What are the four stages of team development?

June 10th, 2020 | By Jeremy Dobson

“What are the 4 stages of teaming?” That was one of the first questions I received during my interview at Elysian. I had no idea.

After my interview, I jumped online to research the stages of team development. What was this guy talking about? What relevance does this have to my ability to sell? I’m not on a team, I’m a sales guy. Wind me up and let me go!

I was naïve. Elysian prides itself on the importance of teamwork and collaboration. This was a close-knit family company and adding the first non-family member was going to drastically change the existing team dynamics. I was going to have to form individual teams with each of them in addition to a collective team. Yes, even sales guys must work in a team much more than I had realized. In fact, I had been part of many more teams than just in sports, I just didn’t recognize it. I’d never reflected upon the stages that I’d been through and the countless team members I’d worked with to achieve past successes. However, as I started reading about these four stages, it all just kind of clicked.

Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing

Understanding team dynamics is a critical skill not only in the workplace but also in our personal lives. When I sat down to write this post, I was thinking more about the changes in our work teams. But I’m at home and likely, you are too. I realized for so many of us, working from home with the entire family stuck there two involved a new method of work, a new team dynamic, and a new opportunity to progress through the stages of teaming while building new ones.

Before stay-at-home orders, I typically spent 1 or 2 days a week in the office with the rest of my time on the road visiting clients or working from home. When I worked from home, I was alone. My home office was mine and mine alone. Background noise was non-existent during conference calls, distractions were limited, and there was rarely a need to mute a mic to scold gently re-direct the kids.

Forced into forming a new team mid-March as schools shut down in New Hampshire, we faced the reality of being isolated in our home for weeks. This phase of team development can be compared to the “honeymoon” period. Everyone is nice to each other, feeling each other out, wondering where they fit, and thinking everything is wonderful. That only lasted for about 24 hours of quarantine. Probably the same for new marriages in March of this year.

Our storming phase, however, lasted about two to three weeks. After that, it seemed we made our way through the initial shock of having to fulfill new roles. My wife, a teacher by trade but traditionally the caregiver and coordinator extraordinaire, had to lead her new class. A class of two- her 7 and 9-year-old children. There was plenty of stress, yelling, tantrums, and name-calling, never mind what the children were like. But there were moments of clarity. My daughter completed an extra credit assignment I gave her to come up with a sign to hang on my office door alerting everyone whether I was on an important call or not. The kids found an art channel on YouTube and converted all open wall space into a gallery (all art is for sale by the way). Fun treat Friday went from going somewhere new to a candy bar sourced at a local convenience store that no one had tried before.

Then we reached the norming phase. The kids started getting along, doing their work without constant prodding, and it kind of feels ‘normal’. Everyone had staked out their territory, their routines built, and the newness wore off. Far from perfect, but there existed a general feeling of cooperation and regular progress being achieved daily. Everyone found their role on the team and understood the expectations of them. The kids looked forward to their Zoom calls with their teachers and found ways to keep in touch with their friends and classmates. We built a process to walk past friends’ houses to say hi from the sidewalk and we no longer needed to remind everyone to keep their “social distance”.

I’m proud to say we have now moved into the performing stage. The kids are crushing their assignments, learning new skills, and bragging at dinner about what they learned that day. My home office setup is finally as productive as my work set up with all 3 monitors rocking and the noise-cancelling microphone I ordered drowning out the background distance learning and playing. I have become a stand-in for my wife’s 9am YMCA workout partners during our daily exercise. Some teams never reach this stage, and that leads to failures of organizations.

With the end of remote learning imminent and summer camps nonexistent, there will be more tears and yelling and there will be failures. One or all of us could end up sick which would further stress the dynamic. But as a team, you must be able to get through those valleys to reach the next peak. High-performing teams make things look easy, but we all know they’re not.

As the doors to our companies open back up, we’ll have to reacquaint ourselves with each other too. We’ll be using new tools, completing tasks in different ways, and working with people we haven’t seen in months. Maybe some of the new processes won’t work as well in the office setting and we’ll have to go back to the old way of doing things. Maybe the company had to downsize and new roles have to be filled by existing teammates, or new ones. Everything will be different. Again.

We have work to do and teammates to work with. Some of us have been at home for weeks whereas some are still going in to work every day (thank you healthcare workers, first responders, grocery store employees, and other essential workers). Some areas have barely been affected. Some are unrecognizable from just a few months ago

No matter what your current situation, acknowledge that teaming is a natural and normal process critical to growth. Recognizing your current stage and looking for ways to advance to the next one is key. It will also help all of us get through the upcoming challenges and changes coming our way.

Jeremy Dobson is sales director at Elysian Technology. Jeremy has worked in IT for over 10 years as both a customer and a sales professional. His clients have ranged from academic institutions to global organizations. When he’s not innovating for clients, you can find him on the streets – running or volunteering or paddling local lakes and rivers with his kids.