Stages in the team building development process

  • Overview
  • Stage 1
  • Stage 2
  • Stage 3
  • Stage 4

Overview of stages in team building process

Before exhibiting the signs of effective teamwork which were listed in 'What is Effective Teamwork?' your team will probably need to pass through several stages of development, during which other signs or characteristics will be exhibited.

We us a simple model based on four essential stages of development. It has been found to be very useful in helping teams and team leaders to understand team development. This model will help you and your team members not only to understand, but to then agree where they are in the development process. We have a really useful diagnostic instrument to enable your team members diagnose and agree where they are in the team development stage matrix.

No team ever exhibits solely the characteristics of one particular stage; rather it is a question of which characteristics are the most prominent. A grouping, even though crude does help your team to understand something of where it is in the development process and of where it wants to be; undoubtedly you will find our simple four-stage model useful. 

Stage 1 in the team development process

This is the most common stage of development to be found in organizations. It abounds wherever people have come together to complete a task but have devoted little or no time to considering how they should or do operate.

Team building development stage 1 activities

 Stage 1: Development activities for the undeveloped team

One characteristic of this stage is that feelings are not dealt with, usually because it is not seen as appropriate to consider the way others feel and certainly not to discuss feelings openly.

  • Generally, emotions are seen as something only appropriate to one's private life with the workplace being for work. If feelings and emotions do come to the fore they are usually immediately brushed under the carpet.
  • People conform to the established line, often because that is the way in which things have always been done and sometimes because they are too scared to suggest changes. Even constructive ideas about change are not welcomed and people usually learn that it is safer not to 'rock the boat' by making unwanted suggestions.

This usually results in people being disheartened and leadership seldom being challenged.

Little care is shown for other people or their views and this is frequently characterized by a lot of talking and little real listening. Meetings tend to comprise a series of statements with people queuing to put their point of view without listening to what goes before or after. Personal weaknesses are covered up because the group lacks the skill to support or to eliminate them.

  • Mistakes are used as 'evidence' to help convict people rather than as opportunities to learn. There is no shared understanding of what needs to be done and often the leader has a different view from those being led. Where there is clarity this is often because people's instructions have come from the top rather than because they have shared in the determination of plans.
  • Mistakes are frequently covered up by individuals as they know that they will be seen as failure and this means that team members do not get the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and improve. Outside threats are met by defensiveness, increased bureaucracy, paperwork and rules. People confine themselves to their own defined jobs and the boss takes most of the decisions.

It needs to be said that many apparently effective teams show these characteristics, but this is usual only if the boss has the wisdom, energy and time to make all the decisions. This is not real teamwork as it does not capitalize on the dormant strengths of the team. Sometimes this stage is referred to as the 'king and court' stage because the team resembles the old concept of the 'court' who would never dare to challenge the judgement of their 'king'.

The greatest single leap forward in team development is when a team leaves stage 1 and enters stage 2 because that is when it takes a decision to do something serious about improving things.

Matrix of team development stages highlighting development needs in stage 2 

Stage 2 can begin when your team decides that it wants seriously to review its operating methods and undertake activities which will improve its performance. It is this willingness which is the distinguishing characteristic of the stage 2 team.

Actions to enhance team building during stage 2 of the development process.

Stage 2: Development actions for the experimenting team

Your team will begin to be willing to experiment; to sail in what, for them, are uncharted waters, and face the ensuing opportunities and dangers. Features of this stage of development are that

  • Problems are faced more openly and wider options are considered before decisions are taken.
  • Where necessary the underlying values and beliefs affecting decisions begin to be debated and this often leads to temporary feelings of insecurity and high risks.
  • As more risky issues are opened up hitherto taboo topics begin to be discussed and often the way in which the team is managed is one of the first issues examined.
  • More personal issues are raised, feelings begin to be considered and personal animosities begin to be dealt with. People begin to say things which they may have wanted to mention for years. This can obviously lead to some traumatic encounters between team members but they quickly learn that when the ‘dirty laundry’ has been put on the table and examined the team becomes a healthier and happier place to be.
  • The group inevitably becomes more inward looking, and for a time may even reject other groups and individuals. This is a transient phase and is because the team has become so interested and obsessed with its own problems and new horizons that it just wants to work on them and sees that as the most important thing to do.
  • More concern is shown for the views and problems of colleagues with a consequent increase in real listening, and, often for the first time, people begin to understand other members of the team.
  • Meetings begin to be characterized by more listening and thinking and less talking.

In this stage your team can often become uncomfortable but there are also dynamic and exciting possibilities being revealed. Things will begin to come to life with people who have been dormant for years starting to contribute. However, although your team has become more open and potentially more effective it still lacks the capacity to act in an economic, unified and methodical way.

Teams in this stage have  successfully worked on some of the interpersonal issues but have not yet put this learning to profitable use.

Team Development: Stage 3 - Consolidating Team

After the team has worked on the interpersonal issues of stage 2 and has begun to resolve them it will begin to have the confidence, open approach and trust to examine its operating methods. Generally the team decides to adopt a more systematic approach which leads to a clearer and more methodical way of working.

Actions to enhance team building at development stage 3

Stage 3: Development actions for the consolidating team

The rules and procedures which characterized stage 1 now begin to be re-introduced but this time they are not edicts from on high or historical precedents which have to be observed, they are the agreed operating rules of the team, which everyone has had a part in framing and to which everyone is committed.

Even with the better relationships built in stage 2; the team quickly learns that ground rules are still important. The most apparent evidence of this is the way in which decisions are taken, usually by:

Team decision making progress

The improved relationships and more exciting methods experienced in stage 2 are maintained but they are used to build the ground rules and working procedures which the team will use.

Team Development: Stage 4 - The Mature Team 

After stage 3 has been worked through there is the basis for a really mature team. The openness, concern and improved relationships of stage 2 and the systematic approach of stage 3 can now be used to complete the task of building a really mature team.

Actions to enhance team building progress at development stage 4.

Stage 4: Development actions for the mature team

Flexibility will become the keynote in your team, with different procedures being adopted to meet different needs. Your people will not be concerned with defending positions.

Leadership in your team will be decided by the situation not protocol, your group itself will recognize the kind of leadership which is necessary and your team leader will recognize the need to involve the team in matters of substance.

Often your formal management hierarchy will be abandoned in favour of something which your team feels is more appropriate.

You will find everyone's energies are utilized for the team, because individual commitment to team success will exist.

There will be pride in your team and its achievements but this will not stifle individual initiative and achievement because everyone will realize that people are happier and more effective when they are able to meet their needs and aspirations. Your team will consider essential principles and social aspects of its decisions.

It will realize not only that it is part of the larger organization but also that organizations have a moral and social responsibility. It will begin to realize that it is part of a big world and can help others as well.

Development will become an increasing priority because all realize that continued success depends on continued development. Trust, openness, honesty, co-operation and confront­ation, and a continual review of results will become part of the way of life. The desire to improve further means that external help will always welcome.

You will find that your team is not only admired but is emulated and it is always willing to reach out and help other less mature teams.

Above all the team is a happy and rewarding place to be in!


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