
Overview of the Performing Stage
To make things more tangible, here’s a quick overview of the behaviors, feelings, group needs, and leadership needs in the Performing Stage.
|Performing Stage overview|
|Behaviors||– Assisting one another in every scenario|
– Making all roles more fluid
– Taking on different team responsibilities
– Appreciating differences among team members
– Boosting team performance to the highest level
|Feelings||– Satisfaction |
– High confidence and commitment
– Team culture and tight bonds
– Excitement and fun
|Group needs||– Dialogue and feedback sessions with leaders|
– Assurance that collaboration is ongoing
– Maintaining flexibility of processes
|Leadership needs||– Increasing strategic awareness |
– Resolving conflicts positively
– Delegating and overseeing by the leader
– Fulfilling team members’ needs
– Practicing shared leadership to the full extent
Stage #5 — The Adjourning Stage
The Adjourning Stage triggers a sense of closure.
The project is completed, with most or all project goals reached.
And, it’s probably time for the team members to go their separate ways.
Now, if the team members have grown close and accustomed to working with each other, they may mourn that it’s now time to move on and work with other people.
In fact, they may even mourn the fact that the project is ending and that they need to move on to work on other projects.
The Adjourning Stage is usually associated with short-term projects, where team members are expected to disband over time. However, even “permanent” teams working on long-term projects may get gradually disbanded — as a result of a company’s organizational restructuring.
So, here are a few signs your team has entered the Adjourning stage:
- Workload slowly diminishes,
- Most of the project goals are completed,
- You’re working on leftover tasks, and
- Some team members are gradually allocated to different teams and projects.
Interestingly, a management lecturer at the University of Adelaide, Ankit Agarwal, published a 2022 paper on a phase that precedes the Forming Stage. But how does the Forming Stage relate to the Adjourning Stage?
In a nutshell, the author of the said paper argues that people often harbor negative or positive attitudes toward other group members before even a conversation has started group-wide. In fact, he asserts that the Adjourning Stage from a previous group plays an active role in the Forming Stage of a new group.
That’s why, he says, managers or team leaders must discover sources of conflict or discomfort at the outset.
With this interesting detail in mind, let’s continue our real-life example of the Adjourning Stage!
Example for Stage #5 — Adjourning
In this stage, the CodeKickers feel a dip in productivity. The project is done, and their focus dissolves. They recently released the app and received plenty of positive feedback for the design and implementation.
With little left to do, Daisy, Adam, Daniel, and Stella decide to throw a party for good times’ sake. They’re all radiantly happy but also feel the time has come for them to part ways.
As luck would have it, Adam finds a job abroad, and Daisy’s boss gets her relocated to a different city. So, they both need to move on from their current office.
In the meantime, they quickly make a few tweaks here and there to maintain the app’s performance.
Yet, they feel sad that their project is ending. They also grieve that they won’t get to see each other regularly — as they’ve grown quite close.
In the end, Stella, Adam, Daniel, and Daisy go their separate ways, capping off the project as a complete success in every way. It feels like the end of an era.
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Overview of the Adjourning Stage
To sum up, here’s a quick overview of the behaviors, feelings, group needs, and leadership needs in the Adjourning Stage.
|Adjourning Stage overview|
|Behaviors||– Increased networking|
– Less focus
– Drop in productivity
|Feelings||– Fluctuation of team morale |
– Mixed feelings of satisfaction and disappointment
|Group needs||– Recognizing team members’ vulnerabilities|
– Completing task deliverables
– Evaluating team progress and results
– Acknowledging accomplishments via festivities
|Leadership needs||– Reflecting on tasks and goals|
– Transferring collaborative behavior to new tasks
Why are the 5 stages of group development important?
Now, what is the importance of group development we just talked about?
Well, Tuckman’s model teaches us that teams are:
- Ever-moving and vibrant, and
- Governed by unspoken norms and a natural order of events.
At first, people are led by their natural desire to be liked by others and accepted among their peers. After all, when you have to cooperate with someone for a longer period, it’s easier to do it if you get along well — and that’s what the stages of group development get right every single time.
As time goes by, sub-groups form within a team, opinions, and personalities clash somewhat. In fact, some teams may even get stuck in the Storming Stage, unwilling to talk about their problems.
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
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But stagnation is always worse than conflict. Instead of maintaining a facade of politeness, the 5 stages of group development can help you:
- Identify your problems,
- Analyze your problems, and
- Talk about your problems.
In addition to handling conflicts, thanks to group development, you’ll need to determine workflows, follow them, and constantly tweak and improve them as you go.
As a natural consequence of it all, your project is bound to progress at a steady rate. In contrast, mismatched, uncompromising teams can only produce incomplete, confusing projects — if they produce anything at all.
Speaking of ends, the Adjourning Stage is the bittersweet cherry on top of each team and project, and it will happen whether you want it or not. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on your accomplishments and think about what you learned.
Powerful tips on how to facilitate proper group development
Now that you understand the “What?” and “Why?” behind the stages of group development, here’s the “How?”
I assembled a list of quick tips of my own and advice from experts that will help managers, leaders, and teams ensure that each stage plays out as it should.
Forming Stage tips
Let’s start from the beginning!
Here are a few powerful pieces of advice on how to approach the Forming Stage:
- Clarify the expected stages of group development right from the start. This approach helps you highlight that conflicts and problems throughout the project are normal — not a sign of failure.
- Set clear and attainable objectives for individuals, to help direct them towards their individual goals within a project.
- Establish clear and attainable objectives for the team, to help direct them towards their ultimate project goal.
In fact, the Chief Marketing Officer at SplitMetrics.com, Olga Noha, told me that navigating the 5 stages of group development can pose tremendous challenges. But she said that we should try to be open to whatever’s coming our way.
“Welcome the uncertain. It might be unsettling not to have a clear idea of how the team will evolve, but it’s equally a chance to try out diverse dynamics and roles.”
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
To learn how to best set and manage the right goals for your team, check out our previous blog posts:
Storming Stage tips
As soon as you get the basics out of the way, you are entering the Storming Stage. To help you out on this bumpy road, here are some insightful tools to handle this stage:
- Address and resolve conflicts and problems as soon as they arise.
- Coach all team members to be assertive, and stand up for their ideas and opinions in a positive and calm way.
- Provide extra support and guidance to help team members — who are less secure about voicing their opinions and ideas — stand their ground.
- Build trust among team members, by encouraging honesty, transparency, and accountability.
Since the Storming Stage can be infused with power struggles, I sat down with a leadership coach, Alexis Haselberger, to dive deeper. She told me that we must do our best to name the problems and address them properly — especially at this point, where we risk getting stuck in this stage.
“It can be very helpful to simply call out what’s happening. What stage are we in? What does that mean for us? This places the blame for any friction on the stage and not on individuals.”
Norming Stage tips
Next up, the Norming Stage can be a tricky phase as your team could slide into the previous, Storming Stage. So, tread carefully!
On that note, let’s look at a few tried and tested tips to ease your way into the Norming Stage:
- Arrange at least 1 team-building activity per week or month (or whatever works best), to help people grow closer as a team.
- Encourage off-work get-togethers to inspire group cohesion.
The former DEA agent turned team development expert, Brian Townsend, had some nuggets of wisdom to share on this point as well. He said that nothing trumps accountability:
“Everyone should be encouraged to take personal responsibility and ownership — and openly address any concerns they have. By this time, the team leader should have developed this type of safe environment. If mistakes are made, members should be encouraged to report them so solutions can be developed and everyone can benefit from lessons learned.”
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
Speaking of accountability in teams, read our all-encompassing guide on this topic:
Performing Stage tips
The most productive of all, the Performing Stage yields immense benefits for the tasks and goals you established in the first 3 stages.
In the Performing Stage, your team — well — performs at its optimum level, creating near-unshakable harmony and consistent teamwork.
Now, let’s explore a few tips to skyrocket your Performing Stage:
- Delegate tasks appropriately and in line with the skills, experience, and interests of individual team members.
- Track the time you spend on individual tasks to build daily and weekly reports of the time you spend on the project. You can then further analyze your reports to see how much time you need to finish individual project tasks and whether there is room for improvement in that time.
Surprisingly, leadership coach Alexis Haselberger told me that spending lots of time in this stage is, actually, not an issue.
”There’s no problem getting ‘stuck’ in this stage. If you’re here, that’s great!”
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
All stages of group development have their fair share of challenges, and the same applies to the Performing Stage. So, grab your chance to learn more about how to phrase and delegate assignments in our blog post:
Adjourning Stage tips
Last but not least, the Adjourning Stage — often called the Mourning Stage for obvious reasons — ends the whole project cycle. Depending on the leader of the group, the Adjourning Stage can either be a leeway into future endeavors or it could impact future collaboration.
In any case, it’s the saddest of all the 5 stages of group development.
With that in mind, here are a few time-tested tips on how to make the Mourning Stage less about mourning and more about optimism toward the future:
- Recognize and celebrate the team’s achievements to make sure your work as a team ends on a positive note. This is important considering that at least some of you may work together in the future once again.
- Share your thoughts and feelings with all team members to make sure no underlying issues remain unresolved. It’s critical to have everyone on the same page at the very end of the project.
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
To help make the transition from the Adjourning Stage to the next project’s Forming Stage painless, here are a few time management exercises you can try out:
Wrapping up: Developing a thriving team requires constant feedback and effective listening
Working in a team or group is a complex process that takes time and effort — and plenty of patience.
To develop a thriving, effective team, follow the 5 distinct stages of group development:
- Forming — marked by team orientation,
- Storming — marked by power struggles,
- Norming — marked by cooperation, integration, and unity,
- Performing — marked by synergy or smooth sailing, and
- Adjourning — marked by a sense of closure and dissolution.
The last stage was added only in a later review paper. Still, we can clearly see how the Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing model is deficient without the final, Adjourning Stage.
Anyhow, I recommend that you use each stage to learn and understand something new about your teammates and work on improving your workflows. Finally, use this knowledge to help you overcome problems and reach your project goals with success.
Tuckman’s stages of group development can do wonders for you personally and professionally — I promise!
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