When I became a team leader, I quickly learned that there was more to teams than I'd realized. Although I had been on many teams, I had never realized what it took to manage a highly functional team. People do not always respond the way I think should. Sometimes they get frustrated with other team members or with my leadership. Perhaps, you've had similar experiences.
Later I learned that teams go through a natural maturing process from a simple group of individuals to a high performance team. Leaders who understand this process can coach and guide a team and minimize frustration. To read more about how managers can nurture teams in the early stages, read Leading High Performance Teams.
The Team Development Process comes out of social science theory. After years of studying the way teams work, sociologists recognized emerging patterns. These patterns became the crux of team theory. Now we know that all teams go through certain stages of development. We also know that within those stages there are certain things that team members can do and certain things that they are not yet ready to do.
Think of your team as a new baby. You would not ask your new baby to tell you when he is hungry or to let you know when he has to go to the bathroom.
Managers make the mistake of asking more of teams than they are ready to give. Similarly, team members ask more of themselves than they are ready to give. Awareness of the Team Development Process can minimize frustration and failure and maximize growth and high achievement.
Stages of Team Development
Approach-Avoidance. In the first stage of team development you have a group of individuals coming into the team with little knowledge of each other. In this stage members want to be part of the team, but they also have some reluctance. They fear that they as individuals may not be accepted.
The only task this team can perform at this stage is Orientation to each other and to the mission of the team.
Power-Control. The second stage of team development is one of the most uncomfortable for any team. It is the stage where members no longer question the value of the team. Instead, they see the team's value and now they want the members to recognize their own personal strengths.
The only task this team can perform at this stage is Organization of the conflicting struggles around the team goals.
Intimacy. The third stage feels really good. This is one of the most comfortable stages of team development, but it can also be one of the most dangerous. In intimacy team members no longer disagree, but support each other in everything. In the intimacy stage you hear a lot of statements like, "That's a great idea." Or "We really like what you are saying."
The only task this team can perform is Data Flow or open sharing without evaluation.
Differentiation. The fourth stage is when the group members recognize each other's strengths and weaknesses. Each person is willing to listen to one another with renewed respect. The ability to share strengths and weaknesses leads the group to it's most important task.
The task this group can perform is Problem Solving. Members are finally at the highly performing stage where they can address problems in a different way – through the eyes of the team – rather than through the eyes of individuals. Problem solving becomes fun. A new synergy forms that enables the team to tackle more challenges and reach high levels of performance.
Closure. The final stage of team development is when team members have completed their task, and they are ready to evaluate their work.
Therefore, the task for this stage consists of Evaluation on two fronts:
First, evaluating the team's success. How did we do as a team? How did others respond to our work? Would we be willing to work together again?
Second, evaluating individual success in terms of the questions people asked during Approach-Avoidance. For example, did the group accept me? Did I feel comfortable in the group? How was my input received?
As a team leader these stages help you diagnosis your teams growth. You must remember that not all teams go through these stages linearly. After Approach-Avoidance some teams move directly into Intimacy and later into Power / Control. The addition of a new team member or a new task usually throws a team back into Approach-Avoidance or Power-Control.
Good team leaders with a strong knowledge of team development can observe their teams and coach their movement from one stage to the next.