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Integral Stages of Team Development

integral-stages-of-team-development

Initiating

This first stage in the development of a team begins with the recognition that a group of people is needed to fulfil a special purpose or goal. At this stage of development, individuals feel only a sense of the team’s potential and only some members have a clear idea of the team purpose or task. Team members are just starting to get to know each other and their roles. There is often confusion at this stage as people sort out their roles, their relationships and their status and influence in the team.

Bonding

The bonding stage occurs when individual members come into contact with each other and realise that they are part of the same group. This stage starts with the first impressions, information, perceptions, and judgements about other members of the team and the team’s task. These views begin to form as early as the first few seconds of the group’s life and can last for a long time. This stage is characterised by low task accomplishment and lack of clarity of individual assignments, goals and measures, procedures and how to get information, and the relationships between members. ‘Members are not using the same book yet’. With complex assignments this level can take up to 30% of the team’s life or longer.

Near the end of this stage, leadership emerges (to a greater or lesser degree) to keep the group focused on its identity, purpose and the processes it needs to operate. This stage of development is completed when members have begun to think of themselves as part of the team. At this time part of their personal self identity becomes linked to the whole team.

Organising

At the organising stage the team begins to form routine operations and procedures for the formal and informal system. The stage often involves conflict between team members as the team begins to establish what it is and how it will operate. The members accept the importance of the team, but there can be resistance to the level of control the group imposes on individuality. At this stage the team begins to establish its own identity and purpose. ‘Members are using the same book but are not on the same page’. As the reality of the task, obstacles and pressures set in, members change their expectations and behaviours. A hierarchical structure and formal procedures become set. The norms also become established and the team begins to identity itself as an entity. Sometimes a team at this stage takes its purpose for granted and it operates through regular automatic routines. If a team stays at the organising stage for a long time, it can perform things well but its purpose may become forgotten. Some members may still be committed to the team’s purpose and vision but others just see themselves as an individual member of a group. They do their job but may not understand the team purpose or have any substantial commitment to it.

This stage is one in which close relationships develop and the team demonstrates cohesiveness. When this level is complete, there will be a relatively clear hierarchy of leadership within the team, a clear sense of team identity as well as a sense of ‘mateship’ between a number of the team members.

Achieving

Once the organising stage is set, the group’s direction becomes ‘written in stone’ and is unlikely to be re-examined throughout the first half of the group’s life. This is a period of inertia, that is, the group tends to stand still or becomes locked into a fixed course. New insights that might challenge initial patterns and assumptions might occur from individual members but the group is often incapable of acting on these new insights.

The achieving stage involves going beyond ordinary ways of working and breaks through to a new way of being. The teams focuses on achieving its goals. It builds capability and processes and selects team members which contribute to team performance.

At this stage the members of the team recognise that the overall team and its purpose are important and should not stagnate because of complacency. Often conflict, challenge and renewal occur at this level. The team reviews what it is doing and moves to a higher stage of team development.

Studies show that each group experiences this transformation at similar points in their life span, precisely halfway between its first meeting and its official deadline, despite the fact that some teams spent as little as an hour on their project while others spent six months. It is as if the groups universally experience a mid-life crisis at this point. The midpoint appears to work like an alarm clock, heightening members’ awareness that their time is limited and that they need to come together to ‘get on with the job’.

Flowing

At the flowing stage each team member is acting as a part of the whole. Each member is performing what is required of them to fulfil the purpose of the team. This stage includes all of the processes that were set up in the lower stages but is not limited to them. The team’s relationships and structures are set and accepted but the team members can go beyond them if necessary. The team’s energy has moved beyond operating as separate individuals to the team focusing on the best ways to achieve the team goals. ‘Team members are not only on the same page, they are reading the same words’. When a team is performing at this stage the things needed for effective teamwork require no effort but occur as a natural extension of this level of team development. People are in harmony and flow. They have an intuitive sense of working together. They do well by doing good.

Ending: Withdrawing

The ending of a team is not specifically a stage of development but a stage in which the unified focus and sense of the collective team identity is dissolved. This occurs when a work team, committee, or taskforce has completed its tasks and no longer has a reason to exist together as a team. Others have referred to this as the adjourning or ending stage. Members in this stage have ‘finished the book’.

This stage is a time to end, celebrate, acknowledge and reflect. Responses of team members vary in this stage. Some feel pride in what the team has accomplished, others may be negative and critical of the way the organisation has treated individuals or the team. Some team members may be sad over the loss of friendship gained during the life of the work team. Sometimes team members and managers stay ‘attached’ to the team and it is hard for them to accept that the team will no longer exist. Sometimes there is an embarrassment that the team has failed or died or ended even when this has occurred through not fault of the team.

Do teams become more effective when they move from the bonding to the organising stage? The answer to this question is no. Under some conditions, high levels of conflict may help or hinder the development of a team. Teams even occasionally go back to previous levels as a result of failure to achieve their goals or conflict between members or with external managers or other groups.

Those managers using reward and recognition strategies will need to consider these stages of team development, as well as individual differences. The use of rewards and recognition are important ways to manage and focus the group and to give it energy to achieve its behaviours and outcomes in each of the four levels. They can also be helpful in assisting individuals to deal with and see positively their experiences in the team when it ends. In short, rewards and recognition strategies and knowledge of the stages of team development can help achieve organisational objectives and contribute to individual fulfilment.

Ron Cacioppe

Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD. He has taught in the Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

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