Project Management ABC: T for Team development
How to bring your project team to peak performance
A project team is like a group of dancers on a stage – initially perhaps a bit stiff and uncoordinated, but over time, the movements become smoother and harmoniously synchronized. But how do they achieve this unique performance? This is where the stages of team development come into play, guiding the path from a loosely formed group to the highest level of team success. We explain the fascinating choreography of coming together, where every step is significant.
Team development according to Tuckman
The categorization of team development into phases was created by US psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965. His model, “Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development,” has become one of the most well-known and widely used models for describing the team development process.
Bruce Tuckman originally identified four phases of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. These phases are characterized by easily recognizable dynamics that the majority of new teams go through at the beginning of their collaboration. Later, the model was expanded to include a fifth phase called “Adjourning” or “Mourning,” which focuses on the process of team dissolution and the transition of team members to new tasks or projects.
Tuckman’s model was based on his observation of groups in various contexts, including project management. Since then, it has been further developed and adapted by many other researchers and practitioners to meet the specific requirements and dynamics of teams. Nevertheless, Tuckman’s model remains a useful and widely used framework for understanding and responding to the team development process.
Why you should be aware of the phases of team development in project management
Team development plays a crucial role in project management and has a significant impact on the future success of projects. Successfully going through team development has many benefits:
- High performance: A well-developed team works more efficiently and achieves higher performance. When team members understand their roles and responsibilities, leverage their strengths, and collaborate effectively, they can achieve the project goal more efficiently.
- Better collaboration: Team development strengthens collaboration within the team. Team members learn to communicate effectively, exchange information, and work together on solutions. They develop a better understanding of each other’s work styles and needs, leading to smoother project workflow.
- Positive work environment: Effective team development also fosters a positive work climate characterized by trust, respect, and openness. Team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and expressing their opinions. This leads to a motivated and engaged team culture where everyone gives their best and contributes to the overall team performance.
- Reduced conflicts: The team development process helps identify and address potential conflicts as well as misunderstandings early on. Team members learn to discuss their differences constructively and find common solutions. This creates a harmonious work environment.
- Effective problem-solving: A well-developed team is capable of effectively dealing with problems and challenges. Through collaboration and idea exchange, team members can bring in different perspectives and develop innovative approaches to solutions.
Understanding the different phases of Tuckman’s model helps provide clarity on the necessary steps to unleash maximum performance. Additionally, by using the phases, the dynamics within a team can be assessed, enabling proactive responses if conflicts arise early in the team formation. When members of a new team are aware of the different phases, they can approach them with a certain level of composure and effectively manage the pressure, especially in the Storming phase.
The phases of team development
Every team is unique, and therefore, team development is slightly different each time. Nevertheless, typically, each of the phases occurs. It is important to note that the phases of team development do not always progress linearly. A team may also regress to a previous phase when new challenges arise or when the team composition changes. Additionally, different team members may be in different phases of the process, for example, when a new member is added to the team. Therefore, the success of team development depends on effective leadership, clear communication channels, as well as the willingness of team members to approach each other openly and pursue common goals.
1. Forming – Orientation Phase
In the first phase of forming, the team comes together. Team members get to know each other, introduce themselves, and discuss their roles as well as responsibilities in the project. At this stage, there is often some hesitation and uncertainty as team members need to get accustomed to each other. At the same time, they are often excited and enthusiastic about being part of the new team.
During this phase, there are many unanswered questions for the new project team. It is important in this initial step to clarify the team’s goals and the challenges that the team may face along the way. In this early phase of team development, there are no established rules or norms, and conflicts are usually not openly addressed by members due to the existing uncertainties. As team members get to know each other in this phase, you can expect that the team’s performance will be relatively low at this stage but will gradually increase over time.
2. Storming – Conflict Phase
In contrast to the forming phase, the storming phase, which typically occurs after some time, is characterized by conflicts and disagreements. Team members bring their individual perspectives, experiences, and work styles, which can lead to tensions and friction. There may be task conflicts when it becomes apparent that work results do not align with expectations, or role conflicts when a team member is dissatisfied with the assigned role. Some team members address such frustrations directly, while others may withdraw and react passively. This phase is often marked by a slowdown in the actual project work. Although uncomfortable, the storming phase lays an important foundation for resolving friction points in later phases. Especially when some team members already know each other, past issues may come into play during this phase or cause certain team members to form alliances against others. Therefore, it is important for the project leader to act as a mediator in this phase and approach conflicts constructively to establish a common basis for further collaboration, as the individual abilities of each team member are crucial in a project team.
3. Norming – Organization Phase
After the team has gotten to know each other through discussions and conflicts in the storming phase, and everyone is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of individual members, the team begins to develop common structures, work processes, rules, and values in the norming phase. Team members work on building trust and promoting cooperative behavior. Clear communication channels are established, task assignments are refined, and decision-making processes are defined. As a result, the team develops a sense of shared identity and belonging. These informal norms may vary depending on the team, but they help the team emerge stronger from this phase. The team’s performance will consistently increase during the norming phase.
4. Performing – Performance Phase
When the team reaches the performing phase, it is highly functional and operates at its full capacity. While in the forming phase, team members have to find their place in the team, they are distracted by conflicts in the storming phase, they learn to leverage their potential as a team in the norming phase. Based on this foundation, team members now work effectively together, focus on their tasks, and utilize their individual strengths to achieve common goals. They have found their role within the team and no longer need to focus on themselves or the group work but can fully dedicate themselves to their tasks. There is open and trusting communication, and the team is capable of successfully overcoming challenges or changes. This contributes to the team’s success, enabling them to achieve their set goals with outstanding performance.
5. Adjourning – Dissolution
This final phase of team development occurs when teams dissolve or when key members leave the group. This change in familiar team dynamics can lead team members to develop concerns and reservations as they are unsure about their future without the group. Particularly in a team with a strong sense of cohesion, a feeling of grief may also emerge. At the same time, team members also reflect on the group’s success.
The Role of the project manager in the different phases
The role of the project manager or team leader is of great importance during the various stages of team development. Especially at the beginning of team formation, there may be significant pressure that should be handled with composure and patience. Therefore, a good project leader creates optimal conditions to support the team in each phase of team building.
In this initial phase, the team comes together, and members get to know each other. The project manager can contribute by creating a positive work environment where the team can familiarize themselves. Since team members are often uncertain in this phase, clear structures are needed for an optimal flow in this first phase. Therefore, in this phase, a project manager should:
- Create clarity about the project’s goal and the expectations placed on the team.
- Clearly define individual roles within the team.
- Foster open and supportive communication.
- Provide opportunities for team members to express themselves and contribute their ideas.
- Support team members in establishing work norms and team rules.
Sooner or later, every team experiences conflicts or differences of opinion. When this happens, the project manager should act as a mediator and conflict resolver to guide the team safely through the storming phase. Leadership strategies in this phase may include:
- Promoting constructive communication to address conflicts and find solutions.
- Assisting team members in understanding different perspectives and finding common ground.
- Creating an atmosphere of openness and respect where diverse opinions are accepted.
- Emphasizing the focus on shared goals and project success.
In the norming phase, the team defines common rules, norms, working methods, and values. The project manager plays an important role in solidifying these norms and promoting effective collaboration. They can support the team by:
- Assisting in the development of work standards and procedures.
- Promoting teamwork and collaboration.
- Introducing feedback mechanisms to monitor performance and progress.
- Providing praise and recognition for individual and team achievements.
With the fourth phase, the temporary goal for team development is achieved, as effective work can now be carried out. Project leaders are hardly needed as mediators in this phase. However, this does not mean that they can relax. Instead, they function as a mentor and resource manager to keep the team successful, identify and exploit improvement potential. To do this, they can:
- Delegate responsibilities, empowering team members to fulfil their tasks independently.
- Allocate resources as needed and support the team in their work.
- Foster continuous improvement and innovation.
- Focus on achieving project goals and ensuring the quality of work.
- Be a point of contact for any emerging problems.
The development team at Parm AG celebrates the successful completion of a project.
Saying goodbye is difficult, and it may not be easy for team members to dissolve the team after reaching the project goal. As a project leader, it may be important for you to expedite the grieving process so that individual team members can quickly move on to a new project in a different composition. To promote this, on the one hand, you can encourage open discussion about concerns and round off the project completion with feedback and documentation. Additionally, you should explain to your team members how things will proceed for each individual to reduce uncertainties. On the other hand, you should also take the opportunity to make your team aware of the achievements made and celebrate the project’s completion.
It is important to note that this phase can begin sometime before the team is dissolved, namely when the end of the project is in sight. In this case, you should ensure that the performance of your team members does not decline rapidly as they may be distracted by worries. A clarifying conversation about the future can help in this situation.
Team development in hybrid or virtual teams
There is an increasing number of teams that collaborate partially or entirely in a virtual environment. While team development goes through the same phases in virtual teams, such teams face specific challenges to work successfully together.
- Communication: Effective communication is crucial for the success of team development. The challenge in hybrid or virtual teams is to ensure that all team members have equal access to information and feel heard. We recommend:
- Using appropriate communication tools and platforms that enable seamless collaboration.
- Regular virtual team meetings promote information exchange and strengthen the sense of belonging.
- Clear communication guidelines and setting expectations for individual team members’ communication to avoid misunderstandings.
- Building trust and relationships: Building trust and relationships between team members can be particularly challenging when they do not meet in person or do so irregularly. Project leaders can support their team in building relationships with simple measures:
- Virtual team-building activities such as online games or virtual coffee breaks strengthen team spirit.
- Encouraging informal interactions, such as creating online platforms for non-work-related exchanges.
- Encouraging team members to get to know each other and share personal stories or interests, e.g., through virtual introductions.
- Collaboration and coordination: Collaboration and coordination can also be a challenge in hybrid or virtual teams, especially when team members work in different time zones. Solutions could include:
- Using collaboration tools and project management software to track task distribution and progress.
- Agreeing on common working hours when all team members are available for important discussions and decision-making.
- Project Leadership: Leading team members in hybrid or virtual teams also requires special attention. Therefore, pay attention to the following points:
- Communicate clear role definitions and responsibilities to ensure that everyone knows their tasks and responsibilities.
- Regular individual check-ins and feedback sessions to monitor the performance and well-being of team members.
- Provide training or resources to improve the technical skills of team members and support virtual collaboration.
When project leaders are familiar with the different phases of team development, they can guide their team safely through this development process. They can create a supportive environment, promote clear communication, address or resolve conflicts, support the development of team norms, as well as recognize and leverage the individual strengths of team members. In this way, effective leadership can enable the team to reach its full potential and complete the project.
Project management software like myPARM can be helpful in many ways for team development. It promotes communication and collaboration among team members through integrated collaboration tools. Additionally, task distribution and role assignment within the software help create clarity about individual responsibilities. As a central hub for document management, the software ensures that all team members have access to necessary information at all times. Furthermore, project management software assists project leaders in tracking project progress, identifying problems or risks at an early stage, and responding to changes.
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