Team building phases

Before continuing with the content regarding to the Sustainable Development projects, it is very important to reflect about different team building phases.

We are part of teams, we are organizing teams, we are coordinating teams and/or would like to be part of one. Some teams are coming together as the result of an intentional choice of their members, others have been organized by somebody.

Any team goes through different phases, such as we do as people.

And any change regarding the composition, the task, even the physical environment, has an impact on its dynamic.

As you can observe in the following graph based on Tusk (1965), any phase influences the degree of performance regarding the team’s goal or objectives.

This model has been further developed and the phases are also known as:

  1. Orientation phase
  2. Confrontation and position finding phase
  3. Familiarity phase
  4. Constructive cooperation phase
  5. Goodbye phase and separation

Our Group and each Learning Team probably might go through all phases during the following 5 to 6 months.

You are starting excited and curious, and then some team members do not show up to the learning team sessions and you get a little bit frustrated or even annoyed. Maybe, they have a good reason, but you don’t know it. And the team member who did not show up feels embarrassed because there might have been a good reason, but he/she still does not feel confident enough to share what happened. Communication might be a real challenge, among others.

Being aware of the “team clock”, that means, the different team building phases we are going through, is helpful to get a better understanding about group processes and dynamics, and to implement measures, use the corresponding tools to find a smooth and productive way to go through each phase.

Team building is always an exciting process and at the same time challenging. It becomes even more challenging when we are going to work together virtually without meeting each other in person. In addition, we also need to strengthen our intercultural competencies.

If we are going to take this into account from the very beginning, I am very confident that are going to spend a great and productive time together growing at the personal and collective level.

Let’s have a quick look at each phase.

Forming… or orientation phase

Every team, and also every group of trainees in a workshop, starts with “Forming” or an “Orientation Phase”. In this initial phase, the team first starts to get together, the team members get to know each other and orientate themselves. This is also valid for existing teams with a routine when they are starting a new project or undertaking a completely new task or integrating a new team member.

In our case, it was the phase when we started this course or workshop with the connection phase starting with some exercises to know each participant. Generally, at this point we are still careful and even if we don’t like something, we still wait to see how things will evolve and we don’t yet position ourselves in the first line of fire when there is a disagreement.  This does not have to be generalized for most participants. 

During the forming phase, the mood can still be perceived and described as polite, impersonal, tense and careful.

Storming or position finding phase

The forming phase is followed by the storming phase, which can also be referred to as the struggle phase or the positioning phase. 

For the storming phase, turbulence and critical discussions are more than typical. The team has been established and tensions and differences of opinion arise. Power, status and competence struggles are not uncommon.

During storming, all team members take their place in the team and for some this can be associated with conflicts. When during the “forming” phase, the members rather adapt, begin to set boundaries, they mark their territory during the “storming”.  

The facilitator connects again and again the clock of team development with the participants’ own experience.

The team members clearly express their interests as well as their concerns and fears. Typical for this phase is also the formation of sides or sub-groups and the question whether I as a team member belong to the team or not.

The storming phase is characterized by covert conflicts, confrontations, the formation of sides and a very difficult progress as a team.

Norming… or familiarity phase

The next phase of team building is called the “norming phase” or the “organising phase”.

Norming is the phase in which the team agrees on joint rules and norms. Objectives, tasks and roles within the team are made transparent and fairly distributed.

Forms of mutual support, a feeling of “we-ness” and team cohesion are created. Contradictions and competitive thinking are reduced and deconstructed and cooperations emerge.

Team members are willing to share their knowledge with everyone. 

During “norming”, the focus is on the manifestation of new ways of dealing with each other and developing an own team culture, the development of new behaviours, constructive give and take of feedback and a confrontation of points of view – and not of persons. 

Performing… or constructive cooperation phase

The fourth and final phase of the team building process is the “performing” or “integration phase”.

In this phase the trust in the group is broadened and deepened. The team is willing to take certain risks and has learned to draw on the strengths of colleagues.

Role behaviour is flexible and situationally adapted to the respective framework conditions. For the team, holistic success is important – individual performance becomes less and less important. 

During “performing” the mood is described as full of ideas, flexible, open and productive, as well as supportive and supportive. 

Adjourning… Good buy phase and separation

Now, there might be three scenarios:

  • The team continues working on a new project or new team members join the group, and a re-performing or adjourning phase is needed. One team cycle finalizes and a new one is going to start.
  • New people are joining the team, so the team clock starts again with a new forming process.
  • The team finalizes its task, or is being dissolved, thus, a closure is needed.

Traits of Adjourning include a shift to process orientation, sadness, and recognition of team and individual efforts. Strategies for this phase include recognizing change, providing an opportunity for summative team evaluations, and providing an opportunity for acknowledgments.

This stage of a group can be confusing and is usually reached when the task is successfully completed. At this stage, the project is coming to an end and the team members are moving off in different directions.

This stage looks at the team from the perspective of the well-being of the team instead of the perspective of handling a team through the original four stages of team growth.

In any case, a good closure of a team cycle or of the team’s dissolution is needed.

If you would look to learn more about the different team phases download and read this very practical tool.

You can use it facilitating team building processes. At the same time, it gives you insights about the teams you are belonging to.

Personal reflection

Now, I would like to invite you to a very personal reflection:

Considering the “team clock”, what time is it?

  1. In the team you are part of in your organization or institution where you are working?
  2. In the team of a group,  social or political movement, etc. you are engaged with?
  3. In your Learning Team of this course?

What might be the measure, practice or behavior which could be useful to move forward for each team according to the “team time” at the clock?

Please, during the next Learning Team session discuss some basic norms which might help you to move forward to a great performance phase.