4 Stages of Team Development & Leadership Needed
The evolution of any team or group – as it strives to find its identity and realize its potential – curiously mirrors the maturation of a human child. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised since we’re talking about a collection of human beings to begin with, but the evolution into a cohesive and effective unit follows a pattern with which we are familiar.
This knowledge is especially helpful to leaders and their executive coaches, for they are tasked with harnessing the energy and aspirations of team members in a way that molds them together and maximizes their collective productivity. The same is true with parenting; it is less science, mostly art. Team leadership and parenting are similar because they are intuitive. The key is being able to recognize the stages of team development and utilizing the proper style of leadership to help the team sidestep challenges into the next stage.
STAGE ONE: DEPENDENCY AND INCLUSION
The initial stage of group development is Dependency and Inclusion. Often referred to as the “forming” stage, groups in this stage resemble a young child because its members look to the team leader for cues and direction. Like a child searching for approval and belonging, team members are dependent on the leader for direction and to assuage concerns about inclusion and safety. This is an instructive period for group members because they do not yet know the ins and outs of the work or the organizational culture.
At this stage, an ideal leader is clear about goals and deliverables, as well as roles and responsibilities. The leader will do most of the talking because the team members will be waiting for direction from the leader while developing a sense of belonging, establishing norms of behavior, and building member loyalty. Like a good parent, a good team leader helps create an environment in which members feel comfortable enough to contribute their ideas and suggestions. The leader should encourage questions at this stage of development because that will help group members progress to the next level more quickly. The leader monitors and gives constructive feedback with the goal of moving the group to stage two of development.
STAGE TWO: COUNTERDEPENDENCY AND FIGHT
The second stage of team development resembles an adolescent testing boundaries, questioning authority, and taking on more responsibility. The quiet, obedient child has now grown into a young person with a better sense of self and the confidence to make suggestions and help dictate the direction of group activities. For team leaders – the parents – this is the stage where the kids begin talking back, taking calculated risks to challenge parental authority, and playing a role in group decision-making.
The good news is that the individuals on the team feel comfortable enough to disagree with one another and work through any conflicts constructively. The discord in this stage of development is healthy and quite necessary. It allows the team to further define roles and responsibilities, redistribute power throughout the group, and strengthen team cohesion. Disagreement forces the team to communicate more effectively with one another and establish trust so members can begin to work collaboratively.
A leader must be patient at this stage. It is important to resolve debates with solutions that satisfy everyone. In order to progress, the team must develop a unified set of goals in this stage as well as establish a shared set of values and operational procedures. If the group is unable to navigate these challenges, the team could get stuck in Stage Two. Teams that cannot get beyond Stage Two are not fun places to work. There is a lot of unresolved conflict and team members find ways to avoid helping each other – even at the expense of overall performance and accomplishing team goals.
STAGE THREE: TRUST AND STRUCTURE
By Stage Three, group members are more familiar with each other and accepting of what each individual contributes to the team. The group has matured in its operations and communications and is no longer dependent on its leader to function properly. Just like a young adult getting a job, beginning to drive, and routinely performing chores, a group in Stage Three is ready for the team leader, or parent, to delegate tasks and take a step back from overseeing group activities.
Team leaders in this stage are less prominent, yet still necessary for coordination. Leaders are a source of information; however, they delegate responsibilities and share power with the team. As an example, this is akin to a parent discussing family business with their teens and allowing them a say in deciding where to go for family vacations. At this point, members of the group can lead meetings and make reports from subcommittees about tasks that have been accomplished between meetings. The key takeaway from this stage is having all team members share responsibility and solidifying positive relationships which benefit the group’s productivity.
STAGE FOUR: WORK AND PRODUCTIVITY
The fourth stage should showcase the hard work by the team in the previous stages. This is the adult stage of development where parents can trust that their adult child can take care of themselves and live on their own as a productive member of society. When it comes to team development, Stage Four is a time of sustained productivity and effectiveness. If there is conflict, it is dealt with swiftly. The team operates smoothly and is motivated to accomplish its goals.
At this point, a group leader acts as a font of information, if the team needs it, and works on securing whatever resources the team needs to be successful. While leaders must be wary of signs of regression, for the most part, the key challenge is keeping members focused and engaged.
It is not an easy task to lead a group. Dealing with individual personalities and quirks is a daunting challenge, no matter the situation. Therefore, it’s important for leaders to recognize the various stages of group development and employ the most effective style of leadership to match each stage. Understanding where a team is in its developmental cycle will inform leaders about what to expect, what is normal and can help clarify how to use both leadership and membership in ways that will help the team work at an optimum level of collaboration and productivity.
To improve your own leadership skill in a manner that can yield increased productivity and efficiency out of your team as a business leader or your clients as an executive coach, click below to learn more about GroupWorks Consulting offerings, including the Coaching Leader Program (an ICF accredited ACTP program) hosted by Saint Joseph’s University.
Weiss, D., Tilin, F. J., & Morgan, M. J. (2018). The interprofessional health care team: Leadership and development (2nd ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Wheelan, S. A. (2016). Creating effective teams: A guide for members and leaders. Los Angeles: SAGE.