No teams are exactly alike, but they all have similar, predictable characteristics. Team member differences can create conflicts during the initial phases of team building but can also encourage creativity and team growth as a result.
In project management, team growth is essential to improving project performance. In fact, the number one global workforce trend is teamwork, according to a 2019 Deloitte survey conducted across 130 countries.
The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK®) outlines the stages of group development that help determine the status of any project team. Then, the book lists the objectives a project manager should have throughout the process.
The 5 Stages of Group Development
The model that project managers typically use to describe and improve team development is the Tuckman Ladder. This model is based on Bruce Tuckman’s 1965 theory that teams will go through every stage, regardless of order or time spent on each one. The Tuckman Ladder is an influential model that has over 50 years of empirical studies and 5,980 citations in Google Scholar. The popularity of this model is due, in part, to its accurate approach to group behavior and how it improves over time.
This phase sees a group of people come together for the first time to become members of a team. They learn more about the project, their roles and responsibilities. It’s common for team members to work independently during this time and not be as open to collaboration or feedback.
A closer look: During this stage, leaders and team members should invest time in listening and understanding each other before beginning to work. During initial conversations, a clear idea of each member’s responsibility and expected behavior should be laid out as well.
During this phase, the team begins to address the details of the project’s work. The process includes reviewing technical decisions and the project management approach. “Storming” is an accurate name to describe the failure if team members don’t collaborate or open to differing ideas and perspectives from their colleagues. And, yes, teams can get stuck in this phase for years. If no consensus arises, the team environment can become counterproductive and some team members can isolate themselves due to the access to virtual communication.
A closer look: During conflicts in this phase, angry emails should rest in the Drafts folder before being sent in the morning. Members should try to focus on delivering sincere but toned-down feedback and freely positive feedback to other team members. Here, suggestions should be considered contributions and not criticism.
At this point, a responsible project manager would’ve taken the lead to resolve any internal issues related to technicalities and management approaches. This is when members begin to embrace teamwork by developing habits and adjusting their behaviors to support the entire team. The team members learn to trust each other.
A closer look: During this stage, leaders should use a coaching technique to help resolve conflicts. As the norming phase becomes a middle point for the team, they can begin to show their project manager that they’re flexible and knowledgeable enough to work alone and look at a wider scope of the project.
When the team reaches the performing stage, they’re able to function as a well-organized unit. They are independent and don’t need constant supervision because they can work through issues smoothly and effectively. This is their time to shine.
A closer look: This phase can find leaders and team members acknowledging each other’s contributions and showing their gratitude to one another. Credit will be placed where credit is due. This simple action generates a chain of trust and empowerment needed to move on to the final phase of a project.
In this phase, all things must come to an end. Deliverables are complete, the staff is released and the team is ready for closure. Based on the behavioral nature of people’s attachments to routines, this phase can include an emotional moment of reflection for each team member. Depending on the overall team flow, some groups proceed to develop new initiatives or pass on collective cultural memory to newcomers of the organization.
A closer look: In essence, this can be a time to express gratefulness and recognition of member’s achievements. Project managers who report back to stakeholders after a project completion should inform them of the team’s recognition.
What if a Team is Stuck on a Phase?
According to Tuckman’s model, it’s natural for teams to find themselves stuck in a phase or regress to an earlier stage. Rather than focusing on the negative outcomes, project managers must figure out what tools to use to solve development issues. Project managers can use the following skills to move on:
- Conflict management: The project manager must resolve conflicts on time and in a constructive way.
- Influencing: This act can mean gathering relevant information to address critical issues and reach agreements while maintaining mutual trust.
- Motivation: This means providing a reason for someone to act. Teams are motivated when allowed to make decisions and to work independently.
- Negotiation: Negotiation means reaching a consensus on project needs. This tool is crucial. Negotiation builds trust and harmony amongst the team members.
- Team Building: This approach involves creating activities that enhance the team’s social relations and promote a collaborative work environment. Activities can look like 5-minute agenda reviews, training sessions or team assessments.
PMBOK® is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.