One of the most fascinating aspects of team dynamics are the stages of team development as discussed by Disher (2010), Haycock (n.d.), and Steiner (n.d.). It is of value to students to understand these stages prior to joining a team, so they are prepared for each phase to occur and to realize that success will occur in spite of and because of the phases. First developed by Tuckman (1965), the stages of “forming,” “storming,” “norming,” and “performing” have been the predictable rule ever since.
In the “forming” stage, the group forms and members get to know each other. Roles are assigned and boundaries are established. Tuckman (1965) describes this as an orientation where group rules are tested and dependency between group members is established. Disher (2010) points out that often teams ignore or abbreviate this stage in order to dive into the task at hand. When working in an online environment, this is perhaps even more likely to happen; without the classroom to create a bond between students, team members truly are strangers who may be located anywhere in the world. Because they have yet to get to know each other and may have little in common, they may move swiftly through the “getting to know you” phase in order to get right to the work tasks. It is important to take the time to get to know team members because it helps build trust (Steiner, n.d.)
The “storming” stage occurs when there is conflict. Members may be resistant to their tasks and rebel by using defense mechanisms (Disher, 2010). Communication can break down during this time, and the leader will need to use good management skills to keep members moving forward. Steiner (n.d) points out that it is normal for groups to have this stage of conflict; in the case of online teams, this can be exacerbated because members do not have the face to face interactions provided by body language and tone of voice.
When a group reaches the “norming” stage, the resistance found in the “storming” stage is past, and a new cohesiveness develops (Tuckman, 1965). Haycock (n.d.) describes this as an “acceptance of the ground rules, acceptance of the norms of behavior that have been demonstrated.” This is also where the team leader fully matures (ideally), guiding the team and making sure that all members are heard from and respected.
Finally, the team reaches the “performing” stage. In this stage, the team is performing well together. They understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and the leader is able to assign tasks that utilize members’ strengths. It is at this stage that the real work of the team is able to be achieved. Interestingly, Haycock (n.d.) points out that student teams may turn in their assignments without ever reaching this “performing” stage; they may be stuck in the “storming” stage but somehow still complete their tasks – just not as a cohesive unit.
By understanding these different stages of team development, online students can anticipate some of the emotional pitfalls to the team approach and learn to work through them for true team success.
Disher, W. (2010). Crash course in public library administration. ABC-CLIO.
Haycock, K. “Working in Teams” (video lecture, San Jose State University LIBR 203: Unit 5, Personal Skills instructor Vicki Steiner, JD, MLIS).
Steiner, V. “Online Teamwork: Why It Is Important and Understanding the Keys to Success” (video lecture, San Jose State University LIBR 203: Unit 5, Personal Skills instructor Vicki Steiner, JD, MLIS)
Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological bulletin, 63(6), 384.